Sunday, July 22, 2012


This is the Holy Communion Procession at St. John's Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan. Please note the particulars of what is missing, which I will discuss below, as it concerns the "normative" way to receive Holy Communion at the "Normative" Mass of the Latin Rite, what is also called the Ordinary Form of the Mass:

What you see in the Episcopal Church is their version of the Holy Communion Procession. It is very clearly a Holy Communion Procession. But how many Holy Communion Processions do you see? One? No! There are two Holy Communion Processions. There is the procession of the Communicants to their station at the altar railing. Then there is the Holy Communion Procession of the Priest with the Consecrated Host and the two Chalice Ministers,both of whom are lay people but vested for this awesome ministry.

These two processions, mimic what occurs (or at least should occur) at every Catholic Mass. First the laity dress for Mass at home, hopefully in their "Sunday Best." Then they process to the Church, greeting people as they arrive at the doors of the Church and then enter solemnly to their positions in the nave of the Church, the pews, spending quiet time in prayer in meditation, preparing themselves as though they were praying the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar.

Then there is the Procession with the Priest and the ministers of the Mass to begin the Mass. Here we see that symbolically, the people are called or summoned by Christ to Church and then Christ comes to them in the Priest as the Mass begins.

In the traditional method of receiving Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, which is now totally lacking in the "Normative Form" of the Mass, the same thing happens at the time of Holy Communion which is so obvious in the video above.

The people process to the altar railing, which is an extension of the Altar table. In fact in some places, the altar railing has a cloth draped over it making it look like a tablecloth. In the video above, it is very clear that the communicants are in procession to their table as they kneel at it and await the procession of our Lord to them.

But what is missing in most Catholic Masses today is the procession of the priest and the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to the communicants. In the revised form of receiving Holy Communion, what is called the "normative" form, the priest, deacon and any extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are more like pedestals, stationary like frozen statues, for the people to come, like going to a window at a fast food restaurant to pick up your meal, unlike going to a sit down restaurant and having the waiters process to you with your meal. The first is "grazing" and the second is "true dinning."

What the Episcopal method of distributing Holy Communion above shows very clearly and what every Catholic Mass once showed very clearly through signs and symbols, is that salvation is a two way street, a two way procession! First by God's divine initiative, He processes to us with His Son, which is unmerited and a sign of His unconditional love for us. Salvation always begins with God throughout salvation history. Because of Original Sin and actual sin, sinners often process away from God or separate themselves from God by their actions and omissions.

The very fact that anyone processes to Mass is a sign that God has summoned them there and they have responded to this grace by actually going in procession to Mass! At Mass and if in a state of grace, free of sin, either venial or mortal, they are summoned again to the Communion rail. At the rail, they await the Holy Communion procession to them, where the priest and or any extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion bring them the Sacred Species, the Body and Blood of our Crucified, Risen and Glorified Lord under these sacred signs which also have great symbolic signage in and of themselves.

When the communicant arrives at the altar railing and humbly kneels as a sign of their soul's risen but subjugated status before the King of their Soul, Jesus Christ, who alone has made them "worthy" as unworthy as they are, to have Him come "under their roof" He has nonetheless said the "word" that has healed their soul!

This points to the necessity of this two way street of salvation, God's procession to us and ours to Him as a result of His grace! This is quite vivid in the video above isn't it in the two wonderful processions we see in action, sacramental action!?

Please note that the communicants have time to leisurely pause as they kneel and await Holy Communion coming to them in the most important procession of the Mass!
They also have time to remain briefly given thanks to God for His coming to them in Holy Communion. This is totally lacking in the perpetual motion of the laity's procession to Holy Communion and back to their pews in the normative truncated procession of the Mass today in the Ordinary Form.

Please note the priest who is the only one distributing the Host with two vested Chalice Bearers. These are presumably licensed chalice bearers in the Episcopal Church. Please note they too process with the chalice to each communicant thus extending their time at the table of the Lord which is by its extension the altar railing! There is constant processing by the Ministers of Holy Communion. They are not "stationary pedestals" in the least and certainly not frozen statues making everyone come to them without a reciprocal procession! There is great symbolism in this in terms of salvation, isn't there, totally lacking in the "normative" way of distributing Holy Communion since the 1970's in the Catholic Church!

Pray that kneeling at the Communion Rail will once again become the norm for Holy Communion as it is once again legislated and codified in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and that art and architecture in building and redesigning Catholic Churches insists on altar railings once again for so awesome Communion Processions as witnessed in the video above but in the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite! The symbolism of the current method of only the laity processing to the "immovable pedestals" where they take Holy Communion boarders on heresy in terms of salvation being our initiative and our procession only! (Hyperbole here folks to make an important point about our unreformed, truncated way of distributing and taking Holy Communion today in the so-called reformed Mass!)

Finally, in the name of God and all that is Holy, why is it that the Episcopal Liturgy above is more in continuity with the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite Mass than the actual "Normative" form of the Latin Rite Mass today as celebrated in most Catholic Churches. How is it that the reform of the Latin Rite Mass that Sacrosanctum Concilium envisioned, a minor reform, came to be such a rupture in sign and theology, which an Episcopal Liturgy is a better sign of the very same reform? This is the scandal that must be rectified by the "reform of the reform of the Ordinary Form of the normative Latin Rite Mass!"

Compare the video above with its two solemn processions to the video below which is more than likely normative in most Catholic Churches today. How sad, how far we missed the mark in the revision of the Tridentine Mass! This so sad and so far from what the Mass was intended to be in the Post-Vatican II era!

And in praise of the "grain of wheat" one-way communion procession to pedestal like communion ministers, so typical today in so many Catholic Churches, so sad! As an aside, look where the tabernacle is placed and the centrality of the large green fern like plant placed centrally below the crucifix where the tabernacle must have been at one time, that speaks volumes too. But listen closely to the hymn at this one way communion procession and its words, it sounds idolatrous combined with what is happening here!


Templar said...

Where can I donate for the installation of an Altar railing at St Joseph?

ytc said...

Cardinal Bernardin, why, oh why...

So many bad decisions.

Father Pablo said...

I played both videos at the same, it was quite a contrast! The first time I saw people kneeling for communion was at Aldersgate Methodist in Augusta, I was about twelve. Only later did I find out that kneeling for communion was a Catholic practice. It's interesting (and sad) how to see some Catholic traditions you have to go to other churches because you rarely see them in Catholic churches!

Anonymous said...

Hey Templar, Perhaps an "Altar Railing Fund" can be set up, and when enough money is in that pot, they get reinstalled? I'll contribute.

There is a photo of St.Joseph church inside the Nu-Way restaurant on Zebulon Rd. that shows the pre-restoration view of the inside of the church with it's altar railings still intact.
When I first saw that photo, it quite surprised me how recently they were removed. God have mercy.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

When I am presented with a $30,000 check your prayer and mine will be answered! But please note how the Episcopal choir is situated in the monastic tradition and how disciplined and discreet the choir and it's director are thus serving the liturgy, not the liturgy serving their performance needs compared to the St. Monica " community" abomination!

Gabby said...

I remember being pleasantly surprised when I found myself at an Anglican 'Mass' celebrated by the Canadian Primate (having gone there expecting an ecumenical service for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity) and saw that everyone knelt for Communion. It brought back memories of how it was in our Church until I was about 14.

The only thing that was shocking to me that day was seeing our Pastor go up to receive.

Bill Meyer said...

Note, too, that the Episcopalians are not tortured with Marty Haugen.

Django said...

There isn't one thing the Protestants have that they didn't steal from the Catholic Church, Bible included.

Anonymous 2 said...

No matter who stole what from whom, those annoying, “heretical” Episcopalians have it right, don’t they? This is one of the things I learned from visiting my wife’s church (she is Episcopalian) – something, by the way, I wouldn’t have been permitted to do before Vatican II apparently. I would like to think that the kind of insights in Father’s post owe something, in part at least, to the fruits of ecumenical dialogue and interaction, which help to make us conscious once again of important Catholic traditions that we seem to have lost and that some non-Catholics have preserved. So, three cheers for the Episcopalians on this one!

P.S. Count me in also for the special fund for re-installation of the altar rail at St. Josephs. Father, when are you going to set up the fund?

Anonymous said...

$30,000 is very much really.
I'll be in a better position to contribute substanially in about three months.

I do think that the bookkeeper can simply write a line item "Altar Railings" when recording deposits...then it will be quite easy for the Finance Council and Father to know when the 'magic amount' has been reached. :-)

Disclaimer: I may be mistaken because I am not on that Finance Council, just inferring from past experience with similar matters.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I have no idea actually what the cost would be

Henry Edwards said...

If you're really serious about an altar rail, I wouldn't think the funding would be an impediment. In the last building campaign I was involved in, a number of people gave more than that for items less desired.

Henry Edwards said...

Incidentally, Fr. McDonald, now that the trend is in the opposite direction, it occurs to me to wonder if you know whether St. Joseph's in Macon might have been the very last Catholic church in the country to remove and existing old altar rail. (Whereas the one nearest me may have been the last new round one to have been built in 2000.)

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

We removed the altar railing at Saint Joseph (with consultation with our restoration committee and consensus with our pastoral council, by the way, although I pushed the issue) because we had expanded the sanctuary forward which meant we lost two sets of pews and reduced the amount of seating because of that. The original altar railing was not of the same Cararra marble as the altars, had been damaged over the years, and fit between the large support columns for the main sanctuary the columns between the side chapels. If we place an altar railing back in the Church, we will have to extend the first step by about four or five feet to accommodate the area where one kneels, and space behind the railing for the priest/minister to walk comfortably. This will necessitate taking out another set of pews across the front in order. I'm not wild about doing that but I think we can live with it given the number of Masses we have and that we are never 100% packed except for Christmas and Easter. If I ever became the only priest there and had to eliminate one of our Mass on Sunday from 4 to 3, then we could have a seating capacity problem. We removed the altar railing in 2005, two short years before SP. If I had known what Pope Benedict had up his sleave, I would have had a new altar railing in the original plan. But this does not call into question of clairvoyance completely and I insisted to the liturgical designer (who decorated the new Cathedral in Houston) that I wanted the altar up one step higher than everything else in the sanctuary as I thought that Pope Benedict would encourage Ad Orientem, and I wanted it to be possible to do so with the new altar. He laughed at me, silly man! But it is easy to celebrate the EF Mass and OF Mass ad orientem because of my clairvoyance in all of this.

Templar said...

LOL, the important part here being that we not question your clairvoyance!! Very good!

Dear Father, all things being what they are, would it be possible/practical to have an estimate done on the work necessary to install a new rail? Knowing approximately what the costs might be may allow independent fund raising to be accomplished that could provide the means. However if this is simply not something you wish pursued at the moment (with the active capital campaign) I do understand.

Ted said...

Talking about communion processions, there is now considerable evidence to suggest that in early times the Communion chant, such as we find in the Graduale Romanum, was used for the procession of priests and ministers towards the faithful to distribute Communion. In the Roman basilicas, the short antiphon was supplemented with psalm verses because of the size of the sanctuary and the number of sacred ministers involved. The Romans considered this procession important.
The psalm verses were dropped by the end of the middle of the 9th c in the smaller Frankish churches.
Eventually, because of the introduction of complex and longer music for the Agnus Dei, as well as well as more infrequent communion, (sometimes even given after Mass) the Communion chant was pushed forward till after the communion of the faithful was completed, which is when it is still sung in the EF today.

KKN said...

In some Episcopal churches the altar rails are not attached to the floor and are movable by two people (one on each end). Prior to the start of the service,two rails are placed at the front of the church in between the altar and the front row pews with a space in the between the two in the middle for the clergy to pass through. I presume that the cost to construct two free standing altar rails is considerably less expensive than the cost to have them constructed and then affixed. Just a thought of an alternative way to achieve the goal. Best of luck!