Catholicism Nerd: The Return of the Altar Rails

It’s been a few months since I explored a topic from my nerdy Catholic perspective

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Why were Altar Rails part of the structure of a Church in the first place?  

The Altar Rails encircled the altar on all sides.  There was often a gate through which the bishop, priest, deacon or acolytes would enter in order to say the Mass.  The gate was small – narrow if you will.  The Sanctuary houses the Tabernacle – the “Holy of Holies” where our Lord remains after Mass.  The Altar Rails provided a boundary indicating the end of one space and the beginning of another.  As we are still here on this Earth, the boundary is a visual reminder of the holiness we still hope to attain and the Grace we still need in order to end up in Heaven.

When I mentioned yesterday that our pastor is planning to install altar rails into our “modern” church, I thought…why did churches ever remove them in the first place?  According to last year’s article in the National Catholic Register, there is nothing in Vatican II documents mandating their removal.  

One reason given was the idea that kneeling was a position of submission and seen as disrespectful to the modern person.  I find this strange.  But maybe that’s why I’m a Catholic nerd, haha.  I get that “the modern person” doesn’t want to kneel before any mere man…but we’re talking about God, the One who made us, the One without whom we do not exist, inside His house.  I mean, if you don’t believe you’re there in the presence of God, then you probably aren’t approaching to receive the Eucharist anyway, and if you are a Catholic disposed to receive the Eucharist, then, you should believe you’re approaching God, and I’m not sure why a person in such a state does not want to kneel in His presence and pay Him the homage and reverence due to Him as the Creator of all.  

The idea of making Catholic sanctuaries to look and feel more like Protestant worship spaces is confusing to me.  Why would Catholics want to be more like Protestants?  I will never understand this.  Catholics have the source and summit of our faith – the Eucharist – and for 40-plus years now, so many Catholics in our country have turned their own backs to it and tried to encourage all of us to do so.

There are some people that may not like the idea of a distinction between the nave and the sanctuary.  Interestingly enough, the article discusses the root of the word sanctuary, it comes from the word “holy” which means “set apart.”  The sanctuary is the holy place where our Lord comes to be with us, and I think it makes sense to set it apart because we are not yet in Heaven.

Perhaps I am alone in thinking I need that barrier between myself and the Holy place of Heaven?  I mean, I know I am not worthy to receive our Lord, I say so every Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Where does this idea come from that we are on a plane with Jesus while we are still in this world?  

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It seems to be the case that many Catholic churches are returning to the use of Altar Rails, many with swelling parishioner support.  Even with my parish’s “modern” structure, I look forward to the day when there is a distinction between the sanctuary and nave of our church.  It’s nice that we have kneelers currently so that those of us who feel drawn to do so, may kneel in front of our Savior to receive Him.  How wonderful it will be when there is simply a rail all the way around the Altar?

I think it’s beautiful to consider the Altar Rail as the meeting point between Heaven and Earth. 

Perhaps with a greater distinction between what is holy and what is not, there might be greater consideration and reverence when approaching to receive the Holy Eucharist.  I believe it would help me and my children.  There is so much confusion, I fear, in our broken world.  I sometimes wonder how deep the belief runs in us (yes, myself included) that we truly are receiving our Lord – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – in the Eucharist.  As fallen human beings, it is truly something difficult to wrap our heads around, that our Lord would humble Himself to be with us in this way.  I like to kneel to receive because it helps me focus on this aspect and puts me in a better frame of mind.  And I’m fortunate to have this option at my parish.  

Perhaps a visual reminder, such as an altar rail, will cultivate that sense of awe, wonder, amazement and evoke the reverence that is due as one approaches the edge of Heaven to receive His Holy Grace.

What do you think?  Do you have Altar Rails in your church?  Do you have a preference with regard to their presence?  



Catholicism Nerd: Questions Answered

It dawned on me recently that perhaps I have become somewhat of a Catholicism Nerd.  
I have decided to give you the option to become a Catholicism Nerd, too!  This will be the first (of many, I hope!) posts tackling something little (or big) that Catholics do and why.  I might explain a bit how I learned because…truth be told…I had 8 years of Catholic education and I didn’t learn most of what I know until I was in my late 20’s!
Just for some reference,’s definition of the word, NERD, follows:


[nurd] Show IPA

noun Slang.

1.a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.  (Nah, I don’t think I fit THIS part of the definition –Pipe Down in the cheap seats!) intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer Catholicism nerd.

I was recently asked by another lifelong Catholic (Catholic school educated and everything…just like me!) “Why do some people bow down during the Creed at Mass when we say, ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit’?”
I know I am not the only Catholic to have actually read in whole, or in part, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) in an attempt to teach myself and my children the proper way to attend Mass.  It came in handy that I’d studied it though.

You see, I am one of “those people” who makes a profound bow at that point in the Creed.  

The first time I consciously noticed someone (a priest) bowing at that point in the creed, I was 28 and I wondered why he was doing it.  At first I thought that I should do it even if I don’t know why simply because the priest was doing it.  But then I remembered that there are some things the priest is supposed to do that the congregation is not supposed to do.  
So…then I was confused.  
Back then, whenever I was confused, I had a Catholic co-worker friend that I turned to whenever I needed answers.  I asked him about it and he directed me to the GIRM.  
While it’s intimidating to tackle the GIRM, it is helpful to understand some of the things we do during Mass.  I highly recommend you put the GIRM on your list of reference materials if you’re interested in learning more about Catholic Mass.
The GIRM addresses many details of “Mass With A Congregation.”  Since I’m sticking to the one question, I’ll only mention that part.  You can go to the site linked above and read through the GIRM on the Vatican website.
And now…
Why do those crazy Catholics bow during the Creed at Mass when saying “by the power of the Holy Spirit?”
The first (and easy) answer is:  Because the GIRM says so.  Really.  Item #137 under “Mass With A Congregation” states:

137. The Creed is sung or recited by the priest together with the people (cf. no. 68) with everyone standing. At the words et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . and became man) all make a profound bow; but on the solemnities of the Annunciation and of the Nativity of the Lord, all genuflect.

A more detailed answer is given here.  

The profound bow is to show reverence to the Incarnation.  We begin the bow at the words, “by the power of the Holy Spirit” and rise back up after “and became man.”  The profound bow shows that we understand and respect the importance of this event, of God becoming man.

So the profound bow occurs while saying the following (bolded) part of the creed:

…For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried…

Furthermore, this article (137) of the GIRM mentions two times where you’re actually supposed to GENUFLECT at those words. If you’re at Mass on March 25 (solemnity of the Annunciation) or December 25 (Nativity of the Lord), you are required to genuflect as you say those words of the Creed.

On every other day that you are at Mass, if you see someone bowing at that point in the Creed…they are not doing anything wrong.  In fact, you should probably consider joining them.

And as you make your profound bow, you can join the rest of us Catholic Nerds when someone asks you why you are doing that!

The Feast of All Saints

November 1 is the Feast of All Saints in the Catholic Liturgical calendar.  Following are four reasons I look forward to this day every year.
1.  It’s a Holy Day of Obligation.  You know, I have always disliked the negative connotation of obligation.  My brother-in-law once told me that growing up at his school, they called them Holy Days of Opportunity.  I like that so much better!  I mean, I’m fine with obedience and obligation and all that.  But doesn’t it sound so much more fun to look forward to another opportunity to celebrate the Mass and all that entails, rather than make it into something you HAVE to do?  I’m the kind of person that enjoys that extra opportunity to go to Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist.
2.  The Litany of Saints.  How great is this prayer?  Asking all the Holy men and women who went before us and who are in Heaven with our Heavenly Father right now to intercede on our behalf is one of my favorite things to do.  And you bend the ear of so many Saints in the Litany.  I really love this version set to music with the icons as a visual aid:
3.  Saints are the ultimate role models for us while we are here on Earth.  Saints possessed and lived out the virtues in love for their God and for their fellow man while they walked among us.  I want to be a Saint.  What better way than to have a day every year to remind us how we can be Saints.  Of course, it’s better to be reminded every single day.  I am happy that I named my latter three children after Saints.  Every time I say their names, I am reminded that there is a Saint who bears that name.  It reminds me to teach my children, through my words and deeds what it means to be a Saint.
4.  It’s the precursor to the next day on the calendar…The Solemnity of All Souls.  More on that later.

The Promise Made At Baptism

I received a comment Friday about baptism being the “high point of the whole birth experience.”  I could not agree more.  Because baptism cleanses the eternal soul of the stain of original sin, it is the Glorious culmination of everything that has happened since that eternal soul was fused into the baby at conception; it is the new birth of the eternal soul into the Body of Christ.  Every time I have had my babies baptized, I have felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to our Lord for instituting the sacrament.  
I have written before about the fact that Sarah’s baptism was the catalyst prompting Craig and me to dive in and learn more about our Faith.  However, with every child, it has only intensified this desire for me.

On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring her up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life, which God gives her, is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in her heart.

During Sarah’s baptism, it was this part of the Rite that commanded my attention and consumed my thoughts in the weeks that followed.  I was literally afraid of what I’d committed to.  I was afraid because, at the time, Craig and I still missed Mass fairly regularly.  I was afraid because at the time, we were not fully in Communion with the Church regarding our family planning decisions. 

How could I keep my daughter safe from the poison of sin, when I was mired in it, myself?

Sarah’s baptism holds a very special place in my heart because my heart softened and opened in order to desire to be closer to God through His Church.  I will be forever grateful for this.  With the rest of our children’s baptisms, this part no longer struck fear in me. 

This part of the Rite of Baptism continues to command my attention but for different reasons.  It provides me an opportunity to take stock of the state of my soul and whether I am in a state of Grace or not.  When did I go to confession last?  Have I been going as often as I should?  What other sins are prevailing…Vanity?  Pride? 

Vincent’s baptism brought on a new revelation.  I was prepared for what I’ve already described…the gratitude, the awe, the Grace.  This time my ears perked up to a part that hadn’t seemed to cross my radar before.

If your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, renew now the vows of your own baptism. Reject sin; profess your faith in Christ Jesus. This is the faith of the Church. This is the faith in which this child is about to be baptized.

What I wasn’t prepared for during Vincent’s baptism was this part about, “if (my) faith makes (me) ready to accept this responsibility…”

Whoa.  Wait a minute.  Is my faith strong enough to impart to my child?  The Rite of Baptism, lays the responsibility squarely on the parents and godparents.  “IF YOUR FAITH MAKES YOU READY TO ACCEPT THIS RESPONSIBILITY…”  
Is it not a leap of faith in and of itself to accept this blessing of a new child into our family?  But then our Church asks us to have the utmost CONFIDENCE in that faith.  So, it’s not just faith we must have, but we must have CONFIDENT faith?  
I often think of the passage (and being the “good Catholic” that I am, I can’t tell you the book or verse to find it in the Bible) where the disciples ask Christ how they can increase their faith (or maybe they simply ask Him to increase it directly, not sure).  
I feel like those disciples on the day of one of my children’s baptisms.  I want to ask the Lord to increase my faith and to give me the utmost confidence in my faith that I can accept the responsibility of raising my child in the faith.   
Truth be told…I’m scared that I don’t have what it takes to keep these children on the way to Heaven.  Sure, I have some faith.  I’m doing my best to know and practice my faith in accord with Christ’s teachings.  I’m praying with my children before meals and before bed and every now and then we’re getting a rosary in.  We’re getting to Mass every Sunday and sometimes a day or two in between Sundays.  We try to attend prayer groups, adoration and Feast day Masses.  But sometimes I am scared that it won’t be enough.  Sometimes, I am scared that I have faith, but I am not confident enough in that faith.
And so, I am struck by the awesome responsibility Craig and I have undertaken by cooperating with God to bring Vincent (and all my children) into this world.  
I give myself a little pep talk to remind myself that God also imparted some pretty crazy-fantastic Graces on Craig and me in the Sacrament of Marriage.  Those Graces are supposed to help us in this endeavor to raise our children to know, love, serve and fear the Lord.  
I also try to remind myself that the Sacrament of Baptism imparts some crazy-fantastic Graces on Vincent that can help fill in where Craig and I might falter.
And so, consolation descends as I am also reminded that we are not alone.  Christ instituted these Sacraments to give us the strength and wisdom and fortitude we need to do what He asks of us. 

He is Risen! Alleluia!

Alleluia!  Alleluia! 

1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.  2Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.  3They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  4Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.  5Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.  6And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.  Mark 16:1-6

Blessed Easter!  May the Lord’s blessings be upon us all.

You Are Dust, and to Dust You Shall Return

It’s Ash Wednesday.  It’s the beginning of Lent.  It’s the day that I am reminded over and over as every person in Mass–babies, young children, teenagers, adults, elderly–everyone comes forward to receive on the forehead a cross made of ashes and I hear Father say, “Remember Man, you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Every single person is reminded. 

Earlier this week, I read this post from my friend TOOJE, which got me thinking about faith.  Her post reminded me that I have tried over and over to write about my feelings on faith in the big picture, only to be foiled every single time because my thoughts come out a jumbled mess. 

And so, I stick to the small things, the non-earth-moving things.  The simple ideas and I try to paint a picture fitting each one into the whole.  But I can’t ever satisfactorily paint THE BIG PICTURE.

And the reason is because I am Dust.  My body and mind and experience on Earth is fleeting.  I can only touch a small amount of this world during my time here and I pray that I join the Saints in Heaven at some point so that THEN…it will all make sense.  THEN, I will understand God’s plan for the suffering in this world.  THEN, I will completely appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  THEN, I will rejoice and praise God eternally and constantly without the mundane concerns of worldly matters.

Today, I read this piece from Jennifer Fulwiler at National Catholic Register.  She’s just too good a writer.  I feel like she writes it so none of us have to try anymore.  She has a beautiful perspective on why Christianity makes sense when you simply reflect on these nine words, “thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

I plan to join Lauren on Fridays, reflecting on the Power of the Tongue.  Sins of the tongue are my biggest downfall.  She mentions several “powers” we wield with our tongues:  Criticism, Gossip, Complaining/Negativity, Junk (idle talk and swearing), Encouragement, Praise and Silence.  What a great thing to focus on during Lent and try to be Christ to others with the power of words.

I have disconnected from Facebook for Lent.  I would imagine this would help me with my focus on my words since it is so easy to fall into arguments or petty comments in the social network.

I will not eat desserts during Lent.  All sweets, cookies, cakes, candies…none will cross my lips until the glorious Day of the Ressurection. 

I plan to participate in the Lenten activities and sacrifices our priest has laid out for our parish.

Lent is a time to sacrifice, to grow in holiness, to walk with Christ to Calvary and attempt to comprehend the sacrifice He made for us all.  I anticipate the next 40 days with joy, not trepidation.  It is my chance to make myself better, to offer up my mundane sufferings and to look outward to Christ, to His suffering and death and to His Glorious Resurrection. 

What Kind of Light Am I?

The Gospel reading for this Sunday was Matthew 5:13-16:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

We had a great discussion on this topic at my Familia group on Saturday.  I shared my recent experience with my Aunt Bea with the ladies.  The kids and Aunt Bea (one day after her 99th birthday) and I were out to eat.  The kids know that we pray before we eat, no matter where we are, and so we did.  Sign of the Cross and all.  When we were finished, Aunt Bea told me, “You know you don’t have to do the Sign of the Cross in public.”
I had simply replied, “I know.  But it’s part of my prayer.  We are not ashamed.”
Tonight at Mass, Father’s homily was (as per his usual) well done.  He touched on the fact that it is okay to make the sign of the cross in public.  That it isn’t “showy“…unless of course a person’s intent was to be “showy” but there’s nothing wrong with praying, even in a restaurant, before we eat.  It’s never wrong to pray anywhere.  I really loved how he said this part:

Jesus says here, ‘You are the light of the world.‘  He does NOT say, ‘You are the light of the church.’ 

He went on to explain that it’s all well and good that we are lights to each other at church and within our church walls and ministries.  But we are called to be lights to the world.  We need to shine before ALL, not just before other Catholics.
Father mentioned a few things “lights” could mean.  Lights could be guideposts…for example the lights on the runway for the airplane to land.  As lights to the world, we could be good examples of God’s love for the world and following God’s commands.  Another example he used was that lights could be leading you somewhere.  He spoke of the fact that in peer groups, it often only takes one voice to say, “Hey, that’s wrong and I’m not doing that” and sometimes others follow.  Of course not everyone is called to be a leader, some of us are called to be followers.  But he asked us to reflect on whether God calls us to be leaders and what kind of leaders we are to be.  Father made the point that there are all kinds of people out there that are leaders, but only a few worth following.  A third example of what lights could be were warnings.  He had some words for parents in this area.  He mentioned that even though they might warn their child, of course the child could still choose to ignore that warning…but that does not exempt the parent from shining their light in the right direction anyway.
Finally, Father asked us all to pray this week about what kind of lights we are and can be in the world around us.  Are we supposed to be leaders?  Are we supposed to follow?  If we are followers, we should pray about those whom we follow.  We are to think and pray about our positions in our lives…the people God has put us in contact with, and how we are shining our light for them.
This gives me a lot to pray about.  Lately, I have wondered just what the heck I am doing working where I do?  What is the purpose when it seems that there is so much wrong with the place?  The work environment is toxic.  But perhaps this is my challenge, my charge from the Lord.  I still must be Christ to all of the people at my workplace whether I agree with what they do or not.  I must still perform my job duties with the intent to glorify God.  I must still be the light of the world to those I come into contact with in my workplace.
My Sarah is also a leader.  I believe she is someone worth following.  I plan to follow up with her sometime this week just to see if she’s taken any time in her prayer to reflect on how she is a light of the world at school, at her Challenge group, at basketball practice and in games.  But also whether she’s prayed about her role in our family, with her sisters and brother, with me and with her father.
I think that at different times and in different places, we are all leaders, followers, guideposts and warning lights.  The trick is to be more intentional about shining our lights at those different times and places than bringing about the murky darkness.
And with all this talk about being a light to the world, I’m reminded of a song…
This little light of mine…
I’m gonna let it shine!
This little light of mine…
I’m gonna let it shine!
This little light of mine…
I’m gonna let it shine!
Let it shine!  Let it shine!  Let it shine!