My experience of the altar rail
Recently there has been a lot of buzz about returning altar rails in the last few years. One of the latest blog post was by Deacon Greg Kandra over at the Deacon’s Bench. After the Second Vatican Council, altar rails were ripped out without any explanation. It was said that was the command of the Council. However, not only was there no such command, there was not even a mention of the altar rail in Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The purpose of the altar rail was two fold. First, it separated the sanctuary from the body of the church. For Catholics, the sanctuary is our Holy of Holies. This is where the sacrifice of Christ takes place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and where Christ remains in the tabernacle in His abiding presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The second purpose of the altar rail was for the Communion of the faithful.
It was only on June 17, 1977 that the Holy See granted an indult with permission for the faithful to receive Holy Communion in the hand. An indult is a a permission granted by the Holy See, giving an exception from a norm of the Church. That means that the norm for reception of Holy Communion in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church remains kneeling and on the tongue. So, the indult gives what we could say, a relaxation of the law.
With the indult, the Holy See gave regulations that demanded proper reverence and protection for the Most Blessed Sacrament. At all times, Holy Communion should be protected from profanation by using a Communion paten to catch any fragments that may fall from the Host. The Sacred Host is to be placed in the left hand which is held flat over the right hand, the Host is to be immediately taken with the right hand and placed in the mouth and any particles in the left hand consumed.
Anyone who distributes Holy Communion can relate that since the change, not only is Holy Communion received poorly, but very little respect and reverence is given to Our Lord by many receiving the Most Holy Sacrament.
There are the “body snatchers” who reach out and grab the Sacred Host out of the minister of Communion, there are the “flippers” who take the host in one hand and flip it into the other before receiving. Then there are the “poppers” who take the Host in their hand, do a drop of the hand so the host slides down their fingers and proceed to pop it in their mouth as if it were a piece of candy. There are also “tourists” who walk away with the host, place it in their pocket, in a book and take it home with them for what purpose God only knows.
During Mass at St. John Lateran, on May 22, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI began giving Communion to all who received from him kneeling and on the tongue. His mater of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini stated that Communion kneeling and on the tongue helps to emphasize “the truth of the Real Presence (of Christ) in the Eucharist, helps the devotion of the faithful, and introduces the sense of mystery more easily.” Since that Mass, the practice has become the norm at all Papal Masses.
People who are exposed to Eucharist Adoration grow in their love, reverence and devotion the the Most Blessed Sacrament. The more we preach about the Real Presence and try to form our people in proper reverence, they also have a desire to receive kneeling and or on the tongue.
Since I learned to celebrate the Roman Rite according to the Extraordinary Form also known as the Tridentine Mass, a parishioner who owned a professional wood working company donated a brand new altar rail. At first I was hesitant in accepting this gift in fear of the response of the people, but finally decided to graciously accept the beautiful gift to the parish.
Since installing the altar rail in 2010, a number of people requested to use if at all of our Masses. We began using the altar rail for daily Mass shortly after it was installed. However, a number of people kept requesting using in for all of our Masses. On February 22, 2012, the First Sunday of Lent, I announced that we would distribute Holy Communion at the altar rail due to the many requests I have received. I reminded the parish that they had the option to receive standing or kneeling, on the tongue or in the hand. Since that day, a majority of the parish received kneeling and a good number of people now receive on the tongue.
I have received a few complaints and even one family choose to leave the parish. Isn’t it funny that people are tolerant of those who would do something that goes against Liturgical law, but not of those who would rightly request their option to receive by the Church’s long held normative practice of receiving kneeling and on the tongue. However, with time, I have seen more who choose to receive both kneeling and on the tongue.
I would recommend that everyone reads and pass around copies of “Dominus Est! It Is The Lord!” by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. Bishop Schneider gives solid historical background to Communion on the tongue and kneeling.
Here are some pictures of before, building, installation and after the altar rail was installed.
Great testimonial. And, the point about “tolerance” is spot-on, especially since people were given a clear choice and not forced to use the rail.
This article has moved me tremendously. I am a frequent adorer of the Blessed Sacrament and have felt this is the way we should all receive our Lord. Thank you for sharing
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I do like the new look for the church, Father!
What a beautiful transformation of your church! Well done!
Beautiful renovation, Fr Finelli. Here is a link back from my blog to yours on your project.
I am so pleased to see this shift, and happy (but not surprised) that your parishioners so quickly embraced the opportunity to receive Holy Communion at the rail.
This is great news! I have been kneeling and receiving on the tongue for probably 20 years or more now. I do come across priests, now and then, who insist on me standing. They can’t insist on me receiving in my hand, however. They are supposed to allow me to kneel, but they make a fuss about it. I see from the photos that not only were altar rails installed, but the look of the sanctuary is markedly changed. This is wonderful! I pray for many more parishes to do likewise. Great article! Keep up the good work. God bless you with His peace, love, and joy.
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Since when does Advent begin in February? I think you mean Lent.
Thank you Sister. My mind is still in Advent/ Christmas mode.
I absolutely LOVE the altar rail; especially after being able to use it for our First Communion recipients last year. It shows so much more reverence that is deserved for our Lord.
Beautiful addition. Nothing like bringing a humble contrite sense a of Awe and “Reverence” at Mass. For Lo here upon this sanctuary is true holy ground, a sacrificial altar where there lies our hidden Sacred Lord. We adore Thee O Christ; and we bless Thee, because by Thy holy cross You have redeemed the world. Amen.
Beautiful! I would love this at our parish but doubt it will happen in my life-time, being already 75 yrs old! Most parishioners receive devoutly here and a few even kneel for Communion. We have well-attended Masses and the pastor sends two ministers of Holy Communion to the rear of the church to distribute Communion. I wonder what they would do if an altar rail was in place?
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“Memories, cloud the corners of my mind, misty, water colored memories, of the way we were….” Harkening back to 1967 and receiving my First Communion, kneeling and on the tongue at the altar rail of St. Louis Church, now All Saints in Woonsocket. What a joy, what a rush, what an event! 8 years later, 1975, as a student at what was then Woonsocket Catholic Regional Junior High School, attending “folk Mass” at the local CYO Center, and with no altar boys having been requested (?) a friend and I stepped forward and served Mass, dumbfounded to not have a paten for Communion and using the inverted cover of the Ciborium in lieu thereof! After Mass being told by the priest, “we really don’t need altar boys anymore.” As I look back on my 52 years, I have received by hand less than 5 times…. Bring back the altar rail. Bring back respect for Holy Communion. Bring back God. Thank you Father Jay!
In the Episcopal church I attended in Florida in 1974 we had altar rails, no Extraoridinary Ministers of Holy Communion (only Episcopal priests and deacons could administer), and two altar boys held candles on either side of the priest as he read from the Gospel. And the Episcopal churches in Hartford, Connecticut had the same arrangement as late as 1990. Although I cherished these signs of reverence but it wasn’t enough to keep me from leaving behind the Episcopal church to become a Catholic!
I agree completely regarding the reverence and the NEED for the altar rail. I remember the Latin Mass and the beauty of knowing that I was kneeling before the Lord at Communion. That was all taken away by the Vatican II “cult”. The Anglican Communion has retained the beauty of ancient Catholic practice even though its “mass” is not valid.
Father, how absolutely beautiful and how fortunate your parishioners are.
The church looks beautiful. The carpentry looks great. But theologically the spirit of the changes was do that people receive communion standing. Vatican 2 happened. Lets not try undue tge changes that were made, even if on a technicality….
Actually this is not an undoing of Vatican II. Receiving Holy Communion standing and in the hand was an innovation that followed the Second Vatican Council. Communion in the hand and standing was a practice fostered by Priests and some Bishops in disobedience to the norm of the Church, and still is the norm. It was only later that Pope Paul VI regrettably gave an insult as way of exception to the norm. I recommend reading the excellent work of Bishop Athanasius Schneider in “Dominus Est“. His work is of excellent scholarship, even destroying some of the myths and false scholarship of the 60’s & 70’s and of the mind of Pope Benedict XVI.
I love your response, and the irony that the author you cite’s first name honors “St. Athanasius” former archbishop of Alexandria, known as “The Pillar of Orthodoxy.” His feast day falls on my birthday, May 2.
Bill: I am interested in what you mean by “theologically” and how that should affect the way we receive the Body of Christ, and what in the documents of Vatican Two suggest such an interpretation.
Thanks for the reply, I would also recommend reading this weeks edition of America magazine by fr John O’malley entitled Misdirections- 10 ways people misinterpt Vatican 2. It is a good read.
I was wondering if there is a specific name for the gate on the Altar Rail?
No, it’s just the gate.
Thank you for answering my question.
It looks beautifull!!…Now you know you are walking into a Catholic Church!!!!
Thanks so very much, Fr. Finelli! Thanks be to God I’ve found this web site. We, Roman Catholics, need to hear this. We have started to talk about renovating the parish which we go now. I am so worried, because I smell modernism. (labyrinth, altar in the center, circle seating, etc) Please pray for us. St. Dorthy Catholic Church in Glendora CA.
May God bless you and protect you! May our loving Mother keep you safe and holy!