Right descriptive words


Just for fun, I’m writing a novel. I’m working on a scene partially set at Mass, c. 1970. (I’m introducing the main characters, and his religious convictions.)

I want to convey the idea that the priest celebrant receives communion first, before he distributes it to others. Here’s what I have:

"…At the end of the consecratory prayer, the priest celebrant was the first to receive the Eucharist. He then walked over to the youngest altar boys kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder at the communion rail. They were trying to be reverent and not to fidget.

Father Gaines presented the Eucharist before each of them, holding it high in front of his face.

“The Body of Christ,” he stated, and each of them responded, “Amen.”

The acolytes raised their chins, and the priest placed the Host on each of their tongues. It looked like he was feeding baby birds, all lined up in their nest…" (copyright 2014 asserted by Arthur Laurent)

Any suggestions, corrections? Am I using the correct terms? Thanks for any help.




As I recall, by that time the churches I attended in Baltimore usually had removed the altar rail or had opened the central portion of it and we received communion while standing. Also, in any case I don’t think the altar servers would be kneeling at the altar rail but would be standing or kneeling within the sanctuary. At that time patens were still in use. I think the terms altar rail and communion rail are equally correct. I like your image of baby birds.
I’ve not heard the term consecratory prayer. You could say after the consecration but that could imply that Communion immediately followed the consecration. I’m sure others will have suggestions. Good luck with your book.


Thank you for your help, Claire.



Are you related to the writer, Arthur Laurents?

If you want non-Catholics to read it, too, then I would put a few words of explanation with each term they might not know, like “celebrant” and “consecratory prayer” and “acolytes” etc.

Also, I’d let the action speak…and take out adjectives.
For example, “They were trying to be reverent and not to fidget”…
can just be: “They were trying not to fidget”. The rest is understood from the action.
(show, don’t tell!)

You can also delete the word “then” in second sentence…not needed.



I think explaining each term would be cumbersome and unnecessary if this a novel. After all, in a Jewish novel one could write “the rabbi reverently lifted the scroll of the Torah from it’s case” without explaining what that is. Also adjectives and adverbs can be effective if not over used. If the rabbi hastily removed the scroll the implication is different. In the case of the altar boys ( the term the laity would have used) the word reverent describes their motivation and may be important to the story. They could otherwise be fidgeting through boredom. If I were editing I would delete ‘to’ before fidget.


“Finishing the prayers of the Communion Rite, Father Gaines consumed the Eucharist himself and then walked over to the altar boys kneeling in the sanctuary. Kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder, they tried to be reverent and not fidget as he approached. Father Gaines presented…”


“Finishing the prayers of the Communion Rite, Father Gaines consumed the Eucharist himself and then walked over to the altar boys kneeling in the sanctuary. Kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder, they tried to be reverent and not fidget as he approached. Father Gaines presented…”

The underlined words aren’t needed, although this is a very good edit of Halligator’s copy. :slight_smile:

Halligator, don’t use the passive tense–words such as “was” “had been”, etc. Whenver possible, make the action present/immediate. Also, never use more words than necessary to describe a scene. The fewer the words the better.


Key question: from whose point-of-view is the narration? Even if the narration is third-person (my personal preference), the description of what’s happening can change depending on who is “describing” the scene.

For example, Father’s PoV:

When he completed his preparatory prayers, Father Gaines looked lovingly at the Eucharist, whom he fully believed to be his God. With as much care as he could muster, he took the host and carefully consumed it, relishing every moment as the sacred food dissolved in his mouth…

He then picked up the vessel containing the rest of the Eucharistic hosts and turned to offer Communion to the altar boys already kneeling in the sanctuary. Father had to struggle to keep a straight face as the boys tried to keep from fidgeting as they kneeled shoulder-to-shoulder

Whereas, if the PoV were from a non-believing guest in the nave:

The priest finished what appeared to be silent prayer before eating the bread from the altar. The reverence Father Gaines displayed clearly showed this meant a great deal to him, as Catholics had this belief that the bread really turned into their God. After what appeared to be a minute or two, the priest turned to his altar boys to give them Communion. For a brief moment, Father appeared to flash a quick smile at the boys’ efforts to stop fidgeting, seeing that they were kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. Kneeling like a pack of sardines on cold concrete probably wasn’t the most comfortable experience for seven-year old knees after all.


Thanks for all the great suggestions. I’ve corrected my copy to incorporate most of them.

The viewpoint is mostly third-person. (Some of the earlier parts are first-person. That’s indicated by bold type.)

I admit to confusion about passive v.active. I usually correct the glaring examples, but that still leaves a lot!

I didn’t lump all the altar servers (altar boys, acolytes, etc) together because I was trying to differentiate between younger (the “little birds”) and the older. Kevin, Matt, and Brian (I don’t think he had a name before) are quite a bit older, and more likely to be reverent and not fidget.

I tend to comma-splice a lot…which is the way I talk. Prudent pruning underway.

Thanks again for all your help.

Arthur Laurents and I are no kin. (I’m named for my mother’s father.) Too bad! I wish I could write like he does.



Just to clarify; the POV does not actually refer to the person of the narrative (1st vs. 3rd), but rather through which character’s eyes you’re narrating from. For a narrative in the first person, that will almost always be the protagonist. For a third-person narrative, it could be anyone. Take these two examples of the same event, both in the third person, but from different PoV:

Gibson unholstered his gun and pointed it between Jack’s eyes. “You have thirty seconds to say your last words.” All Jack could do is plead, “Please Mr. Gibson, you don’t have to do this. You don’t…” But none of that would sway Gibson. He’d been screwed too many times, and this was payback. He had the gun, and its day had come. “Time’s up”, he said as he planted a single bullet into Jack’s forehead.


Jack watched with increasing panic as Gibson unholstered his pistol and aimed it right at his face. “You have thirty seconds to say your last words,” Gibson declared menacingly. Despite the fear that threatened to choke him, Jack still managed to plead, “Please Mr. Gibson, you don’t have to do this. You don’t…” But none of his entreaties had any effect on Gibson, or on the pistol aimed squarely between his eyes. “Time’s up.” And surprisingly, in that brief moment, Jack felt an otherworldly calm, the fear just dissolving, just before he saw the flash from the muzzle, and then nothing else.

Same event, same dialogue. Different effect. Depending on the PoV, the description of emotions would be either that of Gibson (his hate and desire for revenge and the fact that he is watching someone else die), or Jack’s (the fear, the pleading and his eventual death).


To rid your copy of the passive voice, go through it looking for helper verbs and the word “that.” Eliminate all of these you can. Then rewrite your sentences in the active voice. Be ruthless. Critics certainly will be. :wink:


After praying the Lamb of God, the …

Also the altar boys remained standing at that time. I suppose some parishes did not adopt the new rubrics right away. You may want to frame it earlier than 1970 to make it more realistic.

We used the communion rail at least until Inter Oecumenici of 26 September 1964. By the time of *Liturgicae instaurationes, *of 5 September 1970, communion of both kinds was allowed, which was preferably by intinction. So you have an option there of intinction or not.

Before the change in 1964 to “The Body of Christ” we used the communion rail. It was removed sometime after that change, because of the change to receive the Holy Eucharist standing. So you have an option of standing or kneeling.

Old Ritual to September 1964, the faithful were kneeling and did not say Amen, the priest said it:

                  (The priest goes and administers Holy Communion to the faithful saying to each as a Host is placed on his or her tongue)

P. Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen.
English: P. May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto everlasting life. Amen.


I suggested ‘himself’ since “Father Gaines consumed the Eucharist” might lead to a mistaken understanding that he consumed all of the Eucharist.

The ‘in the sanctuary’ was in response to the notion that they would not receive at the altar rail. The ‘baby bird’ imagery seems to work better for ‘kneeling’ than ‘standing’, even if it’s (strictly speaking) less accurate. :shrug:


Hello to all and thanks for your help.

The church in which I grew up had removed the altar rails from the sanctuary’s by the time I began as an altar server (1965). It’s a 19thC church with a wooden floor, so you can see the remnants of the rails’ mounting hardware… (I notice that sort of thing.) By 1970, communicants were still split, whether to receive on hand or tongue. Everybody (except altar servers) stood while receiving communion (usually, only the Host).

We altar servers, OTOH, knelt at the side edge of the sanctuary, on the same level as the sanctuary. (there were two steps down from the podium to the nave floor). Most of us received the Host on our tongue in 1965 (I’m guessing this is how I was taught by the acolyte master, but I can’t remember)…though that began to change over time. By the time I left for college, the altar servers were standing, and most received in our hands. Maybe keeping longer to the older practices was to set us apart from the congregation? Maybe it was a local option?

I’m unclear, chronologically, where all these changes came. Was walking to the priest (as opposed to kneeling, and him coming to you) and standing to receive, earlier than receiving in your hands? I only vaguely remember altar rails.

How was it you guys’ churches, 1965-1970(ish)? I always think everything we did was the same as everybody else was doing…but maybe not. Was there a U.S, consensus about how the Mass was celebrated by 1970, or was it still somewhat ad hoc?

The story’s set in 1970. I can’t slide it too far forward or back, because characters comment on, and react to, other “real events”, like the moon landing and Tet.

It’s a good thing my characters don’t have a very good sense of time.



I was an altar server before that time through '69. We did stand to receive but did not receive in the hand. My experience was of four variations: Latin, English with Latin Canon, English.

*]Pope Pius XII in 1955. (Includes revised Holy Week and calendar changes)
]Pope John XXIII in 1962. (Approved for E.F. Pope Benedict XVI - 2007)
](Vatican II 1962-1965)

*]New Mass - November 29, 1964. Communion changes (“Corpus Christi”, “Amen”), later in English.
*]Orders for Missal changes March 1965 (vernacular except Canon, option to face congregation).
*]Communion under both kinds 1965, intinction preferred.

*]Second instruction 1967 (English Canon, simpler rubrics)
]Additional anaphora 1968
]Communion in the hand
indult, 29 May 1969.
*] Pope Paul VI Novus Ordo Missae on March 22, 1970.


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