Monday, February 25, 2013

The Laity Raising Hands at Mass

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-l6RScCkM8ig/T72BKUksg8I/AAAAAAAABgY/fq7oVWjxSFY/s1600/IMG_8767.jpg 

 
The Church has never had much success in policing the popular devotions of lay folk at Mass and there is remarkably little canonical legislation on the subject. I do not imagine for one minute that I will be able to do any better. But it certainly is my business. What is not my business is what people do outside of Mass, at home or at some “prayer and praise” worship service. As far as I am aware there is little evidence that the raised hands gesture at the Eucharist has made any inroads at St. Francis. Of course, since our altar is firmly attached to the wall and I am standing ad orientem, I can never be sure what is going on, when my back is turned. Still these days you will probably encounter it in some church or other sooner rather than  later.

Come on, Father, what harm is it? Quite a lot actually because it obscures the role of the priest in the Eucharistic sacrifice. It may or may not have been the practice of all Christians at some time or other to pray this way. The evidence is scanty and difficult to interpret. When and where did everyone pray this way? What is not disputed is that this gesture became a distinctive sign of the priest at Mass, of his role as a mediator, a go-between between the faithful and the Father.

Moses went up Mt. Sinai by himself. Our Lord took only Peter and James and John up Mt. Tabor. There were no laity at all at the Last Supper. 

The priest as priest has been replaced by the priest as leader. Naturally everyone wants to be a leader, although it is unclear exactly who will be led, if everyone is a leader. The priesthood is where the power is, people think. I have never found it so myself. This notion of the priest as a power player is what animates the movement for female ordination and the evidence is that the Church of England is about to self-destruct over this issue. I doubt that anyone would be willing to destroy the Church because he wants to be an icon of Christ. Ah, but for political power that is a different matter.

It is a truth now much ignored that every participant in the Eucharist acts in accordance with his order, the priest as priest, the deacon as deacon, the laity as laity. It is little wonder now that lay folk seem to do everything. Hence all the talk about lay ministry. What lay ministry means is not the laity doing what a priest does; it means lay people doing what lay people do.

The failure to grasp this is a great loss not because it demeans the priesthood but because it results in the failure to sanctify family life, work, and ordinary life. It is the grossest clericalism: you are only doing lay ministry, if you hang around the church all the time and as much as possible act like a priest. People who want to be like a priest have no ambition!

Many factors contribute to this sorry state of affairs: priests who are not sure what a priest is, free standing altars, women priests in the name of fairness, and quite frankly a preference for emotionalism over theology. Hands down, please.
 



8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen, may I respectfully disagree just a bit? There are times in the Mass when I am overwhelmed with G-d's goodness. I'm discreet but the fact is that I do sometimes raise my hands. I did so at a recent funeral Mass I attended at St. Francis. The fact is that G-d the Holy Spirit intervenes at unexpected times and sometimes places. Usually for me it's at St. Francis since that's the one hour and twenty minutes dedicated most specifically and wholly for worshipping the Lord Jehovah. ...The Muslims pray prostrate and in some ways I think this is entirely fitting. They pray as they say the Patriarchs in the OT prayed. Good for them. And the hand-waving evangelicals also represent an aspect of response to G-d that I see as legitimate. Sometimes it makes sense to fall prostrate and sometimes it makes sense to lift hands. With open-ness, G-d the Holy Spirit moves and guides; and in varied ways. And other times--maybe mostly for me--it makes sense to sit, kneel, and stand. I'm a traditionalist Episcopalian deep down after all. All said respectfully.

Best, Brent

Feed Room Five said...

Brent

You can even disrespectfully disagree with me. I am regularly in need of a SED CONTRA to my more passionate theological grumbling. I suppose I would say and should say I do not really have a need to censor the private devotions of folks at Mass. In any case what one or two people do is probably not a problem, unless it is a naked hula dance. I do think, however, that a whole church full of folks with their hands raised creates liturgical and theological confusion. But even this situation does not change the reality of what is happening in the Eucharist.

best Fr A

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen, I'm always amused and heartenred by your pastoral counsel and good humor. Thanks, Brent

Anonymous said...

Eastern Orthodox normally stand to worship since we are in the presence of the Holy Trinity. we prostrate to the ground in humble (I hope) penitence at times. We normally don't raise our hands, but some do at the Lord's Prayer. We have this feeling that we are doing what the earliest Christians did.

Rdr. james morgan
olympia, WA

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen, I would add to Rdr. Morgan's comments above that sometimes St. Francis seems more Orthodox to me than Catholic. Strange that, but nevertheless what I feel viscerally. Respectfully, Brent

Feed Room Five said...

Brent

I would take that as a compliment.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen,

You provide such wonderful pastoral affirmation. One more comment: At last Sunday's final hymn, I sang "Turn Back Oh Man" while everyone else sang the 1982 hymn. I know TBOM considered semi-Pelagian and all that. Yet is speaks to me still. ...I so appreciate the freedom you provide to your parishioners to express individual devotins during the Mass. Thank you.

Brent

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen, not sure I tied well...so TBOM seems a more Orthodox and Ancient than RC and/or evangelical hymns; and in ways I can't well explain, the way St. Francis "feels" to me. At St. F, I always feel like I am connected to the Ancient Faith during Mass; as one who is participating and "inside" something far greater than me and the local parish. I love feeling of joining Saints Before and those that will exist and exemplify the crucified and Risen Lord long after me. Respectfully, Brent