Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Altar rails regaining popularity

In Tiverton, R.I., when some parishioners suggested returning altar rails to the sanctuary of Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Father Jay Finelli gladly accepted, little knowing shortly thereafter the Pope’s 2007 motu proprio letter Summorum Pontificum would follow and he would be interested in learning how to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass.
In Norwalk, Conn., when a groundswell of parishioner support encouraged pastor Father Greg Markey to restore St. Mary Church, the second-oldest parish in the diocese, to its original 19th-century neo-gothic magnificence, he made sure altar rails were again part of the sanctuary.

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.”

In Eastern Orthodox churches, there is an iconostasis — a wall of icons and religious paintings that separate the nave from the sanctuary — rather than altar rail separating the sanctuary. While the altar rail is usually about two feet high, the iconostasis veils most of the sanctuary.

“The altar rail is nothing compared to that,” he says, “and these are our Eastern brethren. We can benefit and learn something.”

Altar Rail History

They may be returning, but were altar rails supposed to be taken out of sanctuaries?

Continue reading here at the National Catholic Register.


  1. I drive my family 50 minutes one way so we can go to a church that has an altar rail, among other things. It shows my 4 boys reverence. They don't really understand why you wouldn't kneel before the God of the universe. They also don't understand receiving on the hand (nor do I) as this too seems to be a sign of being fed. I need all the humility I can get and knealing and receving on the tongue tells me exactly where I fit in. As created, not god, not master, but created and dependant on....

  2. My church uses its altar rails. It's a little shrine run by Franciscans from Eastern Europe since the 60's and, God bless them, they never removed the rails. A few years ago the priest in charge started using them again, first at the daily masses and finally at Sunday masses. He's been gently reintroducing Latin into the mass in the same way.