Altar rails are contributing to the restoration of the sacred and the recovery of reverence within the Holy Mass.
“(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.”
Although coming from a Roman Catholic perspective, this is also applicable to the Anglican tradition. The same trends noted here for the Roman observance – that following Vatican II,
“there were many in the Church who aggressively sought to remove that which was considered traditional and sacred. Gone were the high altars, beautiful Catholic statuary, and of course, altar rails.
“A liturgically misguided attempt at egalitarianism ruled the post-conciliar landscape, one which challenged the very distinction between sanctuary and nave. Overtones of anticlericalism were pervasive, as was a new type of… worship, one intentionally structured for ecumenical purposes.
“By their very presence altar rails hindered the march toward the profane desired by many. With such liturgical innovations as… Communion in the hand, altar rails were an affront to the moderns. In the new, democratic, liturgy kneeling had simply become outdated and uncouth”
– have also been seen, since the Liturgical Movement of the 1960s and 70s, as a major influence within the Episcopal Church, and indeed in most other churches within the Anglican Communion. There has been concern to make the liturgy more “accessible,” and as a result, it has become less sacred.
It should be noted that the Liturgical Movement itself, which in origin sought to seek out and re-appropriate many of the understandings of the Early Church, and was therefore (or should have been) an example of ressourcement or re-traditionalization, was not necessarily a bad impulse. However, it was quickly co-opted by “progressive” and anti-traditional elements, and rapidly veered off-course.
The Continuum (that is, the Continuing Anglican churches), of which St. Bede’s is a part, has held to the classical tradition, however!
As this essay points out, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – who was very supportive of Anglicans during his pontificate – wrote, while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, that
“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.”
In other words, to put the matter in Anglican terms, kneeling is a recognition of and response to the fact that Christ is indeed really and truly present – however one may understand that presence – in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
Kneeling is a most appropriate response as we, in the words of the Order for Holy Communion, receive “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee,” that it may “preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life,” and as we heed the admonition to “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart, by faith, with thanksgiving.”
Thanks be to God for his very great gifts, in the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and in this most holy Sacrament!