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My wife was telling me about how in Spain, it's common practice to just go up to receive communion pretty much at random whereas in my experience I've always filed up (even when I was in Germany for World Youth Day). So I'd imagine some Catholics file up and some go up at random. Buy what is the reason for filing up, or if that is indeed the more ancient practice (which I somehow doubt it is) what is the reason for going up willy nillly?

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My suspicion is that this is a cultural, not a religious trait. Forming and observing lines are almost sacrosanct in places like Finland or Japan. In mainland China, not so much. Germany and Spain fall within those extremes, but by stereotype I would expect the former to have the more stringent queueing culture. –  choster Jun 6 '12 at 6:05
    
The phenomenon of most of the faithful at mass receiving Communion, especially on a Sunday, is extremely recent. Set aside issues of theology and formation in piety: From time immemorial until 1953, the Communion fast began at midnight (and still does in the Eastern Catholic churches as far as I know, although it's probably less strictly conceived than in the West). I believe it was also a total fast, covering even water. So practically speaking many people just would not have been disposed on any given Sunday morning, and that's what you hear anecdotally from people who remember those days. –  Ben Dunlap Jun 7 '12 at 15:17
    
Not to mention that in many places prior to the papacy of Pius X, none of the faithful communicated at a typical mass -- the norm was to receive only during Easter. I don't know when that practice began or how widespread it was, but I believe it had several centuries of pedigree when Pius X began encouraging more frequent communion. So orderly filing just wasn't even on the radar. –  Ben Dunlap Jun 7 '12 at 15:20
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I can give you an answer based on my experience.

I live in Rome, I'm Catholic, and I have travelled quite a lot. Every time I travel I search a local catholic mass.

I can tell you with a 99% of certainty that this is a cultural matter, dependinding on the community.

Here in Rome people is more or less ordered and goes in line. In France they have a more complicated 'algorithm': the one who are in the last benches go first, then the line builds up bench by bench from the last to the first.

A convincing example is this one: I went to the masses for holy week in Amsterdam. That is to say 3 masses: Thursday, Friday, Sunday (Saturday there's no mass in the holy week). As Amsterdam is quite multi-cultural, once I went to the local (Dutch) community mass, once to the french speaking community mass, once to the Spanish community mass.

In the dutch version they went in a line starting from last bench. In the french-speaking, mostly were from Africa and went in a line which was randomly formed. In the spanish community mass, people was much more 'unordered' and they crowded in the direction of the priest giving Eucharist.

So, summarizing, It seems really to be a cultural matter.

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Assuming "file up" means going row by row in an orderly manner vs. "random" meaning everyone gets up at once and fills the aisles...

I see both in the church I go to with my wife. For important dates, when the Cathedral is packed to overflowing, ushers go to the front of the church and slowly move to the back of the church indicating to each row in turn that they can go up. The rest of the time, when the church is far less crowded, people pretty much stand up, move into the aisles and line up there. People who get up a bit later have no problems cutting in or some people wait until the end of the line goes past them then join in.

By contrast, most times we've gone to mass while on vacation in the US, the more orderly routine with ushers predominates, even with fairly small numbers. I think it's just a matter of what works for each parish.

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Yeah that may be true for certain localities, but even when I go to daily mass with just a few folks there, I don't think anyone ever deviates from pew order. And almost invariably everyone goes up. –  Peter Turner Jun 4 '12 at 3:37
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