Reflections on the symbolism of the altar rail or Communion rail and some practical suggestions

wdtprs.com | 12/6/2019 | View all posts by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf →


At Crisis Austin Ruse has a thoughtful piece about altar rails. He writes:

It seems to me that among the most harmful innovations that happened in the Church at mid-century was doing away with the altar rail and caving in to those who insisted on standing and receiving in the hand. I can’t prove it, but I firmly believe that the decline in belief in the Real Presence can be traced to the inevitable lack of reverence that comes with standing and certainly by handling the Sacred Host in our own grubby paws.

Decline - Belief - Traditions - Adoration - Corpus

The decline in Eucharistic belief was also precipitated, I think, by doing away with other Eucharistic traditions like Adoration and Corpus Christi processions. Thanks be to God all these things are coming back. Hundreds now participate in Corpus Christi processions through the streets of our big cities. Adoration is popping up everywhere—usually attended by new altar rails.

I had thought there was magic in the altar rail itself, but I was wrong. There is a kind of divine magic, however, in a priest using the altar rail. It is like the Eucharist itself: the bread and wine do not become the Body and Blood on their own. The priest must confect them. Similarly, the altar rail is a dead thing unless and until the priest stands over to one side and says, “We are going to start using it. We are going to line up along the rail. You can choose to stand or kneel. It’s up to you.” Watch. Something magical happens. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Ruse - Priest - Choice - People - Rail

Ruse says, rightly, that the priest should indicate by his own choice that people should and can use the rail.

I have another suggestion. Make and attach housling cloths. Have servers turn the housling cloths over the rail during the recitation of...
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