Altar Rails and the Holy Mass
…Firstly, we call it an altar rail; the name has reference to the altar. This rail can be seen as an extension of the altar. Christ becomes present on the altar and invites us to be fed at His altar via the rail. Very often the appearance of the rail matches the appearance or imitates the appearance of the altar. In churches where there is no rail, this symbolism is very diminished or completely destroyed.
There is a beautiful parallel in the series of events that lead to the distribution of Holy Communion. Just as the priest goes to the altar, offers the sacrifice, and brings that Sacrament to the altar rail for the faithful, so every Christian is called to Sunday Mass, called to the altar, and, nourished by that Sacrament, is sent out to bring Christ and His gospel to the world through daily life.
Practically, the rail is a help to people, both physically and spiritually. The use of rail and the way Holy Communion is distributed with it sets a solemn pace for the reception of Holy Communion. On the part of the priest, more of his time is spent actually distributing the Blessed Sacrament and less time waiting. On the part of the person receiving, the hurried tone is removed; there is a great opportunity for quiet and prayer both a few moments before and after receiving our Lord. The rail also is a help to people in kneeling and standing back up.
On the psychological level, we all have a desire, built into us by God, to offer Him our love and worship, but all of our efforts will be imperfect. This is a truth we cannot escape. If we deny our short-comings and wrong-doings on our conscious level, we will feel it and suffer on a more subconscious level.
Because we know that the ‘sanctuary‘ exists — we know that there is a realm that we are unworthy and unable to enter on our own. We know that our knowledge and power are limited. God, of course, knows this too and created a solution. God sent His Son — His Christ — as the perfect high priest, who in turn instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders, by which He allows and commands men to enter His sanctuary and offer His perfect sacrifice, so that we, the entire Church, may join our imperfect sacrifices to His….
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