In defense of, stay with me here, communion rails

I was talking to a fellow who works as a missioner with the Maryknolls in Tanzania. He’s still learning Swahili, and wasn’t sure whether the liturgy itself is much different from what he’s used to in the states; but one unmissable difference comes during the offertory.

Along with the bread and wine, parishioners will often bring up gifts of live chickens and goats for the church. These wander about the church grounds and are eventually slaughtered and eaten by the priests.

The frivolous thought popped into my head that I should have asked him about the architecture of the churches, because no matter what your liturgical leanings, you have to admit: If there are going to goats involved, it would be nice to have an altar rail installed.

I grew up in a church that had an altar rail. My family was relatively new to Catholicism, and our first experience of parish life was at a church so enlightened, it threatened to float away on the gaseous fumes of sheer liturgical reform.

We reached a breaking point when literal clowns made an appearance in the nave, and, after a little church hopping, we discovered a rather stodgy Polish parish nearby, where very little had changed since 1920 or so.

As I understood it, the bishop would stick his head in every once in a while, decide that a fight with a Polish pastor was a fight he did not want to have, and sagely hurry on back to the cathedral.

Altar rails were not, as many believe, abolished with Vatican II, but they did become less common. But this church still had and used one. We got used to it very quickly… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Communion rail in All Saints, Newland
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Chris Brown –

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5 thoughts on “In defense of, stay with me here, communion rails”

  1. I attended a church in NC not too long ago that used the communion rail. I like it. You are kneeling shoulder to shoulder with fellow Catholics and sinners, waiting patiently and humbled to receive the Eucharist.

  2. I attended a church with a communion rail in NC some time in the last couple years. I think it conveys the feeling of communion much better than the single file approach. You are there shoulder to shoulder with your fellow Catholics and sinners, and you wait quietly and humbled to receive the Eucharist.

  3. I grew up lutheran (ish). There was a communion rail. It was a joy to hear “Welcome to the table of the Lord.” If you believed you were unfit to receive, you could kneel and place your hands beneath the rail and the pastor would know to give you a a simple blessing instead.

    It was different from the many catholic churches i attended in which the congregation would file up and receive one at a time from a standing position. Ones who held out their hands, received the host there, otherwise it was placed upon the tongue. (O very I did not partake. Though I was baptized in the catholic church, the rest of my religious upbringing was elsewhere.)

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