QUAERITUR: Some people go to the Communion rail quite early.

From a reader:

In my parish, some of the parishioners approach the Communion Rail at what seems to be too early a time. They go up as the second Confiteor is said by the servers, and are kneeling at the rail while the Ecce: Agnus Dei! prayer is taking place. Is this too soon, or are they on to something which I am unfamiliar with?

Maybe they just really love Jesus and can hardly wait to receive Him. Maybe they usually go to a TLM where the rubrics of the 1962MR are actually observed and the Second Confiteor is not recited. Maybe they are choristers. Maybe they just like to be first.

Friend, I wouldn’t worry about this.

Yes, it might be a little early as far as standard practice is in some places. I have seen this happen as well. Often people who are a little motion impaired will get a head start.

I don’t think we have to be too regimented about the Communion rail.

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  1. asperges says:

    People get very worked up about the 2nd Confiteor. As I understand it, it is not forbidden, just not included in the 1962 rubrics. I think it is a case of ubi mos est and personally, I feel there is a slightly awkward hiatus without it. FSSP and ICRSS do it, I gather, and other (approved) traditionalist groups. Rome doesn’t seem to be too excited about it, nor should we. [This isn’t really about the 2nd Confiteor “rabbit hole”.]

  2. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    What a fuss! Too early?

    I understand – or at least I have gained the impression over the years – that the origin of the ringing of the bell at the Domine non sum dignus was as a sign to the congregation that communion would shortly be distributed. Certainly, at the church where I normally assist (and often serve) communicants approach the altar at that time. (Equally certainly, the practice differs at other churches but a few miles away, but people seem to cope with this variety.) I also seem to have gained the impression that the second confiteor was in its turn a sign to the priest that there were faithful presenting themselves for communion. Certainly, if there were no communicants there would be no second confiteor!

  3. RichR says:

    I hate to sound like a broken record, but…: “At least you have a TLM.”

    If we had one here in College Station TX, I’d probably be the guy on the front row who goes up early….on his knees with giddy tears of thanksgiving just because we had a TLM (and a communion rail, for that matter). =)

  4. southern orders says:

    As a child in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s prior to Vatican II, I clearly remember the choir coming down from the choir loft and being at the altar railing and in the aisle as well, prior to the “Ecce Agnus Dei”, so I presume this took place during the Confiteor prior to Holy Communion. I also recall people standing behind the choir in the aisle and as soon as the priest turned to the congregation for the “Ecce…” everyone would kneel on the floor in the center aisle as others were kneeling at their pews. Somehow that impressed me as a little child seeing people doing that although I wasn’t completely aware of why they were doing it other than God was there.

  5. Elly says:

    It is also possible they have to receive low gluten hosts so it is easier for everyone if they are first.

  6. The procedure described by southern orders was standard in the TLM then and still is. If anyone is in the aisle on their way to the communion rail, of course they stop and kneel where they are for the Ecce, Agnus Dei. Domini, non sum dignus. How could anyone remain standing in the visible presence of our Lord displayed?

  7. OurLadysRabbit says:

    Have you considered it might be the Choir? I am in the choir at the TLM and we all come down from the choir loft right after the Agnus Dei so we can receive first and continue singing.

  8. wchoag says:

    Unlike the GIRM in the Ordinary Form which is almost burdensome in its dictates for the congregation (rather stunning in light of the loose instructions for the “presider” and deacon and the few and sometimes ambiguous rubrics in the Missal), I have never found anywhere instructions for the laity in Extraordinary Form. Posture and movement seems always to have been left to local custom and good judgment.

    If a person wants to go to the communion rail during the Collect or Gradual…well…just let them. I would love to see a return to Latin-rite churches with no pews and distinct ambulatories! Everyone could stand, kneel…even prostrate or go up to the altar rail at will. THAT is the beauty of liturgy untouched by Enlightenment rationalism.

  9. jlduskey says:

    When we don’t have the Confiteor before communion, we tend to lose the distinction between the priest’s receiving communion and the distribution of communion to the rest of the people present. The priest must take communion from both species which he has just consecrated, in order to have a valid mass. Then, the rite for distribution of communion outside of mass is inserted into the mass at this point. This separation makes the distinction between priest and people clear. (And, isn’t that lack of distinction a problem in some of the newer forms?)
    I have served at masses where there was no communion distribution to the people: This frequently happens when a priest says two masses, one right after the other (as on All Souls’ Day). As the writer above said, recitation of the Confiteor is a signal to the priest that there is at least one person present who wants to receive at that mass.
    It would be hard for the server to get that signal and relay it to the priest if people did not come up to the communion rail right after the priest receives communion.
    Additionally, at least some people should come up to the communion rail early: When the priest walks to the communion rail, he is carrying the Blessed Sacrament, ready to distribute communion. He should not have to wait for the people in the pews to decide to come up to the communion rail. If nobody came up to receive, it would appear as an embarrassment to the priest, something very much to be avoided.

  10. Mom2301 says:

    I’m with RichR–be grateful you have anEF mass to attend. Love your mass and pray for those who do not have access to it.

  11. dcs says:

    In some places it is customary to approach the altar before the Ecce Agnus Dei. No big deal. It does lend itself to an orderly communion line.

  12. Joshua08 says:

    I am pretty sure too, that in the old days when a bell was rung shortly before communion time, it meant get up now and get thee to the rail if you wish to receive. As there were Masses where no one received, if someone was there to receive the server rang the bell at the reception of the Chalice by the priest thus alerting him to distribute communion. If there wasn’t anyone, then there would be no Ecce agnus Dei, no second confiteor. Just go straight to ablutions.

    As it is exceeding rare that no one should receive communion, at least if anyone is present, the need for both the bell ringing and the coming up earlier is less necessary. But it is still presumed by the rubrics that you come up earlier

  13. In the Dominican Rite Solemn Mass the friars leave their stalls and enter the sanctuary at the priest’s communion so that the can prostrate on the floor there when the Communion bell is rung at the beginning of the Communion Confiteor (or when it is properly omitted following the 1960 rubrics) at the Ecce. Those who have attended Dominican Rite Solemn Masses at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle WA have seen this done.

    There are lot’s of other reasons (some given above) for other practices as to approaching for Communion. But the temple police we will always have with us.

  14. okiesarah says:

    At the Masses where I’ve attended it’s the choir that goes up early, which I am thankful for since they are back to singing by the time I return to my pew and I love being able to listen to that while I’m thanking the Lord for his sacrifice.

  15. thereseb says:

    Southern Orders

    I too remember (in UK) as a child, people queuing in the aisles, and going down on one knee simultaneously at the “Domine non sum dignus”. This went on till about 1970 I think – so was inherited for the first NO missal , presumably, or was perhaps just continued as habit – then dropped gradually. I don’t remember it much after 1973.

  16. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    To answer the questioner: NO. This is the correct time. It is discourteous to Our Lord, and rude to the priest, to come late and keep him (Them) waiting. People should move forward during the priest’s communion, so some at least are in place for the Ecce Agnus Dei, (when all kneel down).

    In a religious house the community comes up to the altar in a procession at this time.

  17. UbiCaritas says:

    As previous commenters have suggested, it could very likely be the choir. I sing in the chant schola at my local TLM, and the moment that we finish the last note of the Agnus Dei, we head quickly downstairs so as to be kneeling in the aisle near the front of the church by the time that the priest says the “Ecce Agnus Dei”. After the “Domine, non sum dignus”, we get up and go to the communion rail. Were we to wait until everyone started queing up for Communion, well…you lot wouldn’t have music during your post-Communion meditation. ; )
    Also, there is something about receiving Communion together as a choir that cements our fellowship–rather like receiving with family. Recently, on the occasion of a choir member’s fortieth wedding anniversary, the rest of us deliberately made space around her so that she and her husband (who isn’t a choir member) could receive together. Just Too Cool, I say. :)

  18. Obviously, we’ve all seen a lot of people doing stuff at Mass that they shouldn’t, which tends to make us pretty paranoid any time we see something we’ve never seen before. So it looks like there are two charitable strategies here:

    1) Near-total obliviousness to what other people are doing, as taught by those of our mothers who poke their children whenever they’re staring instead of praying. :)

    2) Thinking, “That’s different. I wonder why they do that?” instead of assuming it must be some bizarre abuse, and then asking the knowledgeable (and geographically diverse) folks over at Father Z’s.

    There’s probably both a market and a Real Need for a book on the diversity of permissible, normal, Catholic in-Mass or devotional customs. (Witness the freaking out over wearing a rosary around the neck, which is Mom and apple pie in Hispanic countries but weird and deprecated in Ireland and in the Irish US.) So if anybody is feeling research-y or knowledgeable, I’d say this would be a good book to write.

  19. Dr. K says:

    I think this is a reasonable question asked by the reader and it doesn’t deserve responses such as at least you have a TLM. That sort of response not answer the reader’s question.

  20. mrsmontoya says:

    My only thought is that you are blessed to have a rail. There are almost none left in our diocese.

  21. James Joseph says:

    I really like altar rails and the flexibility they provide.

    I like going to the rail last so that I can take a while to pre-dispose myself.

    Maybe it’s an old Marine Corps sergeant’s habit of getting chow last or maybe it’s just being considerate.

    Mangia. Mangia.

  22. Speravi says:

    First, I used to sing with a schola and it was our normal custom to come to the rail before or during the second Confiteor; this way we could get back up to chant the Communion.
    Secondly, as I recall, I think I have seen some old prayer books or missals which actually suggest this as the correct time. In certain periods of history, not everyone received communion every time they came to Mass. In certain periods and places, most people didn’t receive at every daily Mass. To approach the altar may have been the way in which to indicate that you wanted to receive. If there are no communicants, there is not even supposed to be a second confiteor or an “Ecce Agnus Dei”. It seems likely that it is customary to wait until after the “Ecce Agnus Dei” because that is when we see the priest come toward us to distribute communion (and if a whole congregation is to recieve they are not all going to be able to kneel at the rail before hand). But so long as people are not walking during the “Ecce Agnus Dei,” I don’t see anything wrong with approaching the rail first. The “Ecce Agnus Dei” is specifically a part of the rite of communion for the congregation. Still, there are many parishes where approaching at this time is not customary.

  23. gambletrainman says:

    I remember, while growing up in the ’40’s and ’50’s, we had 4 Masses on Sundays–7:30, 9:00, 10:30 (High Mass) and 12:00. Mother, dad and I always went to the 7:30. During the second Confiteor,the nuns would go first, then the rest of the congregation, so, that by the time the priest got to the communion rail, there was no waiting on his part. At the High Mass,the choir would go first,then the congregation. That point was drilled into our heads–you don’t keep the priest waiting.

    Nowadays, especially with one server, the priest is on the way to the communion rail, and people wait until he gives the altar boy communion, then go running (practically) to the communion rail to keep the priest from waiting. Boy, how times have changed!

  24. At our local extraordinary form Mass, the choir comes from the loft and receives first as well for practical reasons. Here I agree– just be thankful that there is an extraordinary form Mass, with a choir loft that is used.

  25. AnAmericanMother says:

    IF we had a TLM at our parish, it would be interesting indeed for our choir to somehow get downstairs (two steep flights, longer than a standard flight as the ceiling in the church is rather high — or a VERY slow elevator) in time, not to mention making our way through the crowd to the front of the church.
    In our local FSSP parish, the choir (which stands in the two back pews as there is no loft) sings first, then goes forward to receive as the organist “noodles”. But I haven’t attended often enough to know if that is an invariable practice.
    The lack of a choir loft is not their fault — the building was formerly one of those little red-brick Baptist churches with the non-functional steeple that you see dotted all over the rural South. It does tickle me to think of the unwary approaching a building that looks like this:
    and finding this:
    “Edna Mae, we has done taken a wrong turn somewhere!” (No Bubba, it was a right turn!)

  26. Jennyfire says:

    I agree with Dr. K. The original poster was simply wondering if he or she had missed something, if there was something they were “unfamiliar” with. Nothing wrong in wanting to learn more.

  27. Jennyfire says:

    Elly, I’ll probably get a lot of slack for this comment, but I wish the low gluten people would stop seeming like such babies. Are they going to die if they consume a regular host? It seems to me like they are, in so many words, saying to the priest “Father, my doctor told me to inconvenience you.” My apologies though if truly there are people out there who will need hospitalization for receiving a regular host just like everyone else.

  28. Banjo pickin girl says:

    jennyfire, wow, just wow. Celiac disease causes irreversible damage to the intestinal villi, resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients. Besides the danger caused by that, look up the symptoms and see if you would like to live with that 24/7.

  29. marajoy says:

    Far better than all the times I see the priest just standing up front, waiting for the people (in the first row) to wake up and come up to him… (usually more at OFs, but I HAVE seen this at EFs!)

  30. Nordic Breed says:

    Everywhere I’ve ever been to the TLM, it’s always been the choir going up “early” so they can go back and sing the Communion antiphon and carry on with whatever other stuff they’re singing.

  31. Jennyfire says:

    I know Banjo girl, I crossed the forbidden insensitive line, daring to consider that perhaps some people are unthinkingly following their doctor’s orders to a morbid tee. As if a priest doesn’t have enough to concern himself with. It’s quite possible that some with a mild low gluton intolerance are simply following the example of others without considering that they personally don’t need to march up front to the altar before Holy Communion reception. Naturally I’m not referring to rare cases where one has to watch every single bit of food that passes through their mouths.

  32. MJ says:

    I sing with both our EF parish choirs…the regular choir and the smaller polyphony choir…we always head down from the choir loft right after the Agnus Dei and kneel at the rail and prepare to receive. If we don’t go down then, we won’t be able to receive at all.

  33. irishgirl says:

    At the TLM chapel I go to, the organist comes down from the choir loft when the second Confiteor is said and before the ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’, so she receives Communion first and then goes back upstairs.
    And when our ‘tiny choir’ [meaning number of singers, not ages] is singing, then we either precede or follow the organist down so we can receive, then go back up to resume singing.
    And when I used to sing in a parish choir at the OF Mass (except that it wasn’t called that back in the late 1970s), the choir would walk as quietly as they could down a side aisle to receive Communion first.

  34. gambletrainman says:

    The lady I ride to church with is gluten “sensitive”. She does not take anything with gluten. However, when she receives communion, she receives the regular host. She says there is a difference between gluten sensitive and gluten allergic. I don’t know.

  35. Jennyfire says:

    Banjo girl and gamble man, thanks for the info. I’ll try to roll my eyes less at what I’ve probably mistakenly perceived as a few individuals who are taking themselves way too seriously by asking for special treatment at Mass. I’ll try to play nicer in the future, if I must. God bless.

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