QUAERITUR: Communion, altar rails

A reader sent the following about Q&A in The Catholic Times, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.  Father John Dietzen writes his column for Catholic News Service from his home in Peoria.

So, I assume this column gets picked up by numerous diocesan newspapers, and not merely the aforementioned Catholic Times.

My emphases and comments.

Short history of Communion rails …
Written by Father John Dietzen

Q A few weeks ago, near our daughter’s home, we attended a church with a Communion rail, the first one I’ve seen in many years. With people receiving Communion almost all the time standing, the rails are obviously no longer necessary. But we wondered, when did the rule that Catholic churches need a Communion rail cease? Why would this church have one? (Florida)

A There was never a rule or even an official suggestion that churches have Communion rails. They became common, in fact, only a few hundred years ago. 

In his scholarly book From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist (Liturgical Press), Capuchin Father Edward Foley traces the widespread use of Communion rails to the trend toward uniformity of Catholic liturgy, doctrine and architecture after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

For example, until this time, tabernacles were liturgical vessels much like chalices, even sometimes hanging from the ceiling or wall. Cardinal Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, a significant figure at that council, preferred the tabernacle to be placed on the altar where the Eucharist was celebrated. For centuries, his influence solidified both that custom and later law in parishes around the world.

Something similar happened with the Communion rail, when the faithful began to kneel to receive Communion. As Foley describes it: “According to Jungmann (Josef Jungmann, whose Mass of the Roman Rite is a classic on the history of the celebration of the Eucharist), these (Communion rails) seem to have developed from the practice of spreading a cloth for communicants kneeling at the altar; eventually these cloths … evolved into the Communion rail.

As you indicate, new and remodeled Catholic church spaces today are more open, rarely with Communion rails separating the priest and the altar from the people. Perhaps the priest in the church you visited just feels for some reason there ought to be one.

I will have to differ in some respects from what Fr. Dietzen has offered.

The development of the communion or altar rail seems to be more complicated than that.

If probably developed from chancel screens which would screen the view of the sanctuary and also the wall dividing the choir area in basilicas from the rest of the nave.   These barriers go back to the earliest times of the Church.  They were intended to separate the space of the clergy from that of the laity, to mark better the place of the most holy part of the action and, as a practical issue, probably help to to keep critters (not just the congregation) from wandering into the sanctuary at the wrong time.

For example, in 5th c. N. Africa St. Augustine speaks in a sermon about a railing or barrier in a church in Carthage.  Read s. 359B. Perhaps I should do a PODCAzT on that.  It is a real kick to get a snapshot of a day in ancient Carthage.  The 5th c. historian Theodoret in his Ecclesiastical History describes how St. Ambrose forbade the Emperor Theodosius form entering the sanctuary past the rail. 

The barrier which fittingly – and with deep symbolic meaning – separates the sanctuary (the place of the priests and of sacrifice) and the nave (the place of the congregation) would come together under the weight of that greater understanding of the nature of the Eucharist which lead to more careful and reverent reception of Holy Communion.  It is both practical and symbolic.

The altar or communion rail was not merely to facilitate the reception of Holy Communion to keeling communicants (which is a practice devoutly to be wished and, please God, will return), but it has the symbolic meaning.  I think most if not all people who are against altar rails, if they are not just ignorant, are really just no very clear about the different roles of clergy and laity in the liturgical action.

I am not sure if there was ever a decree of, for example, the Sacred Congregation for Rites which required in churches the construction of altar rails.  That said, it strikes me as significant that virtually ever Roman Catholic church built everywhere for centuries had altar rails.  Is that by coincidence and custom merely or was their also legislation?

Given the fact that Communion on the tongue of a kneeling communicant is returning to greater prevalence – and I think will become more and more prevalent, it strikes me as highly imprudent and divisive to remove existing altar rails.  If I heard that a priest intended to remove an existing rail these days, I would want to know more – as a start  -about what he thinks of Pope Benedict.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. jbas says:

    Excellent defense! Thank you, Father Z. This sort of misinformation tends to get passed around for decades if not promptly addressed.

  2. momravet says:

    St. John the Baptist parish in Front Royal, VA has installed altar rails in the main church and in the Adoration Chapel within the last 3 years. It is a conservative parish that has been celebrating the EF on Sunday’s at 12:30 pm for a little under two years.

  3. Girgadis says:

    This question and answer appeared in the Philadelphia Catholic Standard and Times a few weeks ago and I shook my head in disbelief. What concerns me most is the tone of both the question and the answer, implying that there is something wrong with having an altar rail. Father Dietzen says “Perhaps the priest in the church you visited just feels for some reason there ought to be one.” Actually, there are a few reasons, and Father Dietzen missed a teaching opportunity when he failed to mention them. I wonder what he thinks of Pope Benedict XVI asking the faithful to kneel before him and receive Holy Communion only on the tongue. And why on earth would a faithful Catholic be bothered by the fact that an altar rail may have survived a wreckovation?

  4. Brendan McGrath says:

    Here in the Philadelphia area, there are lots of Communion rails. Some that come to mind: St. Matthias, St. Colman’s, the Church of the Gesu at St. Joseph’s Prep (my high school), St. Denis (I think), St. Agnes (I think), Sacred Heart in Havertown (I think), the Mother House chapel at Waldron Mercy Academy my grade school) (again, I think, I can’t quite remember) plus lots of others. I’d say it’s more the rule rather than the exception, unless the Church was built only recently. I think the renovations after Vatican II were less extensive here — which also means we still have a lot of the traditional beauty with statues, etc. And the high altars are all still there; they just put new altars in front.

  5. Magpie says:

    What do we say to folks who say ”Oh but Christ tore the veil in the temple, therefore we don’t need altar rails!”? One does hear that from time to time.

  6. Girgadis says:

    BTW, here is a link to a series of You Tube videos someone produced called “The Passion of the Catholic Church.” Perhaps some of you have already seen it. My pastor called the series to my attention and while it’s annoying that the videos aren’t ordered in sequence, they’re well worth a look. You’ll see the beauty of when we did have altar rails and knelt for Holy Communion as well as the horror of where changes have led and the hope that the tide is turning.

  7. AnAmericanMother says:


    I would just say, “non sequitur alert!” That might justify the absence of an ikonostasis and doors, but a rail . . . ?

  8. Leonius says:

    As usual they mislead by what they fail to say.

    Alter rails are a reduced minimised version of the rood screen but by not mentioning that they give the impression that there never used to be a separating barrier at all and that things were actually like we have in many places today.

    Interesting piece of info on wikipedia:

    “The decrees of the Council of Trent (1545–1563) enjoined that the celebration of the Mass should be made much more accessible to lay worshippers; and this was widely interpreted as requiring the removal of rood screens as physical and visual barriers, even though the Council had made no explicit condemnation of screens.”

    Sounds familiar.

  9. aemmel says:


    Heh, that article ran in “Catholic East Texas” a couple of weeks ago. My wife and children were teated to the spectacle of me yelling at a newspaper! (I get quite passionate about by faith sometimes!)

  10. mjd says:

    In Dallas, TX (before I moved here) the former Sacred Heart Cathedral downtown removed the Communion rails and left them on the sidewalk! It broke Father Paul’s heart as he mentioned it in a homily. It is now called The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    The Communion rails are still used at St. Thomas and The Discalced Carmelite Monastery. At St. Peter the Apostle, a small kneeler was made for first Communicants. It is covered with white satin & flowers on each side. Kneeling to receive The Eucharist is always acceptable.

  11. yatzer says:

    Yeah, we got that in our diocesan newspaper, too. I threw it out. That being said, I belong to a lovely parish with altar rail, and we may kneel and receive on the tongue. Almost everyone kneels who can, and the big majority have gone to receiving on the tongue.

  12. This is the symbolism I have come to recognize in the altar rail.

    During Mass, the congregation does not enter into the sanctuary, but only comes as close as the altar rail; and the priest does not leave the sanctuary, but only goes as far as the altar rail. And when do they do that? During the distribution of Holy Communion. I see the altar rail as a sign of the Incarnation, of Divine condescension.

    I could be wrong, but that’s what it says to me.

  13. TomG says:

    I believe the rending of the temple veil was a symbol of the break between the Old Dispensation and the New Dispensation.

  14. Gail F says:

    The rood screen “lowering” to a communion rail at least makes sense. How would a cloth spread “for communicants kneeling at the altar” have turned into a rail? The cloth, one would assume, was to make kneeling easier on the knees. When people repeat things that make no sense, you have to wonder if they ever stop to think!

  15. JPG says:

    It would seem to me that the most reasonable explanation is that they are a shorter rood screen. The Traditions of the East and the West are in spite of the opinions of some remarkably similar in many respects. Architecture and the understanding of the Sanctuary as being in essence a part of Heaven or equivelent to the Holy of Holies in the old Temple of Jerusalem. This would mandate a separation. Just as in the Eastern Church I think only a Priest fully vested may enter through the Royal Doors. This lack of separation may be a modern innovation representing a false archeologism (seeking an understanding of the Eucharistic celebration that never was). Please keep in mind I have no scholarly work upon which to base this statement, it just seems that the Rood screen and the Iconostasis are strikingly similar in form and function, that the theology behind both must be similar. The lack of legislation may likewise reflect the fact that such an understanding as to the nature of the Sanctuary was so widespread that only a fool or a heretic would question it.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Even in Medieval and Renaissance churches, there was a barrier between the chancel and the nave. Whether this was a true “rood” screen, containing the Cross (the rood), or a screen dividing the choir (usually monks or choirs belonging to the monastic foundation), the idea was that only ordained clergy, or those young men serving at the altar, would be allowed past the barrier. Some rood screens had lofts.

    The iconostasis provided the same liturgical boundary. In the great monastic foundations of England, and in other countries, the people in the nave stood throughout the entire Mass, as there were no pews. A barrier of some sort, even a low barrier, would separate the people from the celebrant(s). Doors for the monks choirs can be seen in English monastic churches or abbeys, as well as in the ruins. Some large churches had “layers” of screens or rails.

    I understand that two reasons destroyed the Rood Screens, chancel screens or rails and others. One was the destruction of the churches during the Protestant Revolt, especially in England, and the other was the Council of Trent, which introduced, of course, the Tridentine Mass and making the Liturgy more visible for the people. Low screens pre-date Trent by hundreds of years.

    Pews were a late and lay development, truly installed after the Protestant Revolt, and again, making it easier for the people. In fact, in some churches in England, families bought pews and had their names put on them, for their own comfort.

    The best way to learn all these things is to visit the old churches in Europe and even the ruins in England, as the architecture takes on special meaning when one can actually examine the details, even if the Rood Screens are gone.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    I cannot resist Sonnet 73 (and I recommend David Knowles on this stuff as well):

    That time of year thou mayst in me behold
    When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
    Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
    In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
    As after sunset fadeth in the west;
    Which by and by black night doth take away,
    Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
    In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
    That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
    As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
    Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
    This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

  18. TJerome says:

    I would suggest that Father John Dietzen discuss this topic with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the new bishop of Springfield. Bishop Paprocki is a board member of the Latin Mass Society and has celebrated Mass, in Latin, at St. John Cantius in Chicago, where the practice for receiving Holy Communion is traditional, at the alter railing, on the tongue, where there is even a clothe over the altar railing where the Faithful places their hands underneath. Yes, he should talk to Bishop Paprocki, if he is man enough.

  19. becket1 says:

    Quote: “Here in the Philadelphia area, there are lots of Communion rails.”

    And they are never used!.
    In Upper Bucks County. Good luck finding any.

  20. becket1 says:

    And most of the pastors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are, as Father Z calls it, “of that age group”.

  21. Raymond says:

    If you think that rood screens separate the laity from clergy, then don’t forget the Spanish cathedral tradition of enclosing the high altar with “rejas”–basically a cage-like divider. A couple of examples…



    Not to mention that in most Spanish cathedrals, the choir is situated right smack in the middle of the nave, thus blocking the view of most of the laity, with the exception of the nobility who usually sat up front.

  22. The veil in the Temple was torn at the Crucifixion. From what I understand, the fact that Christ *comes out* from the sanctuary to the people during Communion shows this most clearly. We have a holy of holies just like the Temple, but the veil is gone — or in some Eastern Churches, the veil is pulled back at every Divine Liturgy as a memorial of Christ’s Passion. The sign value of keeping an altar rail, rood screen, iconostasis — AND Holy Communion is tremendous.

  23. Jason says:

    I’m not thoroughly schooled on such things. But my understanding is similar to Mr. Pinyan’s in a comment above.

    The sanctuary is heaven, the abode of the Divine Christ who takes away the sins of the world. He exists there, body, blood, soul, and divinity. He is tended by His holy priests.

    Outside the sanctuary is me. A sinner humbly approaching this holy place to receive Him as He instructed me to do. There is a barrier between me and heaven, and that is sin. That’s the rail. I kneel humbly on the earthly side of it, waiting for what I’ve not earned but for what has been freely given to me. Christ’s priest approaches to offer the only means of breaching what separates me from the sanctuary?

    I can’t reach across the rail. In generosity and mercy, the priest’s ordained hands, holding Christ Himself, breaks the barrier of the rail which is the sin that separates me from Him. He comes to the earthly side of it in order to feed me, as He became incarnate in this world to save us.

    And during that miracle, that gift, His priest says the greatest prayer I’ve ever heard, “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen.”

    Deo Gratias.

    It’s saturday. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

  24. jmgarciajr says:

    My parish here in the Miami area — St. Theresa the Little Flower — has such a rail. Ages ago, during the darkest part of the 40 years in the liturgical wilderness, a committee of parishioners was organized, to oversee the renovation of the building. Someone suggested knocking down the marble altar rail, but our then-pastor unequivocally said “No. We’ll be needing it soon enough.”

  25. JARay says:

    I know that it is difficult to read , but Eamon Duffy’s account in “The Stripping of the Altars” states that people used to bore holes in the Rood Screen so that they could see the Host being elevated during Mass. Clearly there was a dividing line between the Faithful and the Consecrated Priests just as the Jews were not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and it would make some sense that the altar rails were in fact a continuation of that tradition

  26. shadowlands says:

    Jeffrey said

    ‘I see the altar rail as a sign of the Incarnation, of Divine condescension.’

    I think that’s a wonderful description.

  27. uptoncp says:

    To bore holes in the rood screen? I don’t like to doubt Prof. Duffy, but parish rood screens (as opposed to the pulpitum of a monastic or collegiate church) were parclose, e.g http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/ranworth/images/Dscf4405.jpg and create very little visual obstruction above about waist height.

  28. Ef-lover says:

    The altar rail was restored to St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk Ct. this past year by the pastor -where it had been totally removed many years ago. BTW, the side altars were also restored and the confessional also.

  29. Paul Evdokimov, in his book ‘The Art of the Icon, a Theology of Beauty’, has some beautiful things to say about the symbolism of the church, the sanctuary, and the iconostasis which of course applies as much to the Latin church as to the Byzantine. Rather than seeing the altar rail as symbolising sin (I have serious problems with that) it is better to see the whole sanctuary as symbolising the area where heaven and earth meet, and therefore the Incarnation, and the altar rail symbolising the meeting point between Christ the head and His Body, the people.

    One could answer arguments against altar rails quite simply – if they are to go why are pews remaining – they only came in with the advent of longer sermons about two hundred years ago? I don’t think many liberals (iconoclasts!) would advocate the removal of pews unless they were to be replaced with bean-bags, of course.

  30. Tom Ryan says:

    Typical Fr. Dietzen column.

    At Holy Trinity in St. Paul, MN the altar rail has been brought back.


  31. dcs says:

    Quote: “Here in the Philadelphia area, there are lots of Communion rails.”

    And they are never used!.

    My experience is the same – with one exception, I have only ever knelt at an altar rail for Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when assisting at the traditional Mass. Usually the priest and EHMCs step out of the sanctuary to distribute Holy Communion.

  32. xathar says:

    The above description of the development of these rails sounds like an organic development without an accompanying decree from above. It seems to me that, in some way, this relates to the earlier discussion on this blog concerning mass said versus populum; this too took shape without a decree from above. While I would argue that the former is a positive development and the latter, negative, I think it is worth noting that these changes originated “from the ground up,” so to speak. With this in mind, I question the fastidious adherence by some to the sometimes silly decisions made in the 1960’s-early 1980’s by Rome or bishops’ conferences (e.g. the awful Notitiae article from 1978 which states that one may incense in anyway possible EXCEPT for in the traditional manner). Perhaps there is room for some flexibility in the NO rite with respect to bringing back some elements of tradition, so long as it is an organic development which originates from “the ground up.” After all, as this post has shown, some very positive developments have begun in just this way.

  33. Henry Edwards says:

    In regard to altar rails, there’s a question similar to the one in the current thread on versus populum altars.

    Is there any documentary encouragement for the removal of existing altar rails, or discouragement of the installation of new ones?

    I recall discussion preliminary to a fairly recent new church construction, when the pastor believed that special permission from Rome would be needed in order to include an altar rail.

  34. RichR says:

    I think the first thing that should be done to refacilitate altar rails would be to return to the proper liturgical language of sacred space. Namely, we should return to using the phrase sanctuary as the area around the altar where the clergy offer the Mass, and the nave as the area where the people sit in the pews. It symbolizes Heaven and Earth, respectively, and the moment of Holy Communion is where we, the people, approach Heaven and Christ comes down to us. Too often, nowadays, we mirror the Protestants and say that the whole area where people sit and the altar is is the “sanctuary”. That stems from the idea that we, the People of God, are holy. I find that arrogant, seeing as how we are coming into the very presence of Holiness, itself.

    This is all very clear in eastern liturgical architecture with the ikonostasis, and a layout that models the OT Jerusalem Temple. We Romans are so mundane in our approach to religion these days – we could learn a lot form our Eastern brethren.

  35. pelerin says:

    Exactly RichR. @ 9.43 a.m. When did anyone last hear someone referring to the ‘Sanctuary’?

    Since becoming ‘open plan’ so many churches have lost the sense of the sacred and consequently people feel free even to invade the sanctuary after Mass. I saw this recently in Lourdes when as soon as Mass had finished in the Rosary Basilica about a dozen people walked right behind the altar and took turns in posing for their friends, cameras in hand in front of the statue of Our Lady. An official had to intervene and tell them to return to the nave and even then a couple carried on taking photographs ignoring the official. Often officials have to clear the Sanctuary before Mass there too as people just wander round oblivious to what is about to take place.

    Once the ropes are in place (the same system used in banks and cinemas) then the Sanctuary is once again separated from the nave but the decision to remove altar rails in so many churches was IMHO
    a disaster as seemingly a generation has grown up not understanding the significance of the Sanctuary.

  36. Gail F says:

    Bro. T. Forde wrote: “I don’t think many liberals (iconoclasts!) would advocate the removal of pews unless they were to be replaced with bean-bags, of course.”

    HA HA HA, EXCELLENT point!

    I have only knelt at a communion rail once, and it was a disaster. Well, not really, but it was definitely a problem. I went to an E.F. mass for the first time, and when the two halves of the church went up for communion, the OTHER half was nice and orderly. They obviously knew what they were doing. Our half sort of milled around when we got up to the front, and some people darted in front of others to kneel down. I think the priest wasn’t sure who to go to — he couldn’t go down a nice line like the other priest. And then when he got to me I wasn’t exactly sure how to receive on the tongue. It wasn’t too bad, though, and nothing that wouldn’t have been solved by everyone getting a little more experience. But I can’t say it was more reverent because most people seemed confused.

  37. Mitchell NY says:

    I see the rail as a lowered screen as well. As a lay person I have never, even from my youngest memories, seen or thought of Altar Rails as a barrier between me and the Sanctuary. It would never bother or “obstruct” me in any way. They just seem to make sense as a form of lineation, or demarcation as to where the sacred actions take place. That’s it. It forms a space in the mind where one thinks about Our Lord being within a well defined sector of the Church. Yes, God is everywhere but when we think of the Consecration, how many of us picture in our minds this happening in the nave, or side chapel? None of us probably, we think of it happeneing on the Altar, within the Sanctuary, with our mind having an image of where it begins and ends. To say an Altar Rail is an obstruction to be removed is a stretch or the truth. Thay are usually only around 30 inches high, so how could this obstruct anything? Following this logic the next would be to remove steps because the also act as a line of delineation. To remove existing ones seems somehow to desacralize the space to me. I would say most people do not mind them, but removing them stirs up all kinds of controversy and heartache. In fact many are putting them back in now. Is their removal really for the good of the Parish? How many parish committees exist for the sole purpose of removing rails? But you do see such committes when the destruction is about to take place. This seems an unnecessary way to inflame people.

  38. Supertradmum says:

    Note: in some ancient churches, there were low rails and rood screens at the same time. As mentioned above, there could be as many as three screens in large, monastic abbeys and churches. Layers of screens were not that rare.

  39. At least in my parish in Philadelphia, I always receive on the rail. The rail brings me closer, than without it. It’s the transcendence between heaven and earth (cf CC1184-86). God willing altar rails will be back in every parish

  40. OdeM says:

    Our Lady of Lourdes, Philadelphia. 10:30am Mass. Sunday. Novus Ordo, Latin. Communion at altar rail. No luck needed to find it, just desire.

  41. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Fr. Dietzen is unfortunately also syndicated in the Catholic Telegraph (diocesan newspaper for Archdiocese of Cincinnati.) This is quite typical of his less-than-impeccable historical explanations. It is rare that he ever gets his history straight. He usually distorts things at least slightly, and sometimes blatantly. Even in charity, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he is doing so deliberately because he has an axe to grind.

    I’d advise taking anything you read by Dietzen _cum grano salo_.

  42. cregduff says:

    Team WDTPRS:

    There is a wonderful recent video of Cardinal Arinze answering a question about kneeling and receiving the Eucharist, as well as a comment about altar rails, and the lack of any instruction or law of the church following Vatical II about ripping them out. He is leaning on the principal of freedom here, and manifesting an inclination toward the rights of the congregation.

    Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc0g3UMRtMM

    Best regards,

    Ed Casey

  43. Kent says:

    I agree with the comments concerning Fr. Dietzen who has a column in our diocesan newspaper. Probably well intentioned but his answers seem to lack historical basis and are mostly “spirit of Vatican II” inclined. He recently suggested that the use of Latin and chant were archaic and the Church should not regress in that direction.

  44. Cincinnati Priest,

    It would seem that the most practical purpose of Fr. Dietzen’s columns in the CT is the generation of rebuttals in the Letters section. Ditto for the like-minded Fr. Lawrence Mick, whose “rupturous” pieces on the liturgy appear on occasion.

  45. scarda says:

    I was a middle eastern archaeologist for a number of years, and specialized in very early Christian churches, c.AD 300-700. For reference, the earliest known Christian church–at Dura Europos– is from c.AD 246.

    From the early 300s on, churches in Roman outposts of the middle east had chancel screens which were really altar rails of carved stone about 2-3 ft high, which separated the nave from the chancel area. These were permanent installations which did not open and close.

    The chancel was one or two steps higher than the nave, and the altar was used from the front, i.e., the Mass was celebrated ad orientem, easily seen in many churches by the repairs made to the plaster floor at the front of the altar. The area behind the altar showed little to no use, and was sometimes simply left as dirt. The altar was visible to the faithful in the earliest churches. The iconostasis was a later development in the eastern rites.

  46. We have had to put up with Fr. Dietzen’s drivel in the Catholic Times for decades. Cincinatti Priest has him pegged exactly right. His reply about communion rails was mild compared to his ability to arrogantly sneer at devotion and tradition when he really gets going.

  47. scarda: Thanks for that! Very interesting.

  48. lux_perpetua says:

    “where there is even a clothe over the altar railing where the Faithful places their hands underneath.”

    This is what happened at the EF Mass for the Assumption at St. Peter’s in new Jersey. what is the point of the cloth/why do some place their hands underneath?

    PS. The above discussed Mass at OLL In Philly is the Church that brought me back to Christ.

  49. Nathan says:

    Hello, Lux_perpetua!

    Here’s what the good folks at St John Cantius have on the Communion rail and cloth sanctamissa.org:

    “It is made of carved wood, metal, marble, or other precious material; it should be about two feet six inches high, and on the upper part from six to nine inches wide. The “Rituale Romanum” (tit. iv, cap. ii, n. I) prescribes that a clean white cloth be extended before those who receive Holy Communion. This cloth is to be of fine linen, as it is solely intended as a sort of corporal to receive the particles which may by chance fall from the hands of the priest. It is usually fastened on the sanctuary side and when in use is drawn over the top of the rail. It should extend the full length of the rail, and be about two feet wide, so that the communicant, taking it in both hands, may hold it under his chin. Its very purpose suggests that it is not to be made of lace or netting, although there is nothing to forbid its having a border of fine lace or embroidery.”

    In the cases where I have seen it used, I seem to remember both the Communion paten and the cloth being used. I don’t think this was the traditional practice, though, since I think the Communion paten with the handle is a fairly recent innovation.

    Strictly from a server’s perspective, I wouldn’t mind having the cloth, since having everyone put their hands underneath when receiving Holy Communion would make the job of placing the paten easier–it isn’t easy figuring out where to put it when the communicant folds his or her hands and touches their chin with the tips!

    In Christ,

  50. bookworm says:

    “I assume this column gets picked up by numerous diocesan newspapers”

    Your assumption is correct. Fr. Dietzen’s “Question Box” started in the Peoria Diocese’s newspaper, The Catholic Post, and has been syndicated by Catholic News Service since the early 1970s. Fr. Dietzen himself has been a priest of the Diocese of Peoria since 1954. I believe he’s on retired or “pastor emeritus” status now.

    I was somewhat acquainted with him when I lived in the Peoria Diocese. Yes, he is one of the more “spirit of Vatican II” leaning type of priests and seems to have a marked preference for the Novus Ordo liturgy and all that that implies.

    On the plus side, he has been involved in the pro-life movement since BEFORE Roe v. Wade, and was pro-life/family life director in Peoria for a number of years. I remember he once printed in the Question Box a very heart-wrenching letter from a woman who had had an abortion and regretted it. His reply was both truthful and compassionate.

  51. bookworm says:

    “I would suggest that Father John Dietzen discuss this topic with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the new bishop of Springfield.”

    I’m sure that would be interesting. :-)

    Speaking of altar rails… the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield (the parish I belong to currently) had altar rails until very recently, although of course they had not been used since Vatican II. The Cathedral had been basically untouched since it was built in 1928, and underwent a year-long renovation in 2008-09. The project began under Bp. Lucas, who was moved to Omaha while it was still ongoing.

    There was a lot of worry when the project was first announced that it was going to end up being a typical spirit of V2 “wreckovation” but fortunately that did not happen. For the most part, the Cathedral looks about the same as before, and the work was beautifully done. (I highly recommend that anyone planning a trip to Springfield for the Abe Lincoln sites include a side stop here.)

    The altar rails, by the way, are still there, they have just been moved to the side to form rails for wheelchair ramps. If Bp. Paprocki or any of his successors really wanted badly enough to put them back, I think they could.

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