Gates of the Altar, Hail!

I shall walk in blue all the days of my life

even if all desert me. 


It had not taken long to reach the church; a car ride of several hours along the eastern seaboard of the United States, the shores of the ocean just out of reach. As the car cut through the morning fog, the children texted updates as to their locations, for they were to meet us there. We arrived first, and immediately admired the parish layout. The church was named St. Benedict Church, and was located in Chesapeake, Virginia. It was situated at the back of a residential neighborhood, and the entrance was gated, which I liked immediately; contrary to the negative associations currently en vogue regarding gates and walls; which leads to the theme of this post: a hail! to altar rails and gates.

I have always liked gates and walls. They tell me that something special lies beyond such enclosures, something that requires protection. The gated area is not open to all; and to walk therein one must mind yourself, remember that you are an invited guest. There was once a day when children were taught that they did not have the right to enter every space: they were instructed that they were not the center of the Universe, and that there were special places; as in, moated and gated castles, kingdoms enclosed with walls, where personages of great importance resided. Yes, there was a hierarchy, and one did not get all in a twitter if one was not the head of the hierarchy.  An example of such a place was the altar and the sanctuary of Roman Catholic churches. A Catholic child was taught that he did not transgress the altar rail, or open the altar gate, and go up on the altar to mingle with the ordained. It was as if the air was special there, and the gate (rail) was breached only by those who had proven themselves worthy to be there: the ordained, and trained male altar servers. This was understood by all, young and old; but that was before the revolution in the Church at which time norms and customs were broken, and destroyed, with little concern for Tradition;  and, no concern for children, and how they learned of God, of how important mystery is in the passing on of Catholicism to Catholic children.

But, back to our trip to St. Benedict’s which is a traditional Latin Mass parish: I love the Latin Mass for it retains the mysterious. There are no laypersons in the sanctuary, there are no self-described “charismatics” interrupting the prescribed prayers of Holy Mother Church, claiming to know more about the Holy Spirit than our Catholic ancestors of 1900 years; and there are no limelight thieves, those who desperately need attention to such an extent that they rob God of the proper worship due Him. The Latin Mass keeps these people at bay; and sets them in their proper place which is beyond the gate in the pews with the other rank and file members of the church. Altar rails and gates protect the mysterious in the Church, the Holy Eucharist. They are desperately needed in our generic, Communistic-Masonic styled culture devoid of formality, manners, and good customs. The attention thieves love to transgress that which used to be railed and gated. It is one reason why the Mass at times has become a sham of worship; it often becomes a worship of man rather than God. The Eucharist often seems to be an afterthought, because it becomes lost behind the glaring glory seeking of the self-interested.

The Roman Catholic Church had a custom and tradition of altar rails and gates for a reason. As stated, they protected the mysterious nature of the Mass, of the Holy Eucharist. Children breathed in this mystery every Sunday, and it formed in their hearts a love for the Mass, a love for Holy Communion. Children thrive on customs and traditions. They love them, and learn from them.

But back to St. Benedict’s; it had an altar rail which was appropriately used, meaning: Holy Communion was distributed to the flock kneeling, and was received on the tongue. Children believe in the Real Presence when they see the Holy Eucharist treated with such reverence. That is why I say, bring back altar rails and gates, bring back the sacred: bring back Latin, bring back large Catholic families; and crazy Catholic family life with its accompanying large personalities and traditions, bring it all back.

Gates of the altar, hail!

Down in adoration we fall before God who comes among us, breathing as it were, Him.

The air is blue there, for She is there, our Queen,

Cradling Him, her Son, Our Savior. 

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.


~Image: by J. David, Our Lady’s altar, St. Benedict Church, VA, June 2019.