Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Anthony Esolen on the Communion Rail

Anthony Esolen needs little introduction here. Last autumn we posted an essay, "A requiem for male friendship?" (October 11, 2005), reviewing his feature article in Touchstone magazine, whose cover carried the headline: "Friendship -- the love that can no longer speak its name." Esolen has also appeared in one of our comment boxes in a discussion of a post, "On Turkey's Wings" (April 5, 2005).

But I wish to call your attention to a marvelous article Anthony Esolen has written in Crisis magazine, which has just become available in the online Crisis archives, entitled "Kneeling Before the Gates of Paradise," Crisis (April 2006). He addresses here the question of the Communion Rail in a rich tapestry of theological, cultural, and historical observations. As always, he writes with elegance and deep insight. See for yourself. Here are a few excerpts:
What wonders we American Catholics have seen. Schools, whose joists were sawn and spiked by the hands of men who would send their children there, now empty, crumbling; whole orders of nuns doffing their habits, then their faith and reason too; worthy societies dwindling into a few old men with beers and a shuffleboard table, or a few old ladies with flowers; pipe organs dismantled; hymns sent down the memory hole or, worse, sissified; statues torn from the walls by a New Model Army of ecclesiastical vandals; deep funds of knowledge about Christ and His Church allowed to trickle away into the banal and the secular, a feel-good paganism that would have made Cato turn in disgust.

After night comes the morning, and through the cracks in the deadest parking lot the crocuses will poke their way. So I believe the hidden stirrings of life are with us now. Yet I like to think there is one object at the heart of all those acts of destruction -- and at the heart of our hopes for a new life for the Catholic community. Its symbolism suggests a division that unites: the threshold of the deepest mystery our Church on earth professes. I mean the communion rail.

The rail I remember from my boyhood was installed in the 1950s ...

What was it like to kneel there? Let me say what it was not like. It was not like that web of cheats and frauds called "the real world." In the real world, you wait in the checkout line at the grocery store. You wait in line for a ticket to the movies. You wait in line at the ballpark. You wait for your number to be called at the delicatessen. You wait, per saecula saeculorum, at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It was not like that. People approached the altar from the three columns of pews as the Spirit and their legs moved them. Since there were usually two priests communicating the congregation, and since the people kneeling didn't have to worry about others stepping on their heels if they prayed for a moment after receiving our Lord, you just waited for places to open up and then knelt down....

That rail was removed, as so many were, in the assault of the new puritans of the 1970s. Nothing should separate the laymen from the altar; we were to focus on ourselves as a community of faith, rather than on the Eucharist as an object of cultic worship. So now most Catholics receive the wafer unleavened by faith that it is anything other than a quaint symbol, a modestly caloric cracker, a ticket at the deli. We receive in line, individually, watching the shoes of the person ahead of us. We cannot pause to pray afterwards. "Move on!" says Etiquette to the hungry beggar. "What do you think this place is?" ...
Don't miss the rest of this essay -- surely an essay not to be missed in the analytics of the fittingness of the Communion Rail in "Kneeling Before the Gates of Paradise." He offers a much more in-depth analysis subsequent to these opening paragraphs.


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See archived comments from this post at: http://pertinaciouspages.blogspot.com/2010/08/comments-on-anthony-esolen-on-communion.html

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See related discussion: "On the hermeneutics of fittingness: the removal of the Communion rail?" (Musings, March 22, 2006).