Monday, December 09, 2019

Bring Back the Communion Rail

Thou shalt not take nor remove thy neighbor's landmark, which thy predecessors have set in thy possession, which the Lord thy God will give thee in the land that thou shalt receive to possess.
Deuteronomy 19:14
Pass not beyond the ancient bounds which thy fathers have set. 
Proverbs 22:28
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor’s landmarks: and all the people shall say: Amen.  
Deuteronomy 27:17

One of the worst moves pastors and bishops made in the wake of Vatican II was to tear the Communion rails out of existing churches, and to build new churches without them.  Egalitarianism, don’t you know, dictated that there be no boundaries between the sanctuary and the rabble in the pews.  We ought not even to have to climb steps to the altar!  God should be on our level.  Everything must be flattened and horizontalized.  After all, there ought to be no barriers between us and our pal, the Man Upstairs.

But there are barriers between us and God, starting with the fact that He is the Infinite God and we are dust and ashes.  There is an infinite abyss between us and God, and only God can bridge it -- which He in fact does.  But we still have to acknowledge that we are nothing compared to Him.  Another barrier between us and God is sin.  Christ died to destroy that barrier, and Baptism removes from us the stain of original sin; but we still suffer from the effects of original sin, and we still commit personal sins.  It takes a colossal pride for us to decide to act as if we are not in fact beggars at God's doorstep, and to dictate the terms upon which we are to approach God.  

Yet that's exactly what we did after the Second Vatican Council.  We decided we were too grown-up to abase ourselves anymore before God.  Can you credit that?  After a century and a half of atheistic revolutions, two world wars, atomic bombs, the Holocaust, the Cold War, the Cultural Revolution, millions of people across the world still being murdered by their own governments,  and millions of Catholics suffering under communist persecution, the need for humility and penance totally escaped us.  There we were, thinking we were Too Good to Be Lower than the Sanctuary and Kneel before God to receive Him in Holy Communion!  And Nothing is going to Keep Us Out of the Sanctuary if We Want to Go There!

But the irony is that, since most of the lay faithful do not in fact want to tramp gratuitously through the sanctuary, removing the Communion rail actually had the effect of distancing us from it.  The Communion rail is not a "barrier," but a boundary marker that shows us the point at which heaven meets earth.  The sanctuary represents heaven.  The Communion rail shows us where God comes to meet us.  How do we know where to go to meet the invisible, hidden God without a boundary marker?  The laity used to be accustomed to kneeling at the Communion rail to pray outside of Mass, so as to be as close as possible to Jesus in the tabernacle.  Now that the rails are gone, not only can we no longer kneel for Communion (with the hope of being able to get up off the floor again), we can no longer pray close to the tabernacle while keeping our proper place in the church.  Removing the Communion rail needlessly violates the sensibilities of faithful Catholics, and is thus an offense against charity.

Attacking people's faith is also an offense against charity.  It is practically impossible to view the changes to the reception of Holy Communion, including removing the rail, as anything but an attack on people's faith, especially in view of the boldness of many members of the hierarchy in our time who now openly display their lack of faith.  If the prelates responsible for these changes truly believed in the Real Presence, why would they want people to disrespect our Lord by approaching Holy Communion in a less reverent manner?  And let us not deconstruct the difference between kneeling and standing by pointing to the practice of Eastern Catholics.  We in the Latin Rite are not Eastern, and we do not receive Holy Communion in the same manner.  In the Latin Rite, kneeling is clearly more reverential than standing; and when you purport to abolish a more reverent posture in favor of a less reverent one, you are sending a message.  The message has clearly been received: now a majority of Catholics disbelieve in the Real Presence.  Incidentally, you also encourage non-Catholics to get into the Communion line, thus exposing the Sacrament to a heightened risk of profanation by people who simply do not know what to do with It.

Holy Scripture clearly anathematizes the removal of boundary markers.  We have now spent the last half-century learning the reasons.  Take away boundary markers, and you have to learn the hard way why they were there in the first place.  You also get to find out how hard, and how costly, it is to put them back.  It is high time we faced up to the difficulties of doing the right thing and accept them as a penance.

And all the people shall say: Amen.


  1. Excellent, Anita. For the few years I attended the NO Mass (shudder) I only received in the hand a few times. It made me really uncomfortable, so I while I remained standing, I received on the tongue. So nice to not have to worry about that anymore.

  2. Thanks Adrienne! I have always thought it uncharitable to deny people the physical ability to kneel for Communion as not everybody can kneel on the floor, or get up from the floor once they are there. Running roughshod over people’s legitimate sensibilities is an act of totalitarianism.

  3. Me kneeling on the floor wearing heels? Not happening...