Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sacred Sunday

Welcome to my (hopefully) weekly Sacred Sunday post. 

DISCLAIMER:  I envision these posts as a way to share the faith that, upon my conversion 15 years ago, made me who I am today. It is by no means meant to be a  way to proselytize but rather a sincere effort to explain why certain practices, saints, Bible verses or hymns are important to me. There may even be an occasional catechism lesson of why Catholics do what we do. I hope you find these weekly musings informative.

I have a confession to make...

I don't hold hands during the "Our Father".  I know, I know. Many do. I don't. I have some very valid reasons why that I'd like to share with you.  Before I go on, I insist that you understand that I am not implying that this practice is wrong. It is a valid tradition in many faiths. It is, however, a relatively recent phenomenon occurring in the Catholic church. 

I have both personal and doctrinal reasons for choosing not to participate in this gesture. First and foremost is this act is not, nor ever has been, a part of the liturgy of the Mass. Period. In the liturgy of the Mass, the Our Father is said after the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, where bread and wine actually become the body and blood of our dear Lord Jesus. Our whole being and focus should be upon Christ Jesus. I personally find it very distracting and disconcerting to have a stranger, in the pew, trying to grab my hand. In essence, I equate it with having my prayer interrupted for my concentration is shifted from where it should be. Additionally, it assumes an intimacy, a communion, before actual real and true communion takes place.  

I, however, am not eloquent and, in actuality, still a "child" in my spiritual journey. Because of that I will end my Sacred Sunday post quoting an article on the topic by Father  William Saunders: 

Throughout the Mass, various gestures are prescribed for both the priest and the faithful worshipers. For example, we begin and end Mass by making the sign of the cross; during the Confiteor, we strike our breast; we sign ourselves with the cross on the forehead, lips, and heart at the proclamation of the Gospel; during the Creed, we bow at the words professing our faith in the incarnation of our Savior; we kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer and after the Lamb of God; and we receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or the hand.

All of these prescribed physical gestures help make the act of worship at Mass one which involves our whole being, body and soul, thought, words, and actions. They also help create a spiritual disposition to receive our Lord in Word and Sacrament. Moreover, these gestures are prescribed, just as the readings from Sacred Scripture and the Order of the Mass are, to make the Sacrifice of the Mass a unified act of worship throughout the whole Church — in a sense, every Catholic is doing the same thing, the same way. To find the rubrics (regulations which govern the Mass) concerning these gestures, one may turn to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1970), On Holy Communion and the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside of Mass (1973), Instruction on Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery(1980), and Instruction on Certain Norms Concerning the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (1980).

However, in all of the liturgical documents for the universal Church or of those particular ones issued by the United States Bishops Conference, no where is the holding of hands during the Lord's Prayer mandated. Frankly, this gesture arose among the various liturgical innovations in the aftermath of Vatican Council II. Perhaps the holding of hands was introduced with good intentions to highlight the unity of the congregation as they pray, "Our Father," not "My Father." Yet, if unity is the key, then should we not be holding hands throughout the entire Mass?

The unity that is sought really comes later and after a spiritual progression: First, we fall on our knees as the priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass: we recall not only our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection but also our need as individuals to offer ourselves to Him. Second, we pray in the words our Savior taught us, the Lord's Prayer, in which we ask, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," even the person next to us in the pew. Third, we offer the Sign of Peace, a gesture found in the earliest Masses to show a genuine unity based on peace and forgiveness. Finally, we receive Holy Communion, which truly brings us into communion with our Lord and with each other. Looking at the logic of this spiritual progression to real unity, the holding of hands at the Our Father is extraneous.

Can a congregation hold hands anyway, even if it is extraneous? While no one can find fault if a husband and wife, or a family want spontaneously to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer, the priest does not have the right to introduce, mandate, or impose it. The Code of Canon Law (1983) does mandate: "The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments; therefore, no one on personal authority may add, remove, or change anything in them" (Canon 826.1). (Note that this Canon repeated a previous mandate found in both Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963) and the Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, No. 45 (1967), which was issued to address certain abuses arising in the liturgy after the council.) Therefore, a priest who introduces, mandates, or imposes the holding of hands during the Lord's Prayer is violating the norms set by the Church.

The Church also reminds the priest, who is the guardian of the sacraments and who acts in persona Christi in offering the Mass: "The priest should realize that by imposing his own personal restoration of sacred rites he is offending the rights of the faithful and is introducing individualism and idiosyncracy into celebrations which belong to the whole Church" (Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 1 (1970)). A person in the pew should not feel obliged or coerced to hold hands with someone else during the Lord's Prayer, yet congregational "peer pressure" could easily lead to such feelings. One can only imagine how intimidated a person must feel by the rest of the congregation if he does not desire to hold hands, whether because of personal preference or because of another reason such as arthritis.

Granted, the holding of hands during the Lord's Prayer seems to have become almost a tradition in some parishes throughout the country. Nevertheless, we must remember that this gesture is not prescribed, it is an innovation to the Mass, and in its goal to build unity and sensitivity, it can be alienating and insensitive to individuals.


kys said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kys said...

Sorry for the delete!! Too many typos to post.

As a Baptist (ish) I don't know anything about this. I can tell you that we aren't holding hands during our prayer at the end of the service anymore because of the flu. We aren't shaking hands anymore either.

Lissaloo said...

You have a very valid point and I don't think I would like it much either :)

Julie Schuler said...

I only remember shaking/holding hands in the "peace be with you" part after communion. I went to a Polish Catholic Church, though, not the main Roman Catholic Church. I don't know how different they are, but I know our priest was married, so, somewhat different. I'd really like to go to the Polish Catholic Church here. I just found it even though we've been living here six years. It's way the heck on the other side of town, though, and I don't drive.

Raoulysgirl said...

I so wish that we could sit down over a cup of tea sometime. I know that sounds silly since our beliefs are different, but Catholicism fascinates me...I think maybe because it is the root of Christianity. Also because my husband was raised Catholic (HE would like to sit down over tea with us too, by the way). I think sometimes, that maybe he may be looking for his way back to the church and I try to encourage him. Things have changed a lot since he last went, though and I think maybe that leads to his hesitance. I'm looking forward to more of these posts.

Ms Bibi said...

Great first Sacred Sunday post.

I wouldn't like that either. I hold hands with my boys and the only reason is to feel close to them and it comes to me naturally as their mother.Prayer is a personal and intimate thing in my opinion and I don't want to share it with strangers.

Cynthia@RunningWithLetters said...

This is interesting. I am not Catholic, but my sister is, so I am often familiar and can speak at least somewhat intelligently about Catholic practices, but not this one. It sounds a little like how when we pray in Sunday School and it is expected that we "circle up" and hold hands. I'm not horribly against it, but I'd just as soon not, for reason that are as much practical (not the least of which being flu germs) as spiritual...

Kimberly said...

I remember a couple of years back at the beginning of Mass our Priest said "Due to the flu that is going around please do not be offended if the person near you does not hold your hand."

At Mass I usually sit near the front, and by the edge of the pew. (I know I am suppose to move inward, but I usually don't) I do not go to the middle of the Church to hold hands, but I will hold hands with the little old lady near me. Here is why...I imagine (of course this may or may not be true) that she needs to connect to someone to have a human touch from someone else. I think the power of touch is very profound, and frankly holding hands during one prayer is enough for me.

Some Priests is some parts of the country will only give you communion in your hand.

Personally, I like "old school" much better.

Michelle said...

Thank you for this post! We typically sit the second pew from the front (this may change when we no longer have toddlers who need to see) so there aren't many people around us to try and hold hands. My girls see other people doing it though...

We don't for many of the reasons you cite in your portion of the post. We are trying to focus on our Lord. Of course, we hope he understands that our concentration can be broken by a little 3-year-old reaching and saying, "Up, please, Mommy" or our 9-month-old grinning at everyone and distracting more than just us. But anyway, we try to teach our children to focus on our Lord and "await in joyful hope".

Great Sacred Sunday topic!

Tracy said...

interesting stuff.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

I used to go to Catholic church growing up and we did not have to hold hands during Mass so as you say it sounds like a new phenomenon. I do attend a Baptist church and they always hold hands during parts of the service and I agree - it's distracting. I don't enjoy holding hands with strangers and I end up thinking about how long it will be before I can stop holding hands rather than focusing on the prayer.


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