I spent the major portion of my compositional time this morning responding to a comment made by Rick Lugari. Because of my own liturigical ignorance and the need for more light and less heat, I pull both from the Comments box and make of them a separate pot on which those better informed than I am can comment. I will say at the outset that I believe my position to be a minority in St. Blogs, and I am going to try very hard NOT to respond to anything other than a direct question so as not to derail the flow of conversation if any--I will strive to avoid the type of conflagration I inadvertently caused with a previous post--but I will ask pointed questions where something is said that I need clarification on. The truth is far more important than my level of comfort with it. And if this is something that admits of elucidation that comes with conversation, then let it be so. If not, that will probably out as well. (Poor Rick, I literally drown him in a sea of verbiage--but as Pascal said, "Had I more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
Meaning no disrespect to you or your always balanced viewpoint, as one of the liturgical nazis around town I would like to bring up a couple of aspects of the debate that I think warrant consideration.
First, (and I know you know these things, but I need to state them to make my case) the liturgy is a prayer and an expression of our beliefs. Traditionally every action was to have a meaning.
Our actions and posture are an integral part of prayer and help to convey a meaning (i.e., your example of how the orans seems most appropriate for the Our Father - I understand and can relate to that sense, though would not do it myself). Holding hands conveys a meaning as just as genuflecting, beating your breast, and kneeling does. Many of us rigid types, along with (and/or informed by) many clerics who have spoken on the matter think the meaning of hand-holding gives the wrong meaning to what is taking place at that moment.
It's not that I don't like my neighbor or don't think of ourselves as one in Christ, nor am I a germophobe or anything of the like. During the Our Father we are addressing the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is an entirely vertical prayer and whatever posture one assumes should reflect that. Holding hands, IMHO, does just the opposite. The ultimate communion is Holy Communion when we are all united as one with Christ.
In defense of those who would object strictly or primarily from a rubrics standpoint, I will note that if I had my way I'd be kneeling for everything except the Gospel (standing) and the homily (sitting). I don't do it because the liturgy is not something for me to make uniquely mine, even if kneeling suits my sense of piety best. So, I don't feel like a hypocrite expecting people to refrain from doing any ol' posture they feel like doing, and I think it's prudent for the Church to discourage such things.
I don't know if any of this carries any weight, but it is a perspective that I think has merit.
Posted by Rick Lugari at April 24, 2006 09:38 PM
I read this last night and started to respond and then thought better of it lest I precipitate another "universalism" blowout. Although I did not take offense or umbrage at anything said, and did not see the same cause; because the issue is sensitive, it requires greater thought.
I have always had a problem with the line of reasoning you put forth here and it stems from several sources. First, I fail to see how holding hands in any way detracts from the motion of the prayer. Indeed, I see it as the appropriate gesture when praying to "Our Father." In holding hands, at least in theory, the many separate I's are gathered into one family under God and offer as one the prayer that is said. Now, compare that, on the other hand, to the creed, which, when properly prayed states, "I believe." In fact, that is the most I can say in the Church, because I haven't a clue what the person next to me in the pew might or might not believe. There is a false solidarity there that can have no base because we cannot know the state of mind or soul of a brother, sister, mother, or father, much less a stranger. Were we to hold hands during that prayer, I would find it quite awkward and in antithesis to the meaning of the prayer.
However, when we pray, "Our Father," the case can be made that the many individuals should in some wise be gathered into a family.
What I see in this particular rubric is a virulent fear of protestantism. As I was raised in my house, every important family occasion and prayer was said with the entire family holding hands. The Thanksgiving blessing, the blessing over the food, even the prayer and song after funerals "Let the Circle Be Unbroken." We declare the cohesive unity of the family in this gesture. Still, on every occasion of importance and gathering, we hold hands in prayer, becoming for a short time one unit rather than three, four, six, or eight individuals. There is a true solidarity there.
So, I look at Our Father and say, what gesture, what position, what motion might suggest our unity rather than our separateness. Why, holding hands, of course.
That said, I can acknowledge that this is at best a forced unity, a coerced solidarity, and the symbol may not speak for all; whereas the ultimate neutrality of not holding hands and standing with arms at side during the prayer, at least does not impose anything on anyone. This argument, I can buy and so I do not advance my own with the vigor that I might otherwise do. That some are made uncomfortable, that some are unused to it, that some would see it as specious, is perfectly reasonable and feasible. I have no problem with that--and so the reasonable solution is the neutral solution--one that does not force anything on anyone else.
Nevertheless, I do like the symbolism of holding hands. I even like the slightly uncomfortable notion that is reinforced by this that we are all one family praying as a unity before the Lord, gathered and connected in the body of Christ. I used to be quite uncomfortable with it for all of the reasons that have been suggested--the forced intimacy of it, the forced nature of it, the ultimate non-reality-in-fact in the physical world of it. But through the gesture I have come to accept my own parish and community more and have come to understand the meaning of the body of Christ and of the family of God better.
It is evident from discussions that others would not feel this way. It is for that reason, I believe that my bishop has been mysteriously silent on the topic, even while enforcing all sorts of outré and odd differences as suggested by the GIRM (standing during the consecration portion of the Eucharistic prayer--which later he reversed). It would seem to depend uniquely upon the congregation. It is my opinion that it is so strongly rooted in some communities that undoing it would be a source of such community pain and anguish, with so little to gain, that it would seem unwise. Again, with the recent changes in GIRM, the bishop hand us standing for the Agnus Dei, kneeling for the "I am not worthy" and standing again as we waited for reception of the Eucharist, and then sitting or standing after reception. While people attempted to comply, it just made a huge mess of Mass. So too with the specific instruction on reception of the Eucharist, I see head nods, body bows and genuflections--no one is certain what to do and the head-bowing instruction is insufficient to most--they cling to something else.
I've gone on too long, but you get the point. I'm not saying that you are incorrect, merely that I fail to see the reason of it. I don't understand, and I mean this literally, I fail to comprehend how holding hands in any way detracts from our attention to God--but do keep in mind the background I have outlined for you. I suspect there are a great many protestants who feel this way.
One note I would add though, is that whatever one feels about the matter, one should not make oneself the center of attention and fuss. There are some who do not wish to hold hands while the whole congregation is doing so--that is fine. Fut I have seen people physically move way down the aisles, stare, glare, and fuss until you got the impression that Mass was all about them. The proper way to address any such abuse is to speak to one's pastor, and if that does not resolve satisfactorily, to continue the protest to the Bishop.
My understanding of obedience, however, suggests that the chain of command must be followed, and if there is no satisfaction at the level of the Bishop, then one must pursue one's own course in not holding hands. If, however, a local priest tells me, "Let us join hands as we pray in the words our savior gave us," I will join hands with anyone willing--because that is what obedience calls me to at the time. I will not, however, force this on anyone who chooses not to hear or obey; nor will I say that such obedience is incumbent upon them, because I could understand how one might say that refusal to hold hands is in fact obedience to a higher authority. Rather than get tied up in all of that, I choose simply to celebrate Mass as the local congregation sees fit. If we hold hands, fine. If not, that also is fine. Further I will admit that according to present instruction the latter may be the more perfect way of celebrating at the present time.
But my codicil is that changes in rubrics and in matters of practice almost always flow from the people and not from instruction imposed from on high. Creole Masses, Drum Masses, Mariachi Masses, Liturgical Dancing and other such things are normative in different parts of the world, and even in different communities in the United States. That is one of the wonderful things about the Catholic Church, her rituals and rites are so plastic that they can incorporate cultural differences without ever losing their intrinsic meaning.
I hope this did not sound either too defensive or too arrogant. I really don't intend it to; but I feel that given the integrity and sincerity of you comment, you are entitled to at least of glimpse of my thought, however incorrect it might be, in the matter. I stand ready to be obedient--if the Bishop tells us to stop doing this, I shall stop; however, as I've said, so far there has been no instruction at all regarding this from him--no correction of perceived abuse, etc. So, I will let it be for now and adapt myself to the local practice. Whatever way it is done, so long as I am in the presence of the Lord, it really doesn't matter to me. The critical thing is God alone.
One note I would add to this already long post is that I could not agree more about the need for some uniformity in what everyone is doing at Mass. I pity the poor priest who will have to predict whether a new congregant will kneel, bow, head nod, genuflect, receive in hand or on tongue, etc. On the other hand, none of that is my business anyway if I am properly keeping my eyes on God--something I really need to learn to do better.