Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Communion Rail: traveling NW Iowa

On Friday, my brother and I reached our destination of Okoboji, IA, where we checked into our hotel and visited our high school for the football game. The next morning, we had breakfast at a quaint little restaurant known by the name of its founders, the O'Farrell sisters. After, we went to our first stop of the day, St. Joseph's in Milford.

When I was a kid, the colors of choice for church decoration were earthy. When we first arrived at St. Joseph's parish, the earthy tones were there. Yellowing off-white, if you can imagine that, would be what I'm thinking of for the color (aside from the wood-work). The primary features of the church were the main altar with its own integrated tabernacle, the intact communion rails and the two great confessionals, one left, one right, flanking the statues of Mary and Joseph.

By the mid-90s, efforts were afoot for a redecorating. A thorough repainting of the interior was in the works. A new reconciliation room and the removal of the confessionals were also planned. As a high school student on the fringes of parish affairs, I was not privy to the ins and outs of the redecorating scheme, but one matter that did reach my ears was the communion rails. They were to go as well, because it was thought they were some kind of psychological barrier between the assembled laity and the sanctuary and the workings of the Mass. Barrier breaking won out and the communion rails were each hacked in half and the rump rails were each placed to the sides as decoration. When we arrived there Saturday, we found it much the same.

* * *

When I think of the 'earthy' sensation, I am thinking principally of Corpus Christi Church in Fort Dodge. My grandmother taught school there in the 70s and when I described how it looked when I went to Mass there in the 80s, she said it sounded nothing like the church she'd known. During the later 80s and early 90s, the church was your everyday US post-Vatican II church. Wood-panelling dominated a rather drab interior. There was no communion rail (and no psychological barrier to speak of).

By the early to mid-90s, Corpus Christi was also pursuing redecorating. I'll not recount details beyond saying that things went from bad to worse as far as drabness. However, there was one interesting addition. A wooden partition was built, dividing the sanctuary in half. The altar, etc. were placed on the outer side and on the inner side was the tabernacle...

* * *

Two parishes in the Sioux City diocese redecorated at about the same time and went in two opposite theological directions. Which was right? Were both right? Were both wrong? In the finale of the Year of the Eucharist, hopefully the brethren bishops in Rome will decide.

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