Monday, February 27, 2012

The Altar Rail

At The New Liturgical Movement, Shawn Tribe notes:

We recently learnt that Fr. Jay Finelli (better known to some as the "iPadre") and his parish, Holy Ghost in Tiverton, Rhode Island, are returning to the use of the altar rail for the reception of Holy Communion:

“For the past few years, a number of people have asked why we can’t use the Altar Rail for Sunday Masses. So, after much thought and prayer, distribution of Holy Communion will take place at the Altar Rail, beginning on the 1st Sunday of Lent.”

I don’t know whether the accompanying photo in the NLM article is actually from that parish, but it’s beautiful:

As far as I know, there is only one church in the Diocese of Baker that has an altar rail: St. Mary’s in Pendleton. In a renovation of the sanctuary, Fr. Bailey Clemens procured a high altar and an altar rail from a dismantled church, and had them installed at St. Mary’s.

Altar rails seem to be making a come-back in many parishes around the country. An article in the National Catholic Register (from July 2011) notes:

Altar rails are present in several new churches architect Duncan Stroik has designed. Among them, the Thomas Aquinas College Chapel in Santa Paula, Calif., the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., and three others on the drawing boards.
Altar (Communion) rails are returning for all the right reasons.

Said Father Markey: “First, the Holy Father is requiring holy Communion from him be received on the knees. Second, it’s part of our tradition as Catholics for centuries to receive holy Communion on the knees. Third, it’s a beautiful form of devotion to our blessed Lord.”

James Hitchcock, professor and author of Recovery of the Sacred (Ignatius Press, 1995), thinks the rail resurgence is a good idea. The main reason is reverence, he said. “Kneeling’s purpose is to facilitate adoration,” he explained.

When Stroik proposed altar rails for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Cardinal [Raymond] Burke liked the idea and thought that was something that would give added reverence to the Eucharist and sanctuary.”

The NCR article also addresses a question many people ask:

They may be returning, but were altar rails supposed to be taken out of sanctuaries?
“There is nothing in Vatican II or post-conciliar documents which mandate their removal,” said Denis McNamara, author of Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy (Hillenbrand Books, 2009) and assistant director and professor at the Liturgical Institute of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill.

Cardinal Francis Arinze strongly affirmed this point during a 2008 video session while he was still prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:  “The Church from Rome never said to remove the altar rails.”

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