In the 1890’s, a beautiful walnut communion rail was built for Holy Family Church. Twelve feet of the rail were found intact in storage. A note in marker on the back of the rail specifies that this section stood in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s side altar.
Father asked that the rail be reconstituted so that the gate would be centered and that it be installed in his rectory chapel – which sees a lot of traffic from retreatants. This meant that several feet had to be cut off of one end of the rail and joined to the short piece on the other end. But in order to do that, new pieces had to be made to match the old. Part of one of the panels, a new column, several sections of molding, and two pieces of top and foot would have to be made and inserted to join the two pieces.
As it turns out, walnut lightens and ambers over time (and a century is a good bit of time) and current hardwood dealers select only the darkest walnut lumber to sell in their stores. Therefore, walnut could not be used to make these new pieces. Instead, hard maple was used and custom stain had to be made and amber shellac applied to make new maple match 120-year-old walnut.
The work was done almost exclusively with hand tools –the same tools that built the rail over a century ago.
The top and bottom of the rail were sorely distressed when it was found – from the removal of the rail from the church and subsequent abuses during storage. But it was decided that both should be left as they were. In many ways, this piece recounts the recent history of the Catholic Church in this country. For some seven decades, this beautiful piece of masterly workmanship aided the faithful to kneel down and receive their God in Holy Communion in a posture of adoration and humility, with reverence and love. Then, with no impetus from the Council Fathers, the rail was taken out, people began to receive their God as they only receive the most casual of foods – snacks – in their hands.
The damage done to this rail is nothing compared to the damage done to souls by teaching them to receive their Creator and Savior with so little reverence – in a posture designed by Protestant Reformers to break down belief in the Real Presence.
But thanks be to God, renewal is beginning in the Church. Beauty and reverence are coming back to the liturgy and to the building. May the scars left behind from the wayward past serve as reminders that we should never take for granted the Gift we receive in Holy Communion. And may they encourage us to restore His Houses throughout the diocese, the country and the world – to make them as fitting as we can for the God Who so humbly dwells with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament.