More altar rails! We need many many more altar rails!

From the NCRegister:

Altar Rail Puts Communicants on Right Track

Priests and parishioners explain the value of kneeling when receiving Communion.
Joseph Pronechen

In many parishes, a once-standard sanctuary staple is making a comeback: the altar rail.

“Having an altar rail has really brought back a sense of reverence,” said Laurie Biszko, a parishioner at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Tiverton, Rhode Island. [Fr. Finelli is a friend of mine.]

Receiving Communion this way, she said, “You have a chance to focus, make an act of contrition, make an offering, and think about what’s going on. It contributes to making this a much more holy occasion.”

At Immaculate Conception Church in Westerly, Rhode Island, where altar rails were installed this spring, Paul E. Servideo has found receiving Communion kneeling makes him “recognize the level of importance that we should be placing on this particular sacrament.”

“Just by having to kneel — your posture, your body manner — it’s impossible to deny the importance of the sacrament and the truth to be found in the sacrament when you’re receiving the Eucharist,” he said.

For parishioner Barb Kohout at St. Mary Church in Fennimore, [Fr. Galvez is a friend of mine.] Wisconsin, this practice “brings so much reverence back into our church. People realize we’re before God, before Our Lord, because we’re on our knees receiving him.”


During this year’s chrism Mass in the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, Bishop Robert Morlino [The Extraordinary Ordinary] spoke to his priests about the crisis of faith and prayer. He mentioned his concern regarding liturgies that are less than reverent, especially in the reception of Communion: “It’s hard to believe that some people actually believe that that’s the Body of Christ the way they handle it. You’d think it was an M&M.”

To turn the tide of the crisis and move towards greater reverence when receiving Holy Communion, he asked that “people be encouraged to receive Communion on the tongue and kneeling.


Read the rest there.

How about an effective effort for the NEW EVANGELIZATION?


  • Work to diminish Communion in the hand
  • Promote kneeling for Communion
  • Install altar rails
  • Implement ad orientem worship

These four things would revolutionize… revitalize… a parish.

And… TLM!



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    In our diocese, a cabal led by our de facto Bishop, a self-styled architect, have spent a lot of time and money wrecking our larger churches to ensure that they can never conveniently have altar rails re-installed (by planting a large graduated concrete platform toward the center of the church). Any reinstallation of an altar rail would require a lot of money, and the approval of the Diocesan Architectural Committee. Guess who is in charge of that Committee.

  2. ServusChristi says:

    I’ve been promoting communion on the tongue, but many hand advocates would have me believe that receiving communion on the hand is of the same order of reverence as receiving on the tongue when at least 1/3 of Catholics in Western countries don’t believe in the real presence. From what I’ve seen, most Catholics think communion in the hand is a worldwide practice that abrogated the former.
    Meanwhile, what do you think Father of adding “removing lay extraordinary Eucharistic ministers”?

  3. Huber says:

    Lets just go back to rood screens and infrequent reception of communion.

  4. Grant M says:

    The church where I sometimes attend the EF Mass has no altar rails…but no problem. The kneelers for the front pews are moved forward five feet, and voila! Instant altar rails.

  5. AA Cunningham says:

    “removing lay extraordinary Eucharistic ministers(sic)”? [Good idea!]

    Along with promoting the reception of the Eucharist on the tongue, how about promoting an increased knowledge of Redemptionis Sacramentum which unambiguously teaches the faithful about the proper use of the title Eucharistic minister which belongs only to a validly ordained Priest. Let’s not confuse the title extraordinary minister of Holy Communion with Eucharistic Minister and let’s not engage in the diminishing of the ministerial Priesthood of the ordained in an attempt to make it somehow equal to the common priesthood of the believer.

    1. The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion

    [154.] As has already been recalled, “the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest”.[254] Hence the name “minister of the Eucharist” belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon,[255] to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete.

    [156.] This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not “special minister of Holy Communion” nor “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” nor “special minister of the Eucharist”, by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.

    [158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.[259] This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason. [!!]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. grumpyoldCatholic says:

    Removing lay ministers is essential. And also having an altar server follow with a patton. As a server of Many EF Masses I have seen many an accident waiting to happen. I only had one occasion that a person had allowed the Host to fall from his mouth. fortunately I caught it.

  7. teomatteo says:

    My thoughts when I approached the altar/communion rail for the first time since the sixties was: “this really feels like a heavenly banquet” “i really need to approach this sacrament with more thought to my worthiness” and “i wonder who in heaven, is on the other side of the rail praying for us?”

  8. RAve says:

    Even a church in the round can have an altar rail.

    Same image as for the ad orientem post of the 1936 Shrine of the Little Flower:

  9. Imrahil says:

    Dear Huber,

    why the latter?

  10. Blackfriar says:

    I have pointed this out before, but it is good to recall that altar rails were a feature of early Christian churches as far back as the fourth century. (Occasionally one still hears that they were a ‘medieval’ invention. I happen to think that some medieval inventions were pretty good ideas, but that is not the point!) The fact is that altar rails are part of the architecture of the earliest Christian churches. There are a few references to them in ancient texts. One of them is a sermon by St Augustine on 22 January, 404, in Carthage Cathedral (preached at the invitation of Aurelius, the Bishop of Carthage.) Augustine preached from a portable pulpit, which annoyed some of the crowd, because they thought he was being stand-offish. Some youths leaning against the altar rails started shouting for him to come down to them (the altar would have been in the middle of the church) and preach there. Instead, annoyed, Augustine abruptly stopped preaching. The following day he explained that he only used the elevated pulpit to be better heard – he often preached by the altar rails, he said – but anyway, the point here is just that the rails are explicitly mentioned. I do not say that they were used for communion … I think it was more a matter of ensuring that the sanctity of the sanctuary and altar was respected.
    This is another important function of rails, of course: they clearly mark out the area of the sanctuary.
    As for Holy Communion, the rails can be seen as a sort of extension of the altar. In many cases in my childhood, I remember, a white cloth was placed (or ‘flipped’) over the rails before communion time, a sort of altar cloth… symbolism which is lost when rails are absent. Even in places where the rails have been maintained, I rarely see that cloth nowadays. A pity, I think.

  11. ServusChristi says:

    “Lets just go back to rood screens and infrequent reception of communion.”

    First of all the catechism of the Council of Trent as well as Pope St Pius X promoted frequent communion. In fact Pope St Pius X referred to Holy Communion as the “fastest and safest way to heaven”.
    Secondly, whether it was rood screens of altar rails, there was a barrier separating the sanctuary and the nave where lay people gathered to worship. I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at with this, but with these, there was a distinction between clergy and laity by virtue of their Holy Orders.
    Before you mock church practices as somewhat “medieval, decadent, backwards and offensive to the laity”, you might want to have a look at what the church has taught through her Popes and Councils before making caricatures.

  12. Vincent says:

    Grumpyoldcatholic – as an altar server, I’m very pleased to hear that the trial of deploying Pattons at the altar rail has worked. Presumably we can now expect these to be issued worldwide, in which case I have only one question: Is it the M46, M47 or the superior M48 Patton? :-)

    In all seriousness, yes. Altar rails work. People think about what they’re doing when they’re kneeling to receive. And an altar server armed with a paten accentuates the message not to touch the Host. (and means that people who push their hands up get a nice rap on the fingertips).

  13. Gail says:

    Blackfriar: My parish has one of those linen cloths over the rail. A parshioner rigged up some kind of metal clips that hold them on so that no one had to drill into the marble. The altar boys flip them over the rails before communion.
    I can attest to the fact that it is very possible to receive communion on the tongue at the altar rail while distracted and thinking of other things. It does not automatically produce reverence — not that I’m saying anyone here thinks so, but some people seem to think so. We human beings can be distracted anywhere, any time. That said, it definitely produces in a quiet, contemplative, and reverent feel — by the way it looks, the way it works, and the postures the people assume. That’s how you make it easier for people to actually BE reverent, which is all we can do. Our churches developed to be the way they did because, over centuries, what worked to help the most people be the most reverent and prayerful was adopted. Why we thought we could throw that all away and things would automatically work out is beyond me, but that’s what people do in the grip of enthusiasm — they just can’t imagine that what they are excited about might not work, or even not that it might be less effective.

  14. Vincent says:

    Blackfriar, fascinating story about St Augustine. Clearly preaching to a silent congregation is not traditional!

    Regarding the white cloths, they are commonly known as “houseling” cloths or some similar spelling. Personally I can’t stand them. While I acknowledge the symbolism of the similarity to the Altar Cloths, I rather think that were one to simply ‘flip’ the altar cloths like that, I suspect that people would be up in arms at the sacrilege – if there are any fragments of the Host left on the cloth, they are going to be swept far and wide across the floor of the church, which doesn’t really seem appropriate in any way.

    Human nature being what it is, it seems to me that they are opening up an opportunity for servers to be lazy with the paten and for the number of dropped fragments to increase. After all, if you aren’t quite on point with the paten, it’s fine because there’s a nice cloth covering the altar rails.

    I believe that more traditionally the cloths were held up by servers on either end so that it acted like a paten for the priest before the paten was widely adopted (as in the plate used for communion, not the actual paten!) Personally I think that not all traditions are necessarily worthy of revival, and I suspect that the cloths had really been superseded by the 1960s anyway.

  15. adriennep says:

    What is the reference for the paragraphs 154-158 above re use of EMHC? Please, I want to memorize this.

  16. Fr. Kelly says:

    With regard to the “houseling cloth” The Rituale Romanum has this to say:

    Sancta Missa – Tutorial on the Latin Tridentine Mass of 1962 – Roman Ritual
    Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual)
    Rituale Romanum
    Rite for holy communion outside of Mass
    Previous Holy Eucharist – General Rules | Index | Communion during Eastertime Previous



    1. When a priest is about to administer the holy Eucharist outside of Mass, he will have on hand a sufficient number of consecrated particles for all who are to communicate. In addition there should be in readiness at a convenient place one or more vessels containing wine and water for the purification of the communicants,* and a clean linen cloth should be extended before them. The candles on the altar are lighted. Having washed his hands, the priest vests in surplice and a stole which should be either white or the color suited to the day’s office (on All Souls’ a purple stole is used instead of black). Preceded by a cleric or another assistant, the priest goes to the altar with hands folded, or he carries before his breast the burse containing the corporal. He genuflects, ascends to the predella, opens the tabernacle, genuflects, takes out the ciborium which he places on the corporal, and uncovers it. The assistant kneels on the epistle side, and says the “Confiteor” in the name of the people.

    * This rubric is still observed in the Mass of ordination, but in general has fallen into disuse.–Trans.

    2. Then the priest genuflects again, with hands joined turns to the people, taking care that he does not have his back turned to the Blessed Sacrament, and standing a little toward the gospel side, he says:

    May almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and lead you to everlasting life.
    All: Amen.

    May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, absolution, + and remission of your sins.
    All: Amen.

    As he says these words, he makes with his right hand the sign of cross over the communicants.

    3. Then turning back toward the altar, he genuflects, takes the ciborium in his left hand and with his right removes a host which he holds between the thumb and index finger a little above the ciborium. He turns again to the people, and standing in the middle of the predella, says in a loud voice three times:

    See the Lamb of God, see Him who takes away the sins of the world. Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul will be healed. The people may join in saying the words Lord, etc.

    4. If he gives holy communion to priests or other members of the clergy, they receive first, kneeling at the altar steps, or if more convenient, on the floor of the sanctuary, separate from the laity. (Pries and deacons who receive wear a white stole or one of the same color worn by the ministrant.) He then proceeds to the faithful and begins the distribution at the epistle side.*

    * At the moment the priest gives the communicants the sacrament, they hold the paten below their chin (Instruction of S. C. S., dated March 2, 1929).

    5. In giving the sacred host he makes with it the sign of the cross over the ciborium in the case of each person, saying simultaneously:

    The body of Christ.

    The communicant says: Amen.

    6. When all have communicated, the priest returns to the altar places the ciborium on the corporal, genuflects, and then says:

    O sacred banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of His passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is bestowed, (P.T. and on Corpus Christi: Alleluia).

    P: You have given them the bread of heaven (P.T. and on Corpus Christi: Alleluia).

    All: Which has all delight within it (P.T. and on Corpus Christi: Alleluia).

    7. Then he adds:

    P: Lord, heed my prayer.

    All: And let my cry be heard by you.

    P: The Lord be with you.

    All: May He also be with you.
    Let us pray.

    God who left us in this wondrous sacrament a memorial of your passion, help us, we beg you, so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and blood, that we may always experience the effects of your redemption. We ask this of you who live and reign with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.
    All: Amen.

    In Easter time the following is said instead:
    Let us pray.

    Pour out on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love, so that we, fully nourished by the Easter mysteries, may be of one heart in your love; through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.
    All: Amen.

    8. Before replacing the sacrament, the priest takes special care to deposit in the ciborium any fragment of host that may adhere to his fingers. Then he purifies in the finger bowl the fingers which touched the sacrament and wipes them with a purificator. The water used in purifying his fingers is later poured into the sacrarium, or some other decent receptacle, if there is no sacrarium. Lastly he replaces the ciborium in the tabernacle, genuflects, and locks the tabernacle.

    9. Then lifting his eyes, extending, elevating, and joining his hands, and bowing to the cross, he says:

    May the blessing of almighty God, here he turns toward the people and continues: Father, Son, + and Holy Spirit, come upon you and remain with you forever.
    All: Amen.

    This blessing of the communicants takes place only when they receive outside of Mass, either immediately before or after.

    10. The rite described above is observed also when a deacon gives holy communion. Whenever a bishop distributes communion outside of Mass, he blesses in the usual way, saying: “May the name of the Lord be blessed,” etc., and makes the threefold sign of the cross.

    11. During Mass communion of the people ought to follow immediately after that of the celebrant (although for a valid reason it may happen occasionally at a Mass said privately that it be distributed right before or after Mass), since the prayers which follow communion in Mass are not intended for the priest alone but apply to the other communicants as well.

    12. Therefore, if some are to communicate during Mass, the priest having consumed the Precious Blood and before taking the final ablutions, places the consecrated particles in the ciborium, or on the paten when only a few will communicate, unless they have been in the ciborium or another chalice from the beginning. In the meantime the assistant extends the communion cloth before the communicants. If the ciborium is in the tabernacle, the priest genuflects after he has opened the tabernacle door. Then with the ciborium in his left hand, he holds a host just above it with his right, turns to the people squarely in the center, and says: Ecce Agnus Dei, etc., as explained above He then gives the Eucharist to the communicants, beginning with the ministrants at the altar if they wish to receive. When the distribution is finished, he returns to the altar, without saying anything, neither does he give the blessing because he will impart it at the end of the Mass. Lastly he says the prayers of ablution as given in the Missal, consumes the final ablutions, and concludes the Mass.

  17. AA Cunningham says:

    “What is the reference for the paragraphs 154-158 above re use of EMHC? Please, I want to memorize this.” adriennep

    Those are paragraphs from Redemptionis Sacramentum, a document which every individual selected to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion should be required to read and sign an affirmation of belief in and obedience to before being deputed by the local Ordinary.

    Redemptionis Sacramentum

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