Dear Brothers and Sisters,

You will have noticed that after Christmas an altar rail was installed in OLR Church. This beautiful addition to our church is the gift of two of our families and it is a response to requests from many of our members.

What is the reason for the altar rail and how do we use it? The altar rail has both a practical use and a symbolic significance. An increasing number of Catholics wish to kneel to receive communion so practically, the altar rail enables those who wish to kneel to do so with ease both in kneeling and in getting up again.

Those who wish to kneel also usually desire to receive communion on the tongue rather than in the hand. I encourage reception of communion on the tongue because there is less possibility of the host being dropped on the floor or mishandled in some way. From time to time non-Catholic visitors will receive the host in their hand and walk off with it – perhaps ignorant of what they received. Reception on the tongue stops this from happening.

Although I encourage reception of communion on the tongue, the church allows individual choice. If you wish to receive communion on the hand you may do so. If you wish to stand at the altar rail rather than kneel that is also permissible. It’s your choice. All that we request is that you receive the Body of Christ with due reverence.

Kneeling at the altar rail is an obvious way to show your reverence. Those who receive in this way also like the fact that they are able to kneel there for a moment in the Lord’s presence while waiting for the priest or deacon to administer communion to them.

The way to receive communion at the altar rail is to line up in the center aisle in two rows as usual. The usher at the front of the row will direct you to file across either to the far right or far left. Once at the altar rail you may either stand or kneel. The priest and deacon will then come to you – moving from the far right and left toward the center. Once your group of communicants have returned to their place the next group moves forward to the rail…and so forth. This method is not only more reverent, but also moves more quickly. At the masses this weekend we will start to use this method of administering communion.

The symbolic aspect of the altar rail has to do with the traditional architecture of the church. From Old Testament times onward the sacred space of the Temple was divided into three areas: the court of the people, the Holy place (where the clergy functioned) and the Holy of Holies (the location of God’s presence)

In Catholic sacred architecture the nave becomes the “court of the people” the sanctuary or chancel represents the Holy Place and the tabernacle with the reserved sacrament becomes the Holy of Holies. The altar rail therefore stands as a boundary or marker between the Court of the People and the Holy Place. Does this mean that the laity may never enter the Holy Place? Of course not. This is not a literal hard and fast rule. It is a point of liturgical symbolism which informs our worship and our experience of God’s presence in the church and through our liturgical action. It is a distinction that helps us affirm the complementary (but different) calling of the laity and the clergy.

Your Pastor,

Fr. Longenecker.