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Part III: What is that? The Communion Rail

Communion rails may be new to many of you. Many come from churches where communion is served in the pews. Many come from churches where, as has been our arrangement to date, common is distributed at the front, but with the people standing. In most Anglican parishes today, the people receive from a communion rail while kneeling. This has become a beloved part of Anglican parish life, a posture of humility before Our Lord in the Sacrament, and a means of designating sacred space.

For centuries, Christians have marked out sacred space in their church buildings through the use of ornately carves screens, iconostasis, and rails. These have been employed especially to give the sense of ascent into those places, denoting an entrance into the heavenly. Churches, like the Temple, have been constructed to, quite literally, lead the worshipper into God's presence. The nave (from the Latin word navis, or ship) calls to mind the living Church as the barque of salvation, the living communion of saints, both the living and the dead. The chancel represents the heavenly choirs. In the medieval period, the chancel was where the monks and priests were seated during the liturgies, facing each other so that they could chant antiphonally, back and forth. Marking the division between the chancel and sanctuary (which is where the altar and tabernacle are), is the communion rail. It tells us that we are standing at the threshold between heaven and earth, given access to the heavenly sanctuary through the blood of Christ, which we receive in the Eucharist.

This is, to be sure, a humbling place to be! Even though the official Books of Common Prayer have discouraged adoration of the Sacrament (a fact at which many have grumbled!), it has always been the practice of Anglicans to receive communion kneeling. We do so in remembrance of the Lord's position of prayer on the night before his crucifixion (Luke 22:41), when he offered his will to the will of the Father. This is the very thing we do when we come to receive the Eucharist. It is a visible act expressing our consent to be joined to Jesus, joined to His will, joined to His love.

Once the communion rails are installed, we will ask that they be filled with kneeling communicants from left to right from the perspective of the nave. If you need to stand, we will ask that you stand between the two rails. This will allow for an orderly flow of traffic. Be sure to get a good look at the needlework, too! Many hands have worked for months on these to provide for decades of use and they are something special!

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