Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Return of the Altar Rail, part II

As a follow up to my post the other day, I want to draw our attention to what Fr. Jay Finelli posted on his own blog, recounting the positive way in which his parish has received the opportunity to receive at the communion rail.

At his parish of the Church of the Holy Ghost in Tiverton, Rhode Island, the beautiful renovation to the sanctuary was finished with an elegant altar rail, which was a gracious gift from a parishioner who owns a wood working company.

It is wonderful to see the altar rail restored, and with such graceful design, but more importantly to see the liturgical sensibilities of the faith better formed and Christ's faith responding so enthusiastically.




 The wood work for rail, the new reredos with the tabernacle civory, and the side shrine canopies are all elegant and befitting the church.

Congratulations to Fr. Finelli and thank you for your leadership.


  1. Church buildings in the east have an iconostasis in front of the altar. Church buildings in the west traditionally made use of a rood screen or an altar rail. Despite misguided "PC" sensibilities which deem these things to be "barriers that exclude", they do in fact demarcate or denote sacred space, and they symbolize the veil of MYSTERY that goes part and parcel with Christianity, which is at its core a MYSTERY religion. They also emphasize the fact that although we are called to be a priestly people, we are not "priests". The altar rail reminds us that something wonderful and incredible is happening in the precincts of the sanctuary - where the priest, acting AS a priest in a sacred setting - says Mass, with God Himself being present on the altar.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. The Church teaches there are two orders of priesthood: the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood. Both are true priesthoods since both offer sacrifice proper to their station, but the Church clearly distinguishes between the two, each which shares in the one priesthood of Christ.

      Pius XII: Mediator Dei:
      85. All this has the certitude of faith. However, it must also be said that the faithful do offer the divine Victim, though in a different sense.

      88. Nor is it to be wondered at, that the faithful should be raised to this dignity. By the waters of baptism, as by common right, Christians are made members of the Mystical Body of Christ the Priest, and by the "character" which is imprinted on their souls, they are appointed to give worship to God. Thus they participate, according to their condition, in the priesthood of Christ.

      89. In every age of the Church's history, the mind of man, enlightened by faith, has aimed at the greatest possible knowledge of things divine. It is fitting, then, that the Christian people should also desire to know in what sense they are said in the canon of the Mass to offer up the sacrifice. To satisfy such a pious desire, then, We shall here explain the matter briefly and concisely.

    2. and continuing MD:

      90. First of all the more extrinsic explanations are these: it frequently happens that the faithful assisting at Mass join their prayers alternately with those of the priest, and sometimes - a more frequent occurrence in ancient times - they offer to the ministers at the altar bread and wine to be changed into the body and blood of Christ, and, finally, by their alms they get the priest to offer the divine victim for their intentions.

      91. But there is also a more profound reason why all Christians, especially those who are present at Mass, are said to offer the sacrifice.

      92. In this most important subject it is necessary, in order to avoid giving rise to a dangerous error, that we define the exact meaning of the word "offer." The unbloody immolation at the words of consecration, when Christ is made present upon the altar in the state of a victim, is performed by the priest and by him alone, as the representative of Christ and not as the representative of the faithful. But it is because the priest places the divine victim upon the altar that he offers it to God the Father as an oblation for the glory of the Blessed Trinity and for the good of the whole Church. Now the faithful participate in the oblation, understood in this limited sense, after their own fashion and in a twofold manner, namely, because they not only offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest, but also, to a certain extent, in union with him. It is by reason of this participation that the offering made by the people is also included in liturgical worship.

      93. Now it is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest from the fact that the minister at the altar, in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, represents Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. Hence the whole Church can rightly be said to offer up the victim through Christ. But the conclusion that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the Church no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office: rather it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father. It is obviously necessary that the external sacrificial rite should, of its very nature, signify the internal worship of the heart. Now the sacrifice of the New Law signifies that supreme worship by which the principal Offerer himself, who is Christ, and, in union with Him and through Him, all the members of the Mystical Body pay God the honor and reverence that are due to Him.