On Kneeling and Communion Rails

Pope Benedict giving communionLately, there has been much debate about kneeling at Mass in general and kneeling at a  communion rail in particular.   The nays say that it isn’t necessary to get down on our knees to show reverence; the yeas contend that kneeling is an act of worship.

This past summer, my husband and I and four of our children spent 10 wonderful days in Ottawa, Canada.  Our hotel was in the heart of the busy downtown core and a 3 minute walk to St. Patrick’s Basilica.  I resolved that since we were so close, I would attend early morning weekday Mass at the Basilica.  Each morning, I would quickly put on the clothes that I had laid out the night before and quietly leave my sleeping family.  After greeting the hotel doorman, I would hurry along the streets of Ottawa, joining the early morning crowd of office workers and arrive at the church with a few minutes to spare.  The first time I walked into the Basilica, I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful marble communion rail.   I hadn’t seen one of those since I was a very little girl growing up in my Toronto parish.

At communion, I followed the people lining up in front of me.  It was an interesting yet familiar experience kneeling to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.  It was very humbling and so right – kneeling, waiting and in humility,  extending my tongue to receive Jesus.  Why couldn’t I receive communion like that every time?

In the past few months since returning from our holiday, I have had the blessing of attending a Latin Novus Ordo Mass every First Friday.  Father offers the sacrifice of the Mass ad orientum.  My favourite part of the Mass is kneeling at the communion rail patiently awaiting the time when Jesus will be placed on my tongue.  I have the same feeling of humility and reverence, the same realization that Jesus is entering me and I can’t begin to humble myself enough to receive Him.  Kneeling at the communion rail  somehow gives me a tiny fraction of the humility I need to receive Jesus.

In his book, The Spirit Of The Liturgy (Ignatius Press), then Cardinal Ratzinger defines the word proskynein,  a Greek verb, as “the classical word for adoration on one’s knees.”  In other words, worship.  According to Cardinal Ratzinger, there are two aspects to worship – the spiritual and the bodily and they are inseparable.  If kneeling is just a physical act, it is meaningless. Similarly, if we attempt to worship without the bodily form, then the act of worship “evaporates.”

Human beings do not just communicate with language.  We express ourselves with our whole body.  Priests lie prostrate at their ordination to signify humility, poverty, service.  Married couples express their love for each other using their bodies in the most intimate way.  Friends greet each other with an embrace or an affectionate touch.  Since our bodies are so much a part of how we interact,  claiming that we can fully worship our Lord using only our language and what we feel in our heart does not make sense.

Please continue reading this post at Catholic Insight…………….

Deo Gratias

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30 Responses to On Kneeling and Communion Rails

  1. I have noticed more people kneeling for Communion in the last few years. Pretty much everyone does in a Tridentine Mass, but some of the churches in the area that are Novus Ordo only have introduced portable kneelers. They are brought out at Communion time, and in one of the churches probably over half the people kneel to receive Communion.

    It is nice to see people showing such reverence for Our Lord 🙂

  2. Communion rails are one of the reasons I like going to the Tridentine Mass. I have been thinking though –I kneel for the family rosary but I only genuflect at Communion. Thank you for the striking point that Jesus humbled himself on the cross for me. With that, I’m going to do some more thinking.

  3. None of the 3 Catholic churches in our area have communion rails. I remember St. Hedwig in Detroit had one (I would go there with my Polish grandparents because part of the mass was said in Polish) but kneeling was optional. I used to kneel during the mass, but now I can’t do it. I have a bad knee, and if I tried someone would have to pick me up! I do scoot forward on the pew to give the person behind me room, and I fold my hands an bow my head like everyone else. I see little old ladies with walkers and canes kneeling, and it bothers me that I (at only 42) can’t kneel.

  4. Yes- I should write a post from a former Protestants view about the power of sacramentals and the “bell, book and candle”
    Catholics have always understood that we are in a body- incence, bells.candles touch smell, sound. sight. When our bodies kneel, it affects our souls

    • Well, actually, it’s the other way around. Our souls yearn for God; our bodies express the yearning, hence, expressing reverence through kneeling, genuflecting, bowing, prostrating. Read psalm 63 and the Magnificat.

      • I see your point..Perhaps it is both because sounds, scents, sight awaken my soul because they are saturated with His presence..eg people were healed via a handkerchief sent from St.Paul, holy water cleanses

  5. Great post, Terry.

    I also miss the railings, and everything about the older mass.
    Being an altar boy from the time I was in 2nd grade, back then I was still holding a paten under everyone’s chin, so that the Eucharist wouldn’t accidentally hit the floor.
    There seemed to be more solemnity to the sacrament back then, …but maybe it’s just me.

    I do miss the old days in many ways. Probably why I wrote that post a week or two ago (“Going God’s Way”) about the old Bing Crosby/Fr. O’Malley movies.

    We’d be a sight better off if we could return much of our country’s viewpoint to that of a our grandparents’ (or GREAT grandparents’) generation.

    • Thanks. In some parishes and in people’s way of thinking, there seems to be a desire for more solemnity and reverence at Mass – that which makes us realize that we are actually participating in the Sacrifice of the Mass and not at a community meeting.

      • That’s where I am, certainly.

        To me, there are some churches whose overall “feel” is more akin to the library or the YMCA, rather than a Catholic church. Nice and friendly, perhaps, and there’s plenty to do, …
        …but I don’t perceive my connection with God being any stronger for the time spent.

        We seem to have lost much of our humility regarding the Lord, which then leads to hubris, which leads to a whole host of problems.

        Just my opinion…

  6. Me says:

    I have yet to attend Mass at a parish that has Communion rails. I do bow before receiving and I have heard mutterings that none of it should be done to save time. Pardon me, but Mass is a prayer, a meditation. It is not supposed to be rushed. When I am before Christ, I want to show him the upmost respect. I have also considered veiling, but not sure how well that’d fly as I sing in the choir.

    • It would be very difficult to find even an older church anywhere that still has a communion rail. It’s great that you bow before receiving; I can’t see how that could possibly take up more time! I read a blog post a while back at nomadforgotten.wordpress.com where she wrote that she decided to veil even though she’s the only one in the choir who does. You’ll have to scroll down quite a bit but I know it’s in there. I’m one of only a handful of women in my parish who veil.

  7. dgcree says:

    In our parish, where the congregation approach the altar in pairs, the priest has installed a double kneeler, which he stands behind to distribute communion. This allows those who wish ( like myself ) to kneel and receive the Lord.

    • Don, what a great idea to install a double kneeler. Kudos to your parish priest. It makes it easier for people who want to kneel and encourages other people who may be hesitating about kneeling.

  8. lilyboat says:

    There’s so much beauty in kneeling for Christ.. I can’t kneel enough! Your summer worship experience sounds so beautiful! One day, when I travel, I just want to visit all the beautiful Catholic churches around the world, and I won’t care to see anything else..My dream vacation! 🙂

  9. genericmum says:

    It is so much easier to receive the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue when kneeling; some of our priests won’t administer the Sacrament in this way, however, and kneeling for Communion is banned in our Dioscese, except during the monthly Latin Mass. We have also been sternly advised NOT to genuflect before Communion, and bow instead, but, since hardly anyone bows, I both genuflect at Communion and during the Creed. Disobedient? No, not when the directives contradict Vatican II.

  10. Great post. I know that our pastor addressed it recently as partially a safety reason for not genuflecting or kneeling. The thought being that if the person behind isn’t watching you could have a pile up. We are all still instructed to bow before receiving, while the person in front of you is receiving. I am a convert and probably too you to have had kneeling rails.

    • Thank you. I know what you mean about a safety issue. Recently, my husband nearly walked into the person in front of him when the other person knelt down. That’s why I like what some other people have posted – their pastors have put kneelers in place so that everyone can be mindful that some people are going to kneel so be careful. In the parish where I grew up, we had communion rails until the early 70′s, if my memory is accurate.

  11. You’ve done a great job in defending kneeling, Terry. Like you, I can’t understand why people would protest against it. It seems they have only 2 arguments: The Apostles didn’t kneel at the Last Supper, and you can be reverent without kneeling. Well, we know the Apostles didn’t understand a lot of the things that happened at the Last Supper until afterwards. And what kind of an argument is, “We don’t have to, so why should we?” Kneeling, or at least a profound bow, is a universal sign of reverence. It’s found in every culture. It’s an instinctive response to greatness. I’d love to see the Communion rail brought back.

  12. reinkat says:

    very thought provoking post. I like it very much and have been thinking about it since it first appeared. I love the kneeling, totally agree with that gesture of humility and respect and everything said about it above. But I have second thoughts about receiving on the tongue. I love the gesture of voluntarily and willingly reaching out to take Christ into ourselves, the positive and definiteness of that. In analyzing my uncomfortableness about the receiving on the tongue, I recalled my childhood, before and as Vatican II came about. The communion rail, kneeling, patens, the priest moving up and down the line. My impressions of that (albeit from being 7 years old–and a bullied child): the concern with moving from my waiting place to the rail rather than preparing my heart to receive Jesus, the noticeably robotic recitation of The-Body-of-Christ by the priest as he moved swiftly and impersonally down the assembly line, my self-consciousness over closing my eyes, tilting my head back, and sticking out my tongue in front of one of my (smirking) altarboy/classmates. Contrasted those memories with my present bowing, meeting the eyes of the eucharist minister/priest with a personal, sincere prayer&amen, then looking directly at the Host which I then take to myself. All in all, I prefer the present way: ideally for me, would be the kneeler at the front of the church, to reach for my Jesus while kneeling before the eucharist minister or priest.

  13. We have a Communion rail at our chapel on campus. It has been a huge difference for me using it at every Mass! 🙂

  14. I’m convert from Protestantism 6 years ago, so I never heard of kneeling for communion until very recently. However, I came to the conclusion on my own that we should kneel for communion, so there you go. Without being told, our souls desire to kneel in the presence of God.

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