Kneeling for Holy Communion at St. Joseph's newly blessed and restored altar railing on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus at our Extraordinary Form Sunday High Mass, January 4, 2015!
At St. Joseph Church in Macon, we are able to offer the Extraordinary Form Mass only once a month on Sunday and at a special time of 2:00 PM. We only have about 40 parishioners who would like this on a regular basis. Others attend this Mass, some from as far away as Augusta, Columbus and Atlanta.
We offer the EF as a low Mass each Tuesday at 5 PM. Anywhere from 15 to 25 attend it.
Because we can't offer it every Sunday, I've tried to make one of our five Sunday Ordinary Form Masses more traditional looking, more EF looking. I chose the 12:10 PM Sunday Mass for this purpose. It remains a vernacular OF Mass, although during Lent we chant the Kyrie in Greek and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin at all our Masses. The congregation now knows these by heart!
Our 12:10 PM Mass is no different than our other Sunday Masses in terms of music and who does what.
But this is the main difference and we've done this now going on four years! No one parishioner has complained to me in all that time for this major change (although one visitor castigated me on Sunday about three years ago).
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated ad orientem. Every other part of the Mass is as our normal Sunday Masses are, to include the Introductory and Concluding rites at the chair and the Liturgy of the Word by lectors as is normal for the Ordinary Form. The attendance at this Mass has increased and there are many young people of college age there too!
Yesterday, March 1st, I added a new twist and as an experiment. I asked the parishioners to use the altar railing, its full length, for the reception of Holy Communion. We allow those who wish to kneel for Holy Communion at all our other Masses to do so, but they come up single file to receive Holy Communion from four host stations. The majority stand, but a significant number kneel. This presents no problems in logistics with the Communion Ministers standing behind the altar railing. One can easily receive standing and in the hand from a minister standing behind the railing. It is as though the railing isn't even there. But it is there for those who wish to kneel comfortably.
The norm in the GIRM for the OF Mass for the reception of Holy Communion is to stand to receive, Kneeling is the exception but the choice is the communicant's not the minster's!The same is true of receiving in the hand or on the tongue.
So on Sunday (yesterday) I indicated that people at the 12:10 PM Mass only should line up at the full length of the altar railing. If people chose to kneel they could or if they wished to remain standing they could. It was their choice!
Instead of having four ministers of Holy Communion, we only had two, myself and the deacon, each of us taking half of the railing. I took the half on the Gospel side of the Church, starting at the center gate. The deacon took the half on the Epistle side of the Church starting at the far wall. We traveled with an altar server down the railing to the end and they returned to the center to begin the process over again, rather than going back and forth, left and right distributing the Host.
I was shocked that most knelt to receive Holy Communion, only a handful stood. There were no logistical problems in standing next to a kneeling person.
However, on my half of the railing, the majority received on the hand as they knelt! But it looked so much more reverent than when they do so on the "hit and run!" The majority placed their elbows on the top of the altar railing and made the throne with their hands, thus elevating their hands to the height of their mouths. It made it very easy to place the Host on the palm of their hands. Then they communicated and did so in an unrushed manner as I continued to the next person; I was the moving one, not them. Then they could remain briefly to contemplate so great a gift before returning to the pew!
The other unexpected thing is that it took less time for two of us to distribute Holy Communion to a full church to those at the altar railing. In other words when people come up to four Eucharistic minister single file, it takes much longer to distribute Holy Communion compared to two ministers who move to each communicate at the altar railing! I kid you not!
I had parishioners tell me afterward that they did not feel rushed and it felt so much more reverent receiving at the railing's full length rather than going single file to receive in a "hit and run" manner--hit and run for them.
It did look more reverent and the law of prayer being the law of belief tied into the visual aspect of reverence being highlighted by Holy Communion at the full length of the railing reinforced this orthodox belief!
The other aspect of the ministers of Holy Communion being the ones to move to each communicant is that it is truly a Communion Procession in the broadest sense! The laity process to the altar railing and our Lord processes to each communicant! Thus this shows in the most powerful symbolic, liturgical way that not only do we come to Christ, but Christ comes to us. We meet as we process to each other but with Christ as the initiator of this movement of this true liturgical procession. The Lord is not static but He Himself processes to the communicant who has processed to HIM!
I contend that the reverence demanded in the Mass does NOTmean we have to ditch the OF Mass and have the EF Mass exclusively. Latin is not the answer and not even ad orientem, although it helps; what is needed is returing to the traditional Latin Rite way of distributing Holy Communion at the altar railing which should be restored! This alone will recover the look of reverence so needed in the law of prayer as well as the actual reverence due our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar.
This alone will lead to a tremendous renewal of the liturgy and orthodox belief about the real presence of the Lord in the Catholic Church.