16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 27, 2023 News

Hands in Prayer. In the past I have asked that you refrain from raising or holding hands during the Our Father at Mass, as these are not really the correct postures for the laity. In doing this I have merely tried to instruct and lead, not to scold and coerce.

However, this last week you may have read that the Commission on Liturgy of the Bishops of the Philippines held that the Roman Missal “neither forbids nor prescribes raising hands or holding hands while praying the Lord’s Prayer at mass,” and so concludes these practices are permitted at Mass.

But as St. Thomas Aquinas would say, “sed contra” (“but to the contrary”).

The Commission is wrong. Although the Missal does not explicitly and precisely address this question, it does give rules to follow that the Commission apparently overlooked. Specifically:

“The gestures and bodily posture of …the people, must be conducive to ….making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts… Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice. A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them.” (GIRM 42)

Therefore, even when the Missal doesn’t explicitly provide or forbid an action, it presumes on centuries of norms “determined by…the traditional practice of the Roman Rite,”  and requires that we follow those.

And while the Missal requires “commonly bodily posture” this uniformity finds exception according to the “diverse parts” of its members (i.e. priest, altar servers, laity).

As to the individual members of the Body, the Eucharistic celebration touches them in different ways, according to their rank, office, and degree of participation in the Eucharist.  In this way, the Christian people…demonstrates its cohesion and its hierarchical ordering.  Therefore, all, whether ordained ministers or Christian faithful, by virtue of their function or their office, should do all and only those parts that belong to them.” (GIRM 91)

Since the Missal is otherwise silent on what the people do with their hands during the Our Father, we are required to look to “the traditional practice of the Roman Rite.” These traditions are “to be observed by all,” and “private inclination or arbitrary choice” is contrary to the “unity,” or “communion” of the Mass and the “Communion Rite,” of which the Our Father is a part.

And the tradition, for as far back as records of this are kept, has been that the priest alone stands in the “orans” position with hands upheld, while the congregation prays with hands folded (or in some other relaxed position).

Moreover, the tradition has also been that the congregation generally follow the example of the altar servers. And there is an actual explicit written rule about what they (the servers) do with their hands during the Our Father. The Ceremonial of Bishops, which is part of the Roman Ritual (just as the Missal is) provides that servers “…keep their hands joined… when standing.” Since the Missal tells them (and the congregation) to stand for the Our Father, the servers are specifically precluded from extending their hands in the orans position. So, following their example, and the tradition, the people “must keep their hands joined.”

Now, is it a big deal if you aren’t folding your hands in prayer (e.g. you stand with your hand resting on the front of the pew)? No: the tradition was never rigid in forcing this. But it is a bigger deal if you breach all tradition, and adopt the posture not of casualness, and not of the servers, but of the priest. Only the priest is told that he must stand with his hands extended (the “orans position”) during the Our Father, and to imitate him is a direct violation of the Missal’s rule that the laity “should do all and only those parts that belong to them.”

Remember this priestly posture has an important meaning: when the priest is praying with hands extended (orans), this is a symbol that he is praying as the priest of the Mass, in the place of the head of the Body, and in the name of Christ and the people.

So, what about holding hands, can the congregation hold hands during the Our Father? Again, if you’re holding hands, you’re not following the tradition. Still, some say this is “a sign of unity.” However well-intended, it is not really a sign of unity unless everyone does it: some in the congregation don’t want to hold hands, so they either won’t do so or feel forced into doing so, i.e., forced into adopting the private inclination or arbitrary choice” of others.

And of course, the servers are required to stand with hands folded, and the priest is required to stand in the orans—and cannot hold hands. What unity is there where some, especially the priest, are excluded?

Last but not least, one of the reasons for uniformity of posture is humility. When some adopt a posture that is both noticeable and significantly different from the rest of the congregation, this tends to call undue attention to oneself. That is not the correct way to approach the One Who “humbled himself …obedient to death on a Cross.”

To Summarize and Clarify: So, to be clear: during the Our Father the congregation should not lift their hands as the priest does, nor should they hold each other’s hands.

However, again, I am only attempting to instruct and lead, not to scold and coerce. I’m not upset (except maybe with that Commission on Liturgy), and I’m not trying to chastise anyone. I’m just trying to instruct and bring a greater sense of unity to our liturgy, especially at a time in the Mass when that unity should be especially expressed as we prepare for Holy Communion. I’ve taught you what is expected. And I remind everyone: we will all show respect and charity toward each other, and leave any judgments to Jesus. All things in charity.

Office Help. I need to hire some part-time help (20 hours/week) to assist the parish office staff. The particular description of the job is still “flexible,” depending on the skills of the best person we find, but it will basically involve taking some work off the secretaries’ plates. The hours will be flexible as well. Please contact Mary Butler in the office if you are interested.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles