ASK FATHER: Ordinary Form Mass with a Communion rail?

communion right wrong smFrom a reader…


I’ll ask the question up front: Is it illicit to celebrate the Ordinary Form while using a communion rail? If not, would use of a rail while celebrating the OF preclude reception of Communion in the hand, or while standing? Would it be verboten for a communicant to kneel at the rail, but receive in the hand? (I know… why would anyone want to do THAT?)

Yes, it is licit to celebrate the Ordinary Form and also to distribute Communion at a Communion rail.

The Church’s law guarantees the right of the faithful to kneel to receive.  In most places the bishops of the region have (regrettably) also permitted Communion in the hand for the Ordinary Form.   A Communion rail is a richly symbolic element of church’s communicative dimension through architecture and ornament.  It is also practical: it affords help to people who are a bit older or who have difficulty kneeling and rising.

It seems that those distributing Communion at an Ordinary Form cannot refuse to distribute to those who wish to receive either directly on the tongue or (sadly) in the hand.  So, were a person at an Ordinary Form Mass to kneel at the rail and yet want to receive in the hand, they should not – under ordinary circumstances – be denied.

However, the Church’s law in Redemptionis Sacramentum warns several times about avoiding the danger of profanation of the Eucharist.  If there is danger of profanation by distributing Communion in the hand (perhaps because of the nature and composition, the integrity of the Hosts), then Communion should not, must not, be distributed in the hand.  Prudence and sound judgment should be exercised, along with lots of catechesis and explanations.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Grant M says:

    “Kneel at the rail, but receive in the hand.”

    That was the Anglican custom, when I was an Anglican, as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer.

  2. MattnSue says:

    For what it is worth, Our Lady of Lourdes in Philadelphia, run by the lovely Mercedarians, where I often attend, and which has an Extraordinary Form Mass on Sunday mornings, uses the rail for their Ordinary form mass as well.

  3. Mary Jane says:

    Our family attends a FSSP parish, so we don’t run into this (OF with communion rail. I really like those old images from the catechism about the sacraments.

    At masses where there are lots of visitors (weddings and funeral masses, or big feast days that bring extra people) our priests usually make an announcement about the distribution of Holy Communion (reserved for Catholics in good standing who have observed the proper fast, and they also briefly run down how to receive – on the tongue, kneeling, no “Amen” is said by the communicant).

  4. RichR says:

    The problem with rails in the OF is that it looks really odd with the troops of Extraordinary Ministers of HC standing behind the rail giving communion to fellow laymen who are kneeling. Rails go together with a “qualitative, and not merely quantitative difference” between the ministerial priesthood and the universal priesthood of all believers. If a parish wants to emphasize the unique dignity of Holy Orders and the sacredness of the Consecration, rails make sense.

  5. Ralph says:

    My pastor installed a beautiful communion rail at his new parish. Literally within hours of completion, someone informed the Bishop. That very day it was torn out on his orders.

    So sad.

  6. aquinasadmirer says:

    Our NO parish had its communion rail restored about 2 years ago. My heart sang when I first saw it. North of 90% of folks receive kneeling on the tongue. Of those that receive in the hand, most of them receive standing. Of those that stand, it looks like many of them would have a hard time getting down and then up again.

  7. david s says:

    At my parish, communicants have the option at the English, ‘ordinary form’ Masses to receive kneeling or standing, on the tongue or in the hand.

    About the time of the introduction of the new Missal translation, the priests simply began standing behind the intact rail instead of at the gate to administer Holy Communion. Within a few weeks, I’d guess about a third or more of the communicants receive kneeling. The priests don’t move down the rail, but stand in one spot.

    In a church without a rail, one could put kneelers out to help communicants receive kneeling. For several years prior, I had been kneeling on the floor to receive. Of course, this isn’t possible for everyone. When I broke my foot, the priest let me receive at the rail lest I lose my balance getting up with the boot/cast.

  8. bushboar says:

    The Church where I attend the EF uses the alter rail for the OF. I avoid the OF when possible but given that the EF is at 4 p.m. on Sundays, sometimes I can only make the OF.

    They will give communion in the hand or on the tongue at the OF, but I do notice that more people receive on the tongue than you typically see at OF masses.

  9. iPadre says:

    We use the rail for both OF and EF with no problems. It allows those who wish to kneel at the OF to do so in a safe manner, so as not to cause others to trip over them or fall on trying to rise.

    You can see pics of the celebration of a 1st Mass of Thanksgiving – ad orientem and using the altar rail here.

  10. KCHawk says:

    I attend a NO Mass and we have communion rails. Father said he lost a few people when he put them in but overall the numbers are way up. (Shocking, right?) The parish is growing so much that we will soon be adding another Mass on Sunday’s.

    I let Father know that I would be happy to support him if he decided to offer a Mass in the EF form or celebrate Ad Orientem. He seemed receptive to it but have not heard anything about when it will be added or what liturgical form it will follow.

  11. Mathieu says:

    I know a few NO parishes around who will have kneelers as communion rails (and everyone receives kneeling and on the tongue), while others don’t have anything and around half of the people kneels to receive on the tongue, while the other half receives in the hand. It’s pretty local though, because other parishes 20 minutes away didn’t even have kneelers and crucifixes in the church 5 years ago… and since they didn’t kneel for consecration, they did not receive Jesus kneeling. It’s a good thing the Bishops of Western Canada passed a requirement for everyone to kneel at consecration.

  12. Vox clamantis in deserto says:

    > I know… why would anyone want to do THAT?

    In Austria I occasionally saw people kneeling AND receiving in the hand. Not too often, but it happens. I suppose that it is a result of mixing the Austrian social conservativism in some regions/families with a “bad liturgical education”.

  13. I grew up with only the OF, and we used the Communion rail until it was torn out in the early ’80s.

    A number of people at my parish receive kneeling even in the absence of Communion rails. More people would do so, if they had a way to get up afterwards. I wish the priests would take the hint.

  14. graytown says:

    Not that we’re in a hurry at Mass – but I think using the rail is even more efficient than standing in a line.
    Besides, we stand in lines to receive earthly things every day.
    The Bread of Life is of Heaven.

  15. edm says:

    I know the question was about OF and altar rails. However, the secondary topic arose of kneeling and receiving in mouth/on hand. As GrantM said, this has been the norm in Anglican parishes for a long time. In my (Anglo-Catholic) parish, everyone who is able, kneels. It is probably a 60% in the hand, 40% on the tongue ratio. Maybe a little more for hand. It does make for some quick thinking on the part of the server handling the communion paten, since he has to shift up or down, depending on each communicant. However, this is infinitely more respectful than the queue method, which is the only way I have seen the Blessed Sacrament administered in the local Roman Catholic parishes, even if some of those persons (a tiny percentage) receive on the tongue.

  16. MikeR says:

    On Sunday I attended a NO Mass, at Flemington in Sydney. The Mass was as beautifully said as it was reverent. The congregation were quite & respectful before & after Mass.

    The PP was hearing Confessions during Mass, the Confitior was said (unusual in Sydney), no sign of peace nonsense, what joy! About half the communicants received kneeling on the tongue, the Sanctuary was not full of EMHCs, one only I think. The celebrant did all the preparationduring the Cannon himself.

    All in all a very holy Catholic Mass, & I usually attend EF Masses so I’m hard to please.

  17. TWF says:

    Here in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the altar rail is alive and well. We’ve been blessed with great archbishops over the years. At the cathedral, where Mass is celebrated four times daily and seven times on Sundays, the altar rail is used at every single Mass. The faithful ALWAYS have the option to either process up the centre aisle and receive standing or to process up on either side and receive kneeling at the altar rail. There are usually 7 or 8 priests in residence at the cathedral, so priests come in to help distribute Holy Communion at most Masses, greatly reducing and often even eliminating the need for EMHCs. The EF is not celebrated at the cathedral, but chant and incense are common. Latin polyphony is also common (though certainly not at all masses). If the Archbishop is celebrating himself, the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are typically sung in Latin.
    Now to be fair, the rail is not the norm in most parishes throughout the archdiocese…but there are a few where it is used exclusively (at Novus Ordo Masses).

  18. Titus says:

    The problem with rails in the OF is that it looks really odd with the troops of Extraordinary Ministers of HC standing behind the rail giving communion to fellow laymen who are kneeling.

    That’s not a problem with the OF per se. That’s a problem with the over-use of Extraordinary Ministers. The parish across the street from my office offers only the OF, and Holy Communion is distributed exclusively under one species, exclusively at the rail, and (almost) exclusively by a cleric. (“Almost” because on the very busiest days sometimes if an extra priest or deacon can’t be scrounged up, they get an installed acolyte, vested in cassock and surplice, to take one side of the rail.)

    Works like a charm. The vast majority of people receive kneeling, mostly on the tongue, although some receive kneeling in the hand.

  19. JAZ says:

    At my OF parish, we’ve received communion kneeling at the communion rail for as long as I’ve been going there (some 15 years). While we have the option of receiving on the tongue or in the hand, nearly everyone receives on the tongue. While filling in as an usher occasionally, one of my duties was to stand at the end of the communion rail to keep an eye on those receiving to make sure that each communicant consumed the Host immediately, and on each occasion, I observed only 2 or 3 people receiving in the hand. When we have an extraordinary minister of holy communion, which isn’t often, there is only one, and he is clad in cassock and surplice like the altar boys.

  20. Gerard Plourde says:

    My experience is the same as that of david s. The priests celebrating Ordinary Form Masses I have attended are quite comfortable distributing the Eucharist on the tongue to rccipients both standing and kneeling.

  21. iamlucky13 says:

    Use of a Communion rail is a very concrete step toward making the ordinary form far more extraordinary, in a good way. I’d even say a more worthwhile change than ad Orientem.

    ” If there is danger of profanation by distributing Communion in the hand (perhaps because of the nature and composition, the integrity of the Hosts), then Communion should not, must not, be distributed in the hand.”

    Well…we all know how that interpretation would be received in most dioceses. The closest I can think of to ever hearing a concern about unintentional fragmenting of the Host was not related to Communion in the hand, but to parishes using hosts baked by parishioners, of unsurprisingly less consistent integrity than those from the usual suppliers. Besides, that’s what the Communion plate is for.

    At the other end of the scale, when there was a recent, widely reported plan by a group of satanists at Harvard to conduct a black mass, including Eucharistic profanation, I don’t recall hearing of any calls for Boston area parishes to follow this direction. Under the circumstances, I think a very reasonable argument could have been made that the bishop should have ordered it. It definitely was a moment that called for strong catechesis.

  22. yatzer says:

    Our parish does it at OF Masses all the time.Thank God.

  23. Fr. Kelly says:

    In my parish Holy Communion is distributed at the Communion rail at all Masses. The church was built in 1953 and was ahead of its time as an avant garde church. The parishioners wanted a traditional style church but were told by the diocesan building commission at the time that they must have “something that looks different.”
    Before I was assigned here, this parish was a mission served weekly by the priest in a neighboring town. The people of the parish who are for the most part, working farmers and laborers and retirees, directed (and paid for) a thorough renewal of the sanctuary and so now the inside of the building looks like a church. They felt strongly that just because they did not have much, it did not have to be ugly.
    The original Communion rail had been removed in the early 1960s, but was stored in the attic of the church hall. After I came, we brought it down, and after 3 years of discussion and catechesis, we found a craftsman who could rework it to match the renewed sanctuary. almost 3 years ago now, our bishop blessed and rededicated it, and we have used it exclusively ever since.
    3 important points have come to the fore in this experience:
    1 The Communion Rail is the “People’s Altar” ie. It is where the laity receive their sacraments. So restoring it is for their benefit and inclusion. In our case, he baptismal font and confessionals are at one end of the rail; Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony are all received at the rail regularly, When someone comes to the church for an anointing (eg. before surgery) I give it at the rail. Our church is too small for an ordination, but if there were one here, it would be just inside the rail.
    2 The rail makes it possible for people to exercise their right to receive Holy Communion kneeling or standing as their prerogative. The Communion line virtually excludes the possibility of kneeling.
    3 It is much easier, more secure and quicker for the priest to distribute at the rail. When I come to the communicant, they have had a moment to be steady and at ease, so aiming for their mouth or hand is not difficult since it is not a “moving target”. Without hurrying at all, I can distribute Holy Communion at the rail to a churchful of people in about half the time as in a Communion line.

  24. Just Some Guy says:

    Interesting to read people have the right to kneel to receive. I attended a church where the priest forbid reception while kneeling. Wonder if the faithful have recourse here. Of course, this was at an English-language church in a foreign country, so engaging the bishop might be more difficult.

  25. JimP says:

    All Masses at my parish are celebrated in the OF. Communion is distributed at the rail with communicants kneeling and most receiving on the tongue. Only the Body of Christ is distributed. Those who are physically unable to go to the communion rail sit in or by the front pew and receive from a priest.

    Depending upon the number of people at Mass, usually at least one priest assists the celebrant with distribution of the hosts, and possibly one or two EMCH, who are religious sisters or seminarians.

    I have not measured the time required for distribution of Holy Communion, but my perception is that it takes no more time than is required when 12 or so EMCH come up, receive Communion and take their posts with ciborium or chalice before beginning the distribution. Maybe having half the congregation acting as EMCH isn’t always necessary.

  26. Paul says:

    The early morning mass at Brompton Oratory is OF has communion at the rail; everyone receives on the tongue kneeling. They also wear birretas….

  27. Grumpy Beggar says:

    We have several parishes in the immediate area who use the communion rail at OF Masses – distributing Holy Communion to those of us who are able to kneel (almost everyone). I always think it is a bonus to be able to kneel while receiving Holy Communion. But I see where david s is coming from too. Roughly 20 years ago – after a very serious work accident , I couldn’t kneel for almost 2 years – not even at the consecration. So at that time I had to learn to kneel in my heart.

    Somewhere around 10 years ago , while attending an OF Mass in a neighboring parish , I noticed that as we were standing in line to receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or “sadly” , that the altar servers were using Communion patens – placing them either under the chin or under the hands of the communicants, respectively, as each approached to receive our Blessed Lord.

    “That seems like a good idea”, I thought to myself , “I wonder why more parishes aren’t doing it?”

    I eventually did a little digging around in some of the related encyclicals and discovered , in this same Redemptionis Sacramentum that the Communion paten/Communion plate was always supposed to have been retained :

    [93.] The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.

    . . . was never supposed to have been neglected/abandoned. Of course, any priest who would insist on retaining use of the Communion paten in the OF would be seen as being “old fashioned” (yeah right) even though Redemptionis Sacramentum was only promulgated in the year 2004.

    Use of the Communion paten not only helps prevent a Host or Host fragments falling – it also serves as a visual reminder of Whom we are about to receive in Holy Communion ; it helps to preserve a sense of the sacred.

  28. Thorfinn says:

    Our parish began distributing Communion a the Communion rail at all Masses – priest on one side, deacon on the other as a rule, I think. The world did not end.

  29. When I attended OF Mass in Quebec a number of places used a communion rail.

  30. OdeM says:

    Thank you for the post Fr. Z. and thank you MattnSue for the shout out to OL of Lourdes.

    To RichR: At Our Lady of Lourdes, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, with the exception of a consecrated religious brother, do not distribute Holy Communion at Mass, so we do not have that awkwardness. (Once a month on Sunday morning, EMEs , accompanied by the religious brother, help to bring the Eucharist to the hospital.) Frankly, even when we have a full church, it does not take that long to distribute Holy Communion. At the EF, it is just the celebrant and there are no dire crises while people wait. In addition, contrary to what some might think, the distribution of Holy Communion actually goes faster at the rail.

    MattnSue, it was very kind of you to call us “lovely Mercedarians.” However, with all due respect, I would personally prefer MIGHTY MERCEDARIANS. LoL.

  31. johnwmstevens says:

    Father, can you point me to which document or the number of the law that you refer to here: “The Church’s law guarantees the right of the faithful to kneel to receive.”

    I remember reading something about this in an encyclical (can’t remember which one), but was not aware of any canon law directed to this question.


  32. Grant M says:

    “Would it be verboten for a communicant to kneel at the rail, but receive in the hand? (I know… why would anyone want to do THAT?)”

    Here’s why Anglicans do THAT. (From the Communion Service, 1662 Book of Common Prayer.)

    Then shall the Minister first receive the Communion in both kinds himself, and then proceed to deliver the same to the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, in like manner, (if any be present,) and after that to the people also in order, into their hands, all meekly kneeling.

    WHEREAS it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.”

    In other words, you kneel in humility and gratitude, but receive in the hand as a demonstration of disbelief in Transubstantiation.

  33. John Nolan says:

    It is my understanding that removing rails (or constructing new churches without them) was not primarily to foster standing Communion. It was to minimize the distinction between the sanctuary and the nave, the clergy and the laity. After all, rails substituted for the medieval rood screen. The closing and opening of the gates is symbolic as well as practical.

    That is why some bishops are ideologically opposed to rails – they see them as ‘divisive’. I’ve noticed that where rails are used most people receive on the tongue. At the Oxford Oratory Solemn OF Mass (though not at London or Birmingham) the laity have the option of the Chalice; this is not given at the rail but in a side chapel, and always by a priest.

  34. sunbreak says:

    My church has historic designation and still has the communion rail. No problems with extraordinary ministers because we don’t have any – only the priest distributes communion. Besides, it’s a small ethnic parish.

  35. Lili of the fields says:

    Living in Eastern Canada, I did not see a communion rail since 1970. Last time I saw a real confession booth dated from around 1990. People who still have access to these rare luxuries, please count your blessings and thank God for them.

  36. Uxixu says:

    I definitely pray bishops remove permission for Communion in the hand. The very idea in promoting it by the heresiarchs Luther and Cranmer was to diminish the dogma on the Real Presence and ultimately the sacrificial priesthood (and thus the Sacrifice of the Mass itself). Unfortunately the novus ordo went a step farther than even Cranmer them in having reception standing and lay people distribute.

    The archaeologism that this was the practice of the primitive Church is patently false, though. They would not have never treated the Eucharist so casually or even touched with their bare hands as there was the ancient tradition of the Communion cloth that only seemed to give way in the last century to the communion plate held by a server (as opposed to the paten used with the chalice).

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