The Altar Rail: A Deacon’s Change of Heart

DSC_0091There are few topics in the Catholic blogosphere as “hot button” as the best or proper means/method to receive Holy Communion. The debate is often rekindled by some news item here or there, and the most recent article is no exception. Except this time it comes from a quite unexpected source.

Deacon Greg Kandra once famously defended and argued for the Standing/In-The-Hand posture. He said, “Standing and in-the-hand always seemed to me sensible, practical and—with proper catechesis—appropriate.” Since Deacon Kandra is no small player in the Catholic blog world, this post is oft-sighted by those on that side of the fence. Yet, the good Deacon’s most recent post: Communion Rails: Restoring a Sense of the Sacred might be a game changer.

The entire article is worth reading but I post for reference the heart of the post:

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?

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.

Can kneeling to receive on the tongue help alleviate some of this? Well, it can’t hurt. And for this reason: to step up to a communion rail, and kneel, and receive on the tongue, is an act of utter and unabashed humility. In that posture to receive the Body of Christ, you become less so that you can then become more. It requires a submission of will and clear knowledge of what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what is about to happen to you.

These are the arguments that many of us have made for a while now, and is the reason that many more orthodox parishes are reinstalling the rails. Surely this will come as an afront to many that fear a “backwards” walk into a pre-Vatican II Church, but this has to due with the “Source and Summit” of our Christian life. As Kandra states, we have depleted our modern liturgy, and frankly our faith in general, of reverence and awe.

Pope Benedict XVI gives communion to a nYet, this isn’t about right and wrong, and those in the blogosphere ready to throw out an “I told you so…” should remember why they hold the belief they do. It isn’t that they are better, but they simply accept that they are so weak. It is precisely because we are so incapable of understanding, accepting, or remembering what it is that we are participating in at Mass that we need these external reminders. It is precisely because we are so broken that we needed God to send us His only Son.

Kneeling isn’t a sign of superiority, but a sing of humility and submission. Likewise, we should act as if this isn’t about enforcing supremacy on others, but instead about compelling ourselves to see the need for submission. Many of us in the the “traditional” wing of the Church forget that our battle isn’t to prove that “our way is better” but that we need what we call, and Deacon Kandra agrees, the “Sense of the Sacred.”

As Kandra concluded,

It demands a sense of the sacred. It challenges us to kneel before wonder, and bow before grace. It insists that we not only fully understand what is happening, but that we fully appreciate the breathtaking generosity behind it. It asks us to be mindful of what “Eucharist” really means: thanksgiving.

I don’t see that much today. It’s gone. We need to reclaim it. 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?

After what I’ve seen, I agree with him. We need to get off our feet, and on our knees.

Bring back the communion rail. It’s time.

It is time. Not because I say so, or even because the good Deacon says so. The Pope’s teaching though, that should be headed. He has been working his entire pontificate, and really during his entire life, to bring us closer to the truth and thereby closer to God. This isn’t about style or preference, this is about theology. This is about committing ourselves to Christ fully and completely. It is an affront to our autonomy, it is a reminder that Christ is our Savior and the first step to admitting that is physically positioning ourselves at the most important moment of our faith life in a way that reflects that.

Christ held high, therefore we position ourselves humbly.

He must increase, I must decrease.