The Magic of the Altar Rail, by Austin Ruse

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By Austin Ruse, Crisis Magazine, December 6, 2019

Austin Ruse is a Crisis contributing editor and president of the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-FAM). He is the author of Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data, published by Regnery; and Little Suffering Souls: Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ, published by Tan Books. The views expressed here are solely his own.

Austin RuseTo look at our diocese, you might assume it’s on the liberal side. Located in Northern Virginia and established in 1974, most of the newer churches (and there are many of them) are “in the round.” You know the ones—they look like spaceships. Needless to say, these triumphs of modern ecclesial architecture generally exclude altar rails. Even so, through only four bishops and a plethora of orthodox priests, much of the modern craziness passed us by. We didn’t even get girl altar boys until a few years ago. Reception of the Precious Blood doesn’t happen here.

Our pastor—a very conservative priest—told parishioners several months ago he was putting in an altar rail, and that we would begin using it. He said we could receive standing or kneeling, on the tongue or in the hand, but that we would be lining up along the altar rail. Rather than shuffling ever forward, staring at the neck of the person in front of us, Father thought we might be more recollected if we paused at the altar rail and raised our eyes and souls to the tabernacle, the Crucifix, and the sanctuary.

He published a lovely column about the “functional and sacramental purposes” of the altar rail. “It distinguishes between the sanctuary and the nave and the priest from the people. It harkens back to the Jewish understanding of the Holy of Holies where the people are invited to confidently step up to the very edge of the Holy of Holies in reverence.” Without an altar rail, he wrote, “the people approach the Communion station and, after receiving Communion, hurriedly depart. A panoramic devotional view of a beautiful sanctuary, like the splendor of decorations adorning a wedding feast, is thus unlikely. The reception of Communion is individualistic, not communal.”  ….

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