Yet another reason why we need altar rails!

From the less-than-"holy" Shrine:

An Email from a Friend

"A big sign that says ‘please do not enter the sanctuary’ is a bit more unwelcoming than the altar rail it replaced."



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. They need a sign? Aieeee! I suppose it’s not too surprising, though. Some time ago, a cousin (not Orthodox) came to choir practice with one of our choir members. The choir is at the traditional place, at the side of the iconostasis at the front of the church, and I guess the cousin was bored. She got as far as putting her hand on the knob of the South Deacon’s Door on the iconostasis when the whole choir stopped her. We had to explain to her that there are rules for who may and may not enter and when, and that women may never go behind the iconostasis.

    We did not put up a sign, though.

  2. Banjo pickin' girl says:

    I saw a parish that has signs by the entry doors “reverent silence please” and by the tabernacle “Jesus is here.” I guess they need to have it explained where Jesus is since nobody believes in the real presence any more.

  3. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    But if altar rails are restored how will the assembly gather around the altar for the eucharistic meal after the preface acclamation?

  4. Amanda says:

    our cathedral has a similar sign “Please do not enter the sanctuary. Alarm will sound.” Granted, it is in a very touristy area… but still

  5. Curtis says:

    Also, the sign doesn’t work so well for curious toddlers!

    (Although some intrepid youngsters still find a way to sneak under the rail. This is likely the reason our Eastern brethren were forced to adopt a full wall.)

  6. RichR says:

    The people generally love altar rails. The EMHC’s generally do not, because it makes for an awkward scenario – both their entrance as laymen into the sanctuary and their distribution at the rail to kneeling communicants (who are fellow laymen).

    I firmly believe the suppression of altar rails is directly tied to the abuse of EMHC’s in this country.

  7. Cathguy says:

    Bring back the altar rails and bring back authentic Catholic liturgical praxis and the offensive sign will no longer be needed.

  8. samba says:

    what is an EMHC?

  9. Choirmaster says:

    EMCH = Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

    or commonly called a “Eucharistic Minister.”

  10. Choirmaster says:

    E – M – *H* – C


  11. RJSciurus says:

    At my old parish, a majority of the people could not tell you what or where the sanctuary was other than that it was “somewhere in the ‘gathering space.'” After Mass, kids with donuts would chase each other in circles around the concrete pedestal on which sat the tabernacle. A comment such as, “I don’t think that is appropriate behavior in a variety of ways.” Was met with, “I think Jesus would be happy to see children playing in His house.

  12. I am not Spartacus says:

    I firmly believe the suppression of altar rails is directly tied to the abuse of EMHC’s in this country.

    Rich. Abuse? That’s rather harsh.

    At Mass this morning, I was one of 43 souls inside this small, temporary, Church in Wellington, Fl.

    There were Three Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers required to “minister” to the extraordinarily large number of us communicants.

    Sure, it took Father about the same amount of time to distribute Communion under both Species to each individual Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister as it would have taken him to distribute Communion directly to all 43 of us and, sure, it is an abuse to even have (say nothing about routinely recruiting more) these Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers but, c’est la vie.

    I might have even succumbed to the temptation of anger but, luckily, after Communion, Fr. asked us to take our seats and he told us a joke.

    For me, it really isn’t Mass unless I hear, “Good Morning,” to begin the Mass, see, at least, three EEMs, and hear a joke to end the Mass.

  13. Jeremy UK says:

    On the Continent they will clamber over everything unless told not to. Even in the UK there are notices in our great cathedrals along the lines of “no ice creams,” no smoking” etc, but most of these places are (now) Protestant, so there is often a museum mentality about them anyway. For Catholic places of interest (eg Westminster Cathedral) people tend to be better behaved and sacred spaces are generally well roped off or inaccessible.

  14. I’m glad my Church still has them :)

  15. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Might start by bringing back, in those places where it disappeared, the practice of all the altar servers kneeling along the steps to the sanctuary at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer. It serves as a type of temporary altar rail, clears the sanctuary of laity, and marks the moment as something special within the Mass. Also reinforces the idea, outside of Mass, that THIS is the sanctuary and THIS is the nave.

  16. Mitchell NY says:


    Well put. I agree most people love them (altar rails). But they are not the people “polled”. Only the loud, outspoken liberals and progressives float to the top of the polls and are often the ones taking them. I would venture to guess that 80% of Catholics do not mind them at all..

  17. JaneC says:

    The altar rail may be sufficient for people who come to the church to pray, but in some neighborhoods not everyone is there to pray. My parish has an altar rail, but still has to have a motion-detector alarm in the sanctuary, and a sign to tell people that it’s there. Without this added protection, they’d probably have to keep the church locked even during the day.

  18. Mitch_WA says:

    Andrew that is what we do at my parish! And we have the beginnings of plans to rennovate/rebuild the old high altar and add altar rails.

  19. @Banjo pickin’ girl

    I saw a parish that has signs by the entry doors “reverent silence please” and by the tabernacle “Jesus is here.” I guess they need to have it explained where Jesus is since nobody believes in the real presence any more.

    Would this particular parish happen to be in the vicinity of Columbus, Ohio? I’m pretty sure I know the place. If not, the signs are identical.

  20. joanofarcfan says:

    Mitch, that’s what our new pastor did as far as the altar rail, at great expense, which was raised purely through targeted donations. People wanted it. He also put the tabernacle back in the center, brought the statues into the sanctuary from out in the hallway, got rid of the piano that was in front of what was left of Mary’s altar and put it in the choir loft where it belonged. Unfortunately, nothing is as was originaly designed, but he is trying very hard. I really like this priest and joined the parish because of him.

  21. Girgadis says:

    Our church has a beautiful altar rail that was thankfully never removed.Our new pastor has used it twice since coming to us and I am quite sure it is going to see regular use. The parishioners love it. And so do the EMHC’s.

  22. EDG says:

    We have an altar rail in the cathedral that was donated by a parishioner in 1931. It’s a lovely marble and malachite construction that goes all around the very expansive altar area and probably accomodated 50+ communicants at a time in its day. It wasn’t removed during our renovations (1965) because we were lucky enough to be between the Old Mass and the New Mass, and nobody knew exactly which way the wind was going to blow. Clearly, it blew in the wrong direction.

    Unfortunately, except for the priest who was learning the Old Mass and got transferred to a remote and hellish post by our extremely anti-EF bishop a few months ago, nobody has used it for decades now. However, we still have a sign warning that an alarm will sound if people enter the sanctuary – and the person who usually sets it off is the passing choir member (or even the director) coming in for rehearsals.

  23. Tzard says:

    Some parishes have redesigned the sanctuary as a collection of flattened stalagmites. (one for the chair, one for the ambo, one for the altar, one for the tabernacle (maybe). Where’s the sanctuary then?

    Is it just the raised area, the part behind the altar rails, the individual raised areas with people chatting, walking between the little hills?

    One thing for sure, whoever designs these things is not interested in making it easy for us laity to understand.

  24. MVine says:


    I thought women were allowed behind the iconostasis so long as they were consecrated.

  25. Jim says:

    I find that here in Ireland most people under 45 could not even name the various parts of a church. Only from starting to attend the Latin Mass from last year – I realised that my own knowledge of the church layout, and whole religious education in general was very poor. In conversations with my relatives (all at least 10 years older than me. I am 47) they have no problem in explaining the different areas of a church and their purpose. They also know all the prayers in English,Irish and a lot of them in Latin too. I only need to look at myself, my peers and anyone younger to realise what has been lost. From beginning to attend only the Latin Mass I am sure that the only solutions to the churchs problems is a return to the pre-V2 rite.

  26. Nathan says:

    I know it sounds a bit flip, but how about having Communion rails in Catholic churches as a place to kneel for Holy Communion?

    In Christ,

  27. Charlie says:

    When I was still a member of the Episcopal Church, we knelt at the altar rails every Sunday to receive holy communion. I find it more than a little sad that altar rails were not retained in the majority of Catholic churches.

  28. RichR says:

    EMHC’s are no longer “extraordinary”, they are “ordinary” as they are at every Mass and on a schedule. The Vatican has tried to address this, but their documents go ignored by those in charge because it may “offend” laymen who have built up a whole bizarre spirituality around being an EMHC. They would be offended if anyone were to suggest that they pray for the day they will be relieved of their position by someone with a stole (ie, an ordained deacon or priest).

    Altar rails are an obvious sign of contradiction to the current trendy mindset, and, thus, must be discouraged by the liturgists.

    I stand by what I wrote. It’s not harsh – it’s dead on.

  29. Ron says:

    Probably at a tourist-visited place. I think there is such a sign at the Basilica at Notre Dame in South Bend. That is one beautiful church. Is there a way I can send a picture?

  30. Ron says:

    ‘nother comment about the basilica at Notre Dame . . . probably the best baptismal font I have EVER seen. I wish I had a pic. i will look for a link to it. My church does not have a nice font, it is just a punch bowl on a side table, tho for the Vigil there was a nice pool which was built from a plastic pond-liner in a wooden frame, tho you could not tell since it had cloth and flowers around it. It was nice but I don’t think anyone know how fast water becomes stagnant. Standing water gets gross FAST! Almost NONE of the “modern” fonts that I see are in working order. The one at ND is a wonderful success but I’ll bet several tens of thousands.

  31. Roland de Chanson says:

    Altar rails! What are those? I did the EF Triduum. But the church was novus ordo – no rails, the table blocking the high altar, the usual plebeian decor. Then to avoid family schism, I went to the masonic mass on Easter. What a botch. If the Catholic Church were as opposed to liturgical abortion as it is to the human variety, perhaps Catholics would know who they are, from Notre Dame to Georgetown to Boston College to the U.S. Congress.

    Of course for that, we need a pope who walks the walk as well as talks the talk. This Ratzinger evidently cannot bring himself to do. I for one am tired of waiting for the abominations to be ended. I am thinking of reviving my life-long love of the Byzantine liturgy, particularly in its Slavonic form, and formally converting to Orthodoxy.

    We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you; only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.

    God surely does not dwell in the profane novus ordo temples.

    Besides, I think I stand a better chance at the Pearly Gates. Even if not, the chant is vastly superior to the Gregorian.

  32. Charlie says:

    “God surely does not dwell in the profane novus ordo temples.”

    Doesn’t Father Z caution us to “think then post”? Your words are those of a true aesthetic. Poorly celebrated – and even irreverent – liturgies are successful when they cause us to despair. We’re supposed to be the new counter-reformation; we’re supposed to bring about, through piety and prayer, a renewed liturgical praxis. And we’ll get no where with your venom.

  33. TomR says:

    At the two biggest churches in Las Vegas they put up “Please Don’t Enter the Sanctuary” signs all along the bottom of the steps. If they can’t have a rail, an electric fence or barbed wire would be more tactful than that.

  34. Patrick says:

    Yes, even in the most profanely built, decorated, and celebrated churches, consecration depends upon valid form and matter, regardless of how galling the form or depressing the matter. As such, the body and blood of Jesus, the Christ, is present.

    I have had the opportunity to witness the EF, even in the days when it required an indult. While I cannot defend the many mad whims of +Weakland (great and noble inventor of the mightily popular ‘folk mass’), he was one of the first to allow the Indult Mass to be publicly celebrated.

    Now back on topic, I have had this opportunity, yet I have not once gone to the EF mass but two scant blocks away from my own parish. I may loathe the banal attempts at music at my own parish, and oftentimes mourn the homily, and ever yearn to see the priests face the Liturgical East. Even so, I cannot make myself to go to St. Stanislaus.

    I fear I might weep like a babe. I am by nature a sentimentalist, and one who observes the meanings of details, and I am sure to feel immense sorrow for witnessing what it is I have been denied since before I was born.

    Lastly, I would like to remind certain others that those who are discerning a vocation to serve the Church are often impeded by the snarling and bellyaching of their peers. Be glad you had even the plebeian church to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, for there may be a day where neither form nor church nor consecrated is available to you. Momento Mori.

  35. ssoldie says:

    I was always under the impression that they were called ‘extraordinary laymen of Holy Communion’, meaning they were not to be used except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

  36. Matt says:

    Which were never required when there were plenty of men filling the minor orders. And what happened in the recent past. All of the minor orders save one have been supressed. The one that remains is seen as nothing more than an initiation rite for seminarians.

    Laymen were INTENTIONALLY allowed to fill these roles. It should be no surprise why we have the current situation.

    I don’t think there is a fast and easy solution. Those that grew up with the Novus Ordo will become more hardened as they get older if they hold their faith. It will not be until after this age has passed that any type of return to tradition will be truely possible. Not until after the reformers are gone will the current young be able to return the church to tradition.

    The seminaries of traditional orders are full or overfull. Through simple attrition the new order will slowly disappear.

  37. Hidden One says:

    My anti-spam word is “think then post”. I hope that I have done so sufficiently and I apologize if I come across too harshly.

    Dear Roland de Chanson:

    “Of course for that, we need a pope who walks the walk as well as talks the talk. This Ratzinger evidently cannot bring himself to do.”

    Apparently you have been ignoring everything that he does or completely misunderstand how the Church works and haven’t been paying much attention to WDTPRS. Ok. I’ll make it simple: Pope Benedict and his allies rebuilding, brick by brick. This rebuilding is not a light switch thing. It wasn’t, so far as I know, a lights witch thing in the other direction, and, in any case, it always takes more effort to build up than to tear down. On that note, we already have enough people attacking the latest successor of Peter… you can stop now. You’re not making his job easier.

    “I am thinking of reviving my life-long love of the Byzantine liturgy, particularly in its Slavonic form, and formally converting to Orthodoxy.”

    Two points. First of all, you should simply attend an Eastern rite Catholic parish. Second of all, apparently the concept of the authority of Peter means very little to you. Infallibly defined doctrinal development, unity with the Chair of Peter, unity int he Body of Christ… you would exchange these for nice music and a good ars celebrandi? (Now I understand how you can attack the man singlehandedly most responsible for doing exactly what you want.) You have your priorities messed up. Myself, I converted to Catholicism theologically several months before I even went to a Mass, so nothing I see here in Canada is going to kick me out because I understand the intellectual reasons for being Catholic. I also read the writings of the Saints, ALL of whom would believe abhorrent the idea of switching from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy period, never mind merely so as to escape liturgical Purgatory. Imitate the Saints and suffer with the rest of us sinners.

    “God surely does not dwell in the profane novus ordo temples.”

    You stand in defiant opposition to the Catholic Church. There are words for such as those who hold that position. How can it be said that you love Jesus Christ and yet you so hate His Body? In self-righteous anger you have chosen to prise beauty more than Divine Love. It is one thing not to be Catholic, it is quite another to set yourself against the Catholic Church from within Her.

    “Besides, I think I stand a better chance at the Pearly Gates. Even if not, the chant is vastly superior to the Gregorian.”

    You stand a better chance at the Pearly Gates after forsaking the visible Church in communion with the Holy See? You denounce the successor of Peter and expect to be more easily let in to heaven on account of it? You’d settle for better chant at the cost of Heaven’s loss? I can hardly understand or believe you.

    Tell me that you are a satirist and I will believe you.

  38. Banjo pickin' girl, ionfairy 'at' netscape says:

    james, yes, in the vicinity of. they have suffered from a very liberal priest for years who has been promised the parish until he retires, for a total of about 15 years. you know the kind, no clerical clothing, no alb in the confessional, never a word of Latin, told me that anybody can be ordained even women, the only music is from the OCP paper misalette, hammered dulcimer with choir. BUT it was the only parish that would bring little old me into the Church so i am grateful though saddened that I have had to go elsewhere, to a parish which serves Communion kneeling at the rail by priests with altar boys and patens. and GREAT preaching.

    Oh dear, my anti-spam phrase is “maniples now.” Does that mean I should transfer for the third time, to Holy Family? 8-)

  39. Banjo pickin’ girl,

    This is my registered parish. The signs went up because father did not feel that people were showing proper respect for the eucharist. Of course, they are just following his leadership in this. And he just doesn’t seem to be able to grasp this.

    I stay somewhat involved there because of the great people in that parish – people who have suffered under a poorly formed priest for many years and now the 2nd bishop who just doesn’t care about the things that go on there.

    But, a typical sunday morning will find me at the TLM at Holy Family and I am often able to make it to the daily Mass at St. Patrick to hear some of that great preaching and then kneel to receive the Lord.

    Transfer. I will most likely be doing the same. I can’t wait out his retirement. And quite a few others feel the same way.

    God bless,


  40. I am not Spartacus says:

    I stand by what I wrote. It’s not harsh – it’s dead on.

    Rich. I thought that what I wrote, after my comment you were harsh, made it clear my comment was tongue-in-cheek. Sorry I didn’t make that clearer

  41. Banjo pickin' girl, ionfairy 'at'netscape says:

    James, I wish I could get your blog, it is blocked at my computer.

    You are right, it is a great parish and I love the monsignor who comes on Saturday and for daily Mass sometimes.

    Unfortunately, it is just too much of a country club. There is a very active gossip mill run by the priest and that was ultimately why I left, otherwise I could maybe have stuck it out. I love the priest there but the abusive behavior is just too much to take.

    At least we have two parishes in the diocese that are okay. I wish we could get an active faithful bishop. One who would at least stop the worst of the violations of canon law, etc.

    God bless you. drop me a line if you want. I don’t have a blog, sorry, I am part Amish. 8-)

  42. Banjo pickin' girl, ionfairymsms 'at'netscape says:

    James, Oops.

    I have a problem with technology, as you can see. 8-)

  43. I am not Spartacus says:

    Not until after the reformers are gone will the current young be able to return the church to tradition

    Well, we shall see.

    In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great to have a contest to see who had been at a Mass where there were more EEMs that souls in the pews?

    The “winner” would receive a partial indulgence from a masculine traditionalist Bishop.

  44. Roland de Chanson says:

    Dear Hidden One (Latens optime!),

    No, you are not too harsh and yes, I am to a certain extent a satirist.

    You make excellent points and I thank you for them. I will not attempt to refute them because I do agree in many cases. I greatly admire and respect your intellectual assent to Catholicism but I would caution: it was not intellectual assent the prompted the “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” of the Good Thief, nor the “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof” of the Roman centurio. Conversion is of the heart not the mind. I was born and raised Catholic, when the Church was the Church, and though my mind has often rebelled, my heart has never. Thus my genuine ire, though expressed satirically. Satire is, after all, a Roman invention.

    I will only say that Ratzinger would be well advised to celebrate the old liturgy openly and often. He is a great theologian and superb homilist but acta potius quam dicta will win the day. Take the Lord’s words without his deeds and you have a mere buddha. And we’ve already had that idolatry at Assisi.

    I long ago attended a Russian Orthodox Church (during the ROCOR / Metropolia schism) when the first fruits of V2 and the liturgia laesa were beginning to rot on the vine. Previously I had for a while attended an Eastern Rite Russian Catholic Church, which closed because the aging congregation was dying out.

    My opinion of the Byzantine liturgy and chant is just that, an opinion. But if liturgy and chant are the chaos and cacophony I witnessed on Easter Sunday, then I think the Gates of Hell have prevailed. A fifty mile-an-hour “procession” to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the placing and arranging of the sacred vessels on the “altar” by a “server” (a boy, in this case, but probably Pentecost will be for the girls), seance-style hand-joining or palms-up posturing during the Lord’s prayer, chummy hugs and vigorous hand-pumping among the well-met boon companions of the pews, the palming off of “hosts” by a troop of god-sparked daughters of Elysium in what passed for communion, breezy post-communion pew chats more raucous than happy hour at the pub — this truly is profanation. The only Truth spoken by the “presbyter” (apparently the fellow sitting off to the side who dropped in to make the “homily”) was in the words “He is not here.” I suppose Scripture should have an element of the ironic.

    You are right: I do stand in defiant opposition, but not to the Catholic Church. Rather to the pseudo-masonic crypto-protestant institution it has sadly degenerated into. If you fell into a coma in 1965 and woke up in 2005 (I suppose there are worse ways of spending those two score years) you would swear that the Reformation had belatedly come to Rome. Hermeneutic of continuity? Doubleplus ungood.

    Who gets through the Pearly Gates is not up to any of us to decide. I will only echo the words “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir.”

    On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t push my luck and find some other guy to quote. :-)

  45. RichR says:


    Now that I re-read it, I apologize for being quick to get defensive.

  46. Maynardus says:

    I was recently in a church whose sanctuary had been \”enhanced\” in the post-Conciliar period. Around the angular perimeter of the raised sanctuary floor were round brass plates at regular intervals, each with a sort of socket in the center. At first I thought they might be vestiges of a long-extinct altar rail, but then realized that the original rail would have been in a different location and congifuration. Overcome by curiosity I asked one of the locals. \”Those are for the stanchions for the velvet ropes – we put them up during tourist season to keep people from wandering through the Sanctuary\”. For once I was rendered speechless!

  47. Charles R. Williams says:


    You need to find a Byzantine Rite Catholic parish and leave your baggage at the door. There is plenty of time to think through the papacy once you have found some peace.

    Your baggage is dragging YOU down.

    The things you say resonate with me and with many others but to indulge these thoughts is spiritual poison. Flee. Fast. Pray. Engage in charity. This is the Christian life. Time is short.

  48. michigancatholic says:

    Dear “I am not spartacus,”

    Unnecessary use of EMHCs has been defined formally as an abuse by the Holy See many times.

    Please do homework.

  49. Simon Platt says:

    Dear Michigan Catholic,

    He was joking. I for one appreciated it.

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