The Altar Rail and Kneeling

The following highlights are from an excellent article by Paul Kokoski which can be found in its entirety at the link provided below. Hat tip to [Against] Communion in the Hand

The present option or permission of receiving Holy Communion standing and in the hand has largely contributed to a crisis of faith and a loss of the sense of the sacred.

The reception of Holy Communion at Mass has always been a moment of tremendous reverence and awe, traditionally preceded by the ringing of the bells, incense and silence. Sadly there are many Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence. No doubt this has been due to the toning down, and in some cases the deletion, of these and many other symbols and signs of adoration. One such symbol of adoration that has been removed is the architectural feature called the Communion rail.

The Communion rail or altar rail was introduced into Catholic churches in the ninth century to set off the sanctuary from the rest of the church and to separate those whose duty it was to perform the sacramental action from those who formed the celebrating congregation – a separation which was always taken for granted as essential to the Church’s constitution. This was in keeping with the idea that the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people. The altar railing became better known as the Communion rail in the Middle Ages when the faithful more widely began to receive Communion kneeling. This organic developed grew out of a pressing sense of reverence and humility toward the Eucharist. [My emphasis]

For those unfamiliar …..[t]here is evidence to suggest that something in the nature of a corporal was used even in the earliest days of Christianity. In more modern times an altar boy held a paten under the chin of the communicant.

At the moment of Communion one can almost visualize the rail as a long table, existing alongside of and in front of the Altar of Sacrifice – a table where the people of God can come to share in the banquet of Our Lord as if present at His Last Supper – a table where one can, at the same time, feel present at Our Lord’s Passion; as if one were actually kneeling before Our Lord on Calvary, ready to receive Him and share in His Sacrifice. How Awesome!

Compare this with the rubrics of today that permits standing for Communion. What do we notice? At the moment of Communion the communicant takes the host from the priest with his own hands – as if to negate the meaning behind the consecration of the priest’s hands at his ordination. He then leaves the front of the church without so much as even acknowledging, in posture, that he or she has received something – or someone – sacred. No safety precautions are taken to ensure that particles of Our Lord’s Body and Blood are not lost. Absolutely scandalous!

Sadly, the decision to remove Communion rails came shortly after the Second Vatican Council and seems to have been an initiative taken at the local level to introduce architectural changes that were believed by those involved to be necessary to implement the liturgical reforms of the Council ….

Liturgical theorists argued, in conjunction with Vatican II’s call for a “full and active participation by all the people” in the liturgy, that the altar rail separated the activity of the clergy from the passivity of the laity whom they incorrectly believed were all but excluded from the celebration. Hence its removal was deemed necessary in order to form a single integrated or unified space that would remove the focus from the priest and redistribute it equally upon each member of the assembly. This means, incidentally, that although the Church continues to feel that altar boys are conducive to producing priestly vocations, girls must now be included among their ranks since any form of discrimination could be seen as being divisive.

At this point, however, everything essential to Catholic faith in the Mass – begins to deteriorate…

[T]he Sacrifice of the Mass becomes little more than a communal meal… As a further testament to this egalitarian “dignity” it also becomes necessary to stand when receiving Holy Communion.

How often have we heard since Vatican II that “kneeling doesn’t suit our culture…

Kneeling actually comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God.

[I like this one.]  In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy the pope speaks of a “story that comes from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, according to which the devil was compelled by God to show himself to a certain Abba Apollo. He looked black and ugly, with frightening thin limbs, but, most strikingly, he had no knees. The inability to kneel is seen as the very essence of the diabolical.”7

Though modern liturgical theorists, designers, and consultants claim that their new theology reflects the mind of the Church, there has been no ecclesiastical document that has come out against the Communion rail or one that sanctions its removal from churches.

Bishop John Keating of Arlington, Virginia, has stated in his pastoral letter on Eucharistic reverence: “No bodily posture so clearly expresses the soul’s interior reverence before God as the act of kneeling. Reciprocally, the posture of kneeling reinforces and deepens the soul’s attitude of reverence.”10

Kneeling, therefore, is the ultimate posture of adoration, submission and surrender… It is an exterior manifestation of the reverence inspired by His Presence. The Communion rail is the partition that separates the sanctuary from the assembly. Insofar as it thus allows one to visualize that distance that separates heaven and earth, Creator and creature, it is an architectural feature that helps one overcome one’s human pride enabling one to approach and receive Christ in the Eucharist with the proper disposition and reverence

The removal of communion rails…disoriented many people, who with real justification – especially in light of the recent and overwhelming loss of faith in the Eucharist as the Real Presence – feared that the very heart of Catholic belief had been compromised.

Bring Back the Communion Rails!

This entry was posted in See, I told you so! and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *