The Communion rail, in brief

“We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.” -1 Corinthians 13:12

A mistaken notion is thinking that the Communion rail is intended to separate the priest from the people, as though Europe (Rome) somehow intended to export class differences to America, where we Americans don’t tolerate such elite silliness. As is often the case, the intuitive guess at the symbolism misleads.

The Communion rail is a beautiful symbol in which the sanctuary represents Heaven, the nave (where we-the-congregation pray), earth. The priest acts as alter Christus. He occupies the space representing Heaven, our goal. Passion and fervency being intrinsic to his work, there he prays for us to join him in the heavenly courts.

Now, the nave isn’t a place of mere commoners nor should it be thought of as such. God created the world to be good and human beings have beauty and dignity the kind of which even the angels are said to envy! We are not commoners and we are indeed called to Heaven. We can see past the communion rail, our senses admit to seeing all that symbolizes ultimate beauty and love, but we have much work to do before we are admitted to the heavenly domicile. The rail represents the hurdle we must pass but we are called closer, wonderfully so, when we approach to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Wow! Truly.

Eastern Catholics and Orthodox take all that up a level by their use of the iconostasis, a veritable wall of saints which admits the sense of vision but only through Royal Doors which are open only during celebration of the Divine Liturgy (syn. Mass).

So often we need to set aside uniquely American interpretations of symbolism (some of which, admittedly, we picked up even if we attended Catholic schools) and it is sometimes work to engage in study needed to learn the symbolism intrinsic to our Catholic Faith. Engaging prudent diligence to avoid mis-information, the Internet makes it easy to be an autodidact (self-taught), however, and learning of the beauty of our symbolism ought to prove enjoyable and fruitful.

Restoration of the communion rail in the celebration of the Latin Mass can and should to be embraced for the beauty it genuinely represents and for the reality that accompanies celebration of that which is most beautiful this side of Heaven.


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