Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Altar Rails

Deacon Greg Kandra, who blogs at the Deacon's Bench wrote an article HERE on the need to restore the use of the altar rail during Holy Mass for the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. I believe he is correct in everything that he says. I very rarely say that about anything, since it looks like I'm being an uncritical thinker, but in this case, he's right.

I never thought that catechesis alone can only go so far. This would be especially true when something is just a bad idea to begin with. The Church Fathers recognized the problems that Deacon Kandra pointed out, and that was in an era where the faithful received in the hand in a reverent manner! Hence, they settled on reception on the tongue as the norm. Now, the Eastern Fathers did not require kneeling. But their liturgies involve much more intense 'Catholic calisthenics' than those found in the Roman Rite.

"The fact is, we fumbling humans need external reminders—whether smells and bells, or postures and gestures—to reinforce what we are doing, direct our attention, and make us get over ourselves. Receiving communion is about something above us, and beyond us. It should transcend what we normally do. But what does it say about the state of our worship and our reception of the Eucharist that it has begun to resemble a trip to the DMV?"

Men are infused with a rational soul, and the body and soul are one. When feeding the soul, the body must be fully engaged. This is why we pray on Rosary beads, or at least with our fingers; this replaces the practice of praying while working in the fields, since most of us cannot engage ourselves like that in the post-industrial world.

"Our modern liturgy has become too depleted of reverence and awe, of wonder and mystery. The signs and symbols that underscored the mystery—the windows of stained glass, the chants of Latin, the swirls of incense at the altar—vanished and were replaced by . . . what? Fifty shades of beige? Increasingly churches now resemble warehouses, and the Body of Christ is just one more commodity we stockpile and give out. 
So true.

"Pope Benedict XVI seems to agree. He has decided he will only give communion at papal Masses to those who kneel and receive on the tongue. He was gently making a liturgical point. Are we paying attention?"
I am. Some are not, because they think that only canonical legislation is binding. Well true as that may be, I think the example of the Holy Father is enough for me. No, I'm not a radical Ultramontanist, but simply one who believes that since he is the Bishop of Rome, we should take our liturgical cues from him on the structure and action of the liturgy because we use the Roman Rite. Reception of Communion has nothing to do with local, organically developed custom. That applies when the rubrics are vague, or when they plain don't make sense. In the TLM for instance, it instructs that the book needs to be moved from one side of the altar to the other but not how it is done (as odd as that may be, I know, considering how heavily legislated the TLM can be). Bells are also different nowadays depending on who says Mass. Same with the second Confiteor. In the Ordinary Form, it makes no sense to bow to the altar and not genuflect towards the reserved Blessed Sacrament when the tabernacle was left in place in the apse. The GIRM envisions it being to the side; clearly, the law does not make sense here. But these are quite minor signs of making the liturgy more whole, rather than the crazy manner in which people receive Holy Communion.

I for one would like to see a kneeler placed in front of Father, or he moves to distributing Communion from the altar steps. Those who wish to kneel could then kneel on the end of the altar rail. The servers could hold the patens with handles under the chin and hands of those receiving Communion. In time we could move back to using the rail, with only the priest(s) and deacon(s) distributing Holy Communion under the form of bread alone.

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