Dear fellow communicants at the Mass of the Ages—stalwart faithful, late-rising last-chancers, intrepid first-timers, few of whom get this right all the time—permit me to offer some fraternal advice on the dance liturgical. No, not the felt banners kind. The lovely, awkward dance of receiving communion at an altar rail.
One of the great liberations of the ancient mass is the process of going to communion. Since this is a logistics post, I won’t wax eloquent on its virtues. But the practical side of it is this: a lot of the people sitting in front of you are probably not going up to communion. Don’t wait for them. It’s ok to end up in front of them “in line” (more on that below). Just don’t bulldoze passed people who are getting up and moving a tad bit slower than you are. A little situational awareness goes a long way here—be mindful of the people around you, don’t rush, don’t wait. It’s a dance. Some day we’ll be rid of wretched pews and stand in a throng on a glorious marble floor. Until then, we dance a bit.
Father communicates the faithful from south to north (that’s right to left, from the congregation’s perspective, for the liturgically challenged). That means if you are sitting on the south side of the nave, you need to get the lead out when it’s time to go up. Don’t leave Father standing at the rail waiting for people; not all priests will greet this with good humor. For the same reason, once you are up there, fill in from south to north. Don’t leave spaces at the rail. Crowd in. Get to know each other. It’s an aggravating complication to the dance if you make people try to figure out if there are spaces beyond you. It also inspires a need for ushers, and we don’t want them!
It takes time for Father to communicate everyone this way. Don’t feel rushed up there. You’re going to have time to take your place, kneel, and compose yourself while he works his way down the line. When he gets to the north end, he walks back to the south and starts over—he does not snake his way back north to south. But do queue up behind people. There doesn’t need to be a long line stretching down the meridian. Think militarily! We are ranks of soldiers advancing to the front. As one rank finishes and begins to peel back to the seats for meditation, the next rank steps forward and takes their place.
Inevitably we come to a final rank of communicants who cannot fill the entire altar rail. DO NOT FAN OUT. Father has been walking the globe, liturgically speaking, for the last few minutes. Don’t make him do another complete circuit. If the remainder of this division problem can fit on the south side, get over there. Because there are no real lines, there is no reason to be worried about receiving “on the wrong side” like there is when we line up like sheep to a slaughter in the Novus Ordo. You will have a longer walk back, but there is plenty of time to do it.
The only reason this seems intimidating or counter-intuitive is that you have been programmed to do it a very strange way in the Novus Ordo. You just need to see it in action a few times to break the programming. Eventually you’ll find the “old” way strange.
Thanks for joining us at the divine liturgy. See you next week.