The communion rail

By Tom Quiner


I grew up in the Episcopal Church. A communion rail was used during communion.

By the time I joined the Catholic Church, communion rails had pretty much been banished. I’ve never taken communion at a communion rail in a Catholic Church, and I’ve attended a lot of churches around the country.

I read that communion rails are beginning to make a comeback. I wasn’t quite sure how to react. My wife thought it would be taking a step backward. I’m not so sure.

What I love about Catholic Mass is that everything has rich meaning, including the communion rail. A church designer by the name of Denis McNamara explains it well. He is a professor at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois:

“(The altar rail) is still a marker of the place where heaven and earth meet, indicating that they are not yet completely united…But, at the same time, the rail is low, very permeable, and has a gate, so it does not prevent us from participating in heaven. So we could say there is a theology of the rail, one which sees it as more than a fence, but as a marker where heaven and earth meet, where the priest, acting in persona Christi, reaches across from heaven to earth to give the Eucharist as the gift of divine life.”

When Pope Benedict XVI was still a Cardinal, he made a strong case for the communion rail:

“the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species.”

What do you think? Should the communion rail make a comeback?


  1. atimetoshare on September 21, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    We have a communion rail at my church – a conservative Lutheran church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. I’ve always receiving communion in this way, as you stated it is in complete humility that we come to the Lord’s table.

    • quinersdiner on September 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks for weighing in. Always a pleasure to hear from a Protestant sister.

  2. dewitte1 on September 21, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    I really like the idea of the communion rail coming back. The Altar is a sacred and Holy space. We should treat it with respect and reverence; after all Christ is truly present! I cringe when I see people waltzing up to the altar during communion to serve as Eucharistic ministers, they are chatting, people grabbing the hosts willie nillie. Maybe the rail would remind people to think about what they are doing up there.

    • quinersdiner on September 21, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      As you know, I respect your opinion tremendously, so your comment carries a lot of weight. At this point, if it happens, I’d be fine with it. I don’t expect to see the floodgates open, though.

  3. encourage the faithful on September 21, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Tom, I am very much a conservative/traditional Catholic who believes that the fruits of Vatican II and modernism have rendered the practices in the Church a shadow of what they were and are meant to be. All the old practices have transcendent meaning but Catholics of the late 60’s and beyond are barely aware of what that means. I am a supporter of the Latin Mass and am very wary of the Novus Ordo. I will not take Communion from other than a priest and only on the tongue; never in the hand. I occasionally attend the TLM out of town and it is the most beautiful Mass. For me, it is all about the reverence to God. And because I treat God with the utmost love and esteem, I experience the transcendence personally (my husband doesn’t although he attends the Latin Mass with me). I am fortunate that even though my Church (which I have attended for years) doesn’t have the traditional Mass, the Novus Ordo is presented respectfully.

    The removal of the Communion rail, in my honest opinion, was the work of the devil. And those of your readers who are new Catholics and who did not grow up with the traditional liturgies may not have the same advantages of salvation that I and my peers have. That is how strongly I believe in practicing our faith just as the Apostles, the Church Doctors and Fathers have instructed us to do so for millennia.

    • quinersdiner on September 21, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks for your insights. I have an unusual perspective, in that I grew up with the communion rail, but in a Protestant church. I’ve never experienced it in the Catholic Church. I like what I’m hearing.

      • encourage the faithful on September 21, 2015 at 2:55 pm

        Our Emeritus Pope Benedict is such a beautiful and spiritual writer that if you read his works earnestly, you will probably be transformed into a traditionalist, so in tune with our Lord is he. I believe, if the modernists do not completely thwart the Curia, that he will become a Doctor of the Church someday. I would be so bold as to suggest that God, bestowing the powers of infallibility to Peter and his successors as He has done, will not let the modernists have their wicked way in that department, lol.

        • quinersdiner on September 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm

          I do believe you are right. He would be a great Church doctor. How about JPII based on “Theology of the Body?”

      • encourage the faithful on September 21, 2015 at 3:31 pm

        Although I am partial to Pope Benedict for sentimental as well as theological reasons, I could not deny the wealth provided to the Church in St. Pope John Paul the Great’s works. I have no doubt that he will be recognized as a doctor one day.

        • quinersdiner on September 21, 2015 at 3:33 pm

          Benedict was a brilliant theologian. JPII was a brilliant philosopher. I have been blessed to have them as my Pope in my formative years as a Catholic. Pope Francis brings his own, unique gifts as well.

  4. Jeane on September 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm


    I think it would be great to bring back the communion rail.
    When we visited our son in another diocese (Lincoln, NE) we experienced the communion rail. I think it increases reverence, and as Maggie said, it is sorely needed in many churches.

    On another note, I was blessed to attend an architecture tour given by Denis McNamara (whom you mention in your post) last fall at Mundelein. Very talented man! Mundelein is such a beautiful place and Dr. McNamara explained so much about our faith while he described the architecture there. Put it on your bucket list 🙂


    • quinersdiner on September 21, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks, good to know, Jeane. Mark and Rochelle just went on a Chicago architectural tour last month. They told me about it tonight, and said it was worth going on. Their tour was downtown, though, not Mundelein.

  5. bluebird of bitterness on September 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    In my church it’s done both ways, depending on the circumstances, and either way is fine with me. Kneeling is a spiritually useful exercise, however; it reminds us of our position vis-à-vis our Lord.

  6. Corvus (Corvi) Black on September 22, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve never seen it before but I enjoyed the description you provided by Denis McNamara. It sounds really lovely when described as this sort of meeting of two planes.

    • quinersdiner on September 22, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      I agree, great description. Great to hear from you.