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Monday, 13 June 2011

Communion standing, no new altar rails in Westminster

The Congregation for Divine Worship has recently given its recognitio to a request from the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to have a norm inserted into the England and Wales edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) regarding the reception of Holy Communion by the faithful. The text reads as follows:
"In the Dioceses of England and Wales Holy Communion is to be received standing, though individual members of the faithful may choose to receive Communion while kneeling. However, when they communicate standing, it is recommended that the faithful bow in reverence before receiving the sacrament."
For the life of me, I cannot see what good this new clause is supposed to do, though I can predict a consequence that may not have been intended. With the publication of this norm it will be clearly set down in black and white for England and Wales that people may kneel for Holy Communion if they wish to do so.

(Many of us already knew that, of course: the CDW has responded to cases in the USA, saying that if people  kneel down, they must not be refused Holy Communion for that reason, despite the US Bishops' general norm of standing.)

In the GIRM (n.160) it is stated that when the faithful receive Holy Communion standing, they should make "an appropriate sign of reverence." Hence the recommendation in the new norm that they should bow. It is interesting that this new norm contradicts the official CBCEW "Pastoral Guide" Celebrating the Mass which spoke about the "Communion procession" and said (with a reference to GIRM n.160):
"In England and Wales it is through this action of walking solemnly in procession that the faithful make their sign of reverence in preparation for receiving Communion." (n.209)
I guess the CDW just wouldn't buy that.

In view of the approval of this new norm, the Archbishop's Council in Westminster has decided that it can see no place for the re-introduction of altar rails in the Diocese, and has informed the Historic Churches Committee of this decision.

Tongue-in-cheek, I suggest that this contravenes accessibility provision. The norm says that people may choose to kneel, but they may have difficulty doing so without something to lean on. If there are no altar rails, would they be within their rights to demand that the altar server go and fetch a prie-dieu? (That was a joke - please don't do that.)

In case it needs to be spelt out to anyone, Universae Ecclesiae n.28 means that this new norm does not apply to celebrations of Mass in the usus antiquior. At such Masses, communicants should kneel unless they are physically unable to do so. In Churches without existing altar rails, it seems that the "shifting the front bench forward" strategy is set to be needed for the next few years.
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