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CATHEDRAL RAIL RETURNING TO USE – Church goers find it enhances reverence in communion  

Fr Leonard E Dollentas

Recently, the communion rail at Macau Cathedral was refurbished and its use was restored during weekday Masses. Communicants may now receive the Eucharist kneeling using the rail.  As expected, the practice gathered diverse reactions from the faithful.

Curious to gather some reliable feedbacks from the faithful, I asked one of the older students in my Adult Theology 101 class about this. She confirmed that indeed the rail has been a hot issue and subject of the whispers among the church goers lately, and that there had been two opposing reactions: those who are against the practice say that, if it is for reverence during communion, it isn’t necessary to go to the rail and get down on our knees to show reverence (and they, nevertheless, received communion by kneeling more devoutly on the rail during the Mass) ; those who welcomed it affirmed that kneeling is an act of worship and greatest respect one can give to God. On her part she said: “I was pleasantly surprised it was revived at the cathedral. At communion, I followed the people lining up in front of me. It was an old tradition restored, but a very humbling experience: reverently kneeling, waiting, and in humility extending my tongue to receive Jesus. Why couldn’t I receive communion like that every time?”

I wanted to have a more balanced sentiment from the faithful, so I asked a younger church goer about her reaction to this practice. Being young, she has a rather surprising answer: “I hadn’t seen such before. Now, my favorite part of the Mass is kneeling at the communion rail and patiently awaiting the time when Jesus will be placed on my tongue. Kneeling at the communion rail somehow leads me to the humility I need to receive the Great Savior.”

I normally celebrate Mass with the bishop on weekdays, and I recall, even before the revival of this practice in the cathedral, there were some communicants who receive communion on the tongue, kneeling. They must have been very happy with this practice reintroduced at the Cathedral.


Vatican II reforms and the abandonment of the rail

After Vatican II reforms, communion was received standing and in processional form, the priest standing in front of the sanctuary and the people approaching him in line. Hence, the Communion rail has often lost its principal functions.  Indeed, the abandonment of receiving communion in the rail was never mandated in the liturgical law. There are still places where the custom of kneeling at the rail during communion has been preserved, above all in countries where Communion in the hand is not yet permitted.

Here we should recall more clearly that the universal law of the Latin rite as regards communion is that we receive Communion on the tongue. To receive in the hand is an indult or special permission that does not exist universally in the church. Therefore, it is not the norm; communion on the tongue is, and communion in the hand is an exception.

If, in most dioceses communion in the hand is allowed and prevalently practiced, it is because they have requested for the indult, and they have been granted. This indult, allowing Communion in the hand was first issued in an instruction Memoriale Domini, published May 29, 1969. Hence, the abandonment of the altar rail seems to be a practical consequence of the permission to receive Communion standing and from the indult allowing Communion in the hand. The reception of Blessed Sacrament under both species could also have contributed to its desertion.


Gradual understanding of the faithful


As I observed more closely the communion on the rail at the Cathedral, given the option to kneel or stand, many choose to kneel to receive Communion. While they can receive on the tongue or in the hand, more people are choosing to receive on the tongue.

True, even if there were communion rails, some people would be unable to use them because of  geriatric concerns, infirmity or just plain laziness. But one should notice how those very old people would kneel slowly, but reverently on the rail during communion- showing God their devotion and love.  As St Josemaria, founder of the Opus Dei, said: “When love exists there is a kind of wholeness — a capacity for self-giving, sacrifice and renunciation. In the midst of that self-denial, along with painful difficulties, we find joy and happiness, a joy which nothing and no one can take away from us” (St Josemaria , Christ is passing by, 75)

As the practice is gaining more awareness from the faithful, many are affirming that it increases more profoundly their reverence to the holy Eucharist. The practice is also a faith-learning moment for children, as they also kneel on the rail and would look admiringly on their parents receiving communion. They learn the love and respect for the Real Presence, because it is really Jesus we are receiving.

End note: Most of the Catholic churches in Macau, because of “historical value”, have beautifully adorned communion rails t


  1. Communion at the rail is an exterior pose which is a reflection of an inner disposition of reverence, respect, humility and devotion. It is a small but meaningful act that one can offer to the Lord as he approaches us in all his divinity.


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