Today at Mass I went up and received communion (kneeling, the parish is accepting of this and a few people do it) and the thought occured to me that one benefit of the altar rail is that since the next person is beside you instead of behind you you don’t feel that you have to get up right away. You can take a few moments to fully consume the host there, and just take it all in, before returning to your pew.
I think that depends on the size of your parish. I hope for the restoration of the rails and kneeling for Holy Communion, but I think the proper place to make your thanksgiving (you didn’t use those words, admittedly) is back in your pew, so as not to incommode those waiting to receive.
You are correct. When Holy Communion is distributed in the normal way at an altar rail, there is ample time for the communicant to reflect on the awesomeness of the mystery without needing to get up right away.
I realized recently that one of the nice things about a Communion rail is that when people kneel at it (or even stand, for that matter), there is more of a projection of a community of people receiving Christ, rather than each individual alone as in the more common receiving-in-line. It conveys that we are receiving Communion, rather than that I am receiving Communion.
I thought Catholic “liberals” (poor word, but it’ll have to do) were big on community, so why don’t they support altar rails for that reason?
I tried to choose my words with care. The reason is that I feel that when you receive at the altar rail you could very well say a short prayer of thanks giving, or something to that effect - however I knew that someone would say that you should make your thanksgiving and main prayers in the pew (which, I do agree with).
It all depends on how the parish distributes Communion; in at least one parish locally, there is a priest on each rail (there are two) and you would be definitely hindering the people trying to kneel before the priest is down the line again.
Elsewhere I came across something unusual; no one would kneel down until the last person had gotten up from receiving, and then the lead person would move to the end. This resulted in the first person receiving as soon as they knelt. Anyone lingering would have held up the whole group waiting.
Well, I’ve tried to remember what it was like to receive as an Episcopalian (we knelt at an altar rail). The priest would put the bread in our hand and we would consume it, and make the sign of the Cross. Now, there was certainly time between the reception of the bread and the reception of the wine to pray or contemplate, but not really after rec. the wine. At most, the sign of the cross, really. That’s why I thought it would depend on the size of your parish (though REALLY, now I think on it, it would depend on the length of the RAIL, wouldn’t it?). Any rate, maybe we’ll get back to rails and kneeling.
Even if there is not enough time to make a full prayer of thanksgiving while kneeling at the communion rail, it still gives an oppurtunity for silent meditation immediately before and after recieving. And I agree that there is a sense of community while kneeling side-by-side with other members of the congregation.
The latter practice is, I believe, greatly influenced by the Novus Ordo requirement that the people approach in procession. It now has us broken in that the proper way to receive is for everyone to form a line and receive in turn based on where they are sitting. But in the '62 missal a line need not be formed. It is possible for people to get up when they are ready, move to the front at their own pace, and find a place on the rail when it opens up. This is the way I received (admittedly at an NO) at a few places when I was living in Austria, and I must say that despite some certain cons I much preferred it. It allowed for, as the OP suggested, a more reflective experience. You have time to collect yourself at the rail as the priest approaches and a bit of time for short reflection at the rail if you so choose.
In eastern Christian churches it is common to receive communion while standing in line. Those who have received (especially in more traditional eastern churches) will remain standing after doing so. One Russian priest told me that “People knelt before the Czar, but we stand before Christ because in He has made us free men.” I realize of course that this discussion is about altar rails in Latin Rite churches and I prefer them, but it is interesting to note that what can be seen as less than respectful in one rite can be just the opposite in another.