Thursday, April 17, 2008


A seminarian interviewed me for a project on which he was working and one of his questions was if I thought there was still a climate that promoted clericalism within my circle of priest acquaintances. I readily agreed that there are individual priests who have clerical tendencies but that the general mindset is frowned upon in the presbyterate as a whole.

I want to change that answer.

There was/is a reaction against the abuse of the collar that was so strong that it could be labeled bitter. But when a reaction is too strong the correction tends to be an over compensation and in the end we are left with a mirror image of what it is we tried to eliminate. In other words, we become what we hate. It is like being in a small sailboat listing heavily to port in a strong wind and overcompensating too much to the starboard side. End result: You get wet. You just happen to be on the other side of the boat.

So at the Mass, says Pope Benedict XVI in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “It must be plainly evident that the oratio (prayer/praying) is at the heart of the matter.” “In this prayerful approach to participation there is no difference between priests and laity.”

The priest does what he does because we need him to do it. But the heart of the action is the great prayer being offered to God (and God’s offering to us.) It is devastating to our understanding of who we are as Church to downplay the role of the priesthood of the baptized. What the average Catholic does in the pew every Sunday is not a passive absorption of something important someone else is doing but in itself a vital, essential, meaningful role.

But we do not believe it.

As evidence of this I offer you a common theme in liturgy planning meetings. The sentence is often murmured, “What can we do to get people more involved?” This usually means inventing or duplicating ministries. This is a huge mistake. It sends the message loud and clear that what is happening in the pew is not important. It says if you want to be important you need to find a role that comes as close to mimicking the role of the priest as possible. What does that smack of? The clericalism we tried to snuff out.

Further quoting the pope, “Of course, external actions – reading, singing, the bringing up of the gifts – can be distributed in a sensible way. . . We should be clearly aware that [these] external actions are quite secondary . . . The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today, especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point. . . If the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the “theo-drama” of the liturgy and have lapsed almost into parody.”

This abuse is particularly prevalent in “youth masses.” People want the kids "more involved." But in fact what we are inadvertently teaching is that what they do at Mass when they do not have an extraordinary role is not really not all that important. What a tragedy! The opposite is in fact the case. Those busying themselves about are actually fulfilling secondary roles. What happens in the pew is (or should be) the primary action. The oratio!

Here we can also see why the Church makes such a fuss about people not taking on multiple ministries at the same mass. That is if they are the lector, they should also not be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or some such combination. Even if the person does not mind it is patently unfair as it robs the person from performing their priestly and ultimately more important role.

Hence we have from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (5) “In addition, the ministerial priesthood puts into its proper light another reality of which much should be made, namely, the royal priesthood of believers. Through the ministry of presbyters the people’s spiritual sacrifice to God is brought to completeness in union with the sacrifice of Christ, our one and only Mediator. For the celebration of the Eucharist is the action of the whole Church, in it all should do only, but all of, those parts that belong to them in virtue of their place within the people of God. In this way greater attention will be given to some aspects of the Eucharistic celebration that have sometimes been neglected in the course of times. For these people are the people of God, purchased by Christ’s blood, gathered together by the Lord, nourished by His word. They are a people called to offer God the prayers of the entire human family, a people giving thanks in Christ for the mystery of salvation by offering His sacrifice. Finally, they are a people growing together into unity by sharing in Christ’ s Body. These people are holy by their origin, but becoming ever more holy by conscious, active, and fruitful participation in the mystery of the Eucharist.”


uncle jim said...

so ...
do we hold hands to pray [the Lord's prayer or anything else] or not?
that's what i want to know...
do i need to wear latex gloves at mass or not?

Anonymous said...

As usual, excellent post, Fr V! Thank you. I'm sure I'll be re-reading it later...

Adrienne said...

I've not only read it but it is copied and in my "liturgy" file. Very well said!

Uncle Jim - The church is silent on the matter of holding hands except to say that the laity started it. Since it is not an intregal or required part of the Mass "no one should be made to hold hands."

My husband and I have gone back to our position of not holding hands. We have spent many years extending charity and courtesy to those that engage in this practice and now we would like the same charity and courtesy extended to us.

There are many, many people in or parish who do NOT want to hold hands but feel pressured to do it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Church is not silent on the matter, although now I don't remember the document that discussed it.

It is strongly discouraged, as is the laity's use of the orans during Mass.

One of these days when I get time I'll re-do the research and hopefully my computer won't fry this time and lose all my info.

Anonymous said...

Adoro: I would like to see the research when you can find it. I have never "liked" either holding hands or the orans position during the Our Father. However, I never had anything concrete to back up the reasons why not. :)

Adrienne said...

The Holy See stated that holding hands "is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on personal initiative; it is not in the rubrics" Notitiae II (1975, Documents on the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN; Liturgical Press, 1983) For this reason, no one can be required to hold hands during the Our Father.

The orans posture is reserved to the priests and deacons. The U.S. Bishops have considered allowing this but it has not been approved by the Holy See. (Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest, issued by the Congregation for the Clergy et al. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana translation)

What I have always found odd (and annoying) is all the people who are so insistent on holding hands and standing around in the orens posture never bow at the words "by the power of the Holy Spirit" during the Profession of Faith.

On the Solemnities of the Annunciation and Christmas we are to kneel. It is clearly written in all missals that this is to be done. I have never seen one person in our parish bow.

Fr. V said...

Thanks guys.

Adrienne - thanks for the clarification. I know in Cleveland they promoted the orans position but only to get people out of holding hands. But of course now we are stuck with the orans position - which at least I find less intrusive if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

I'll try to find the info...the question came to our liturgy commission this year, and we discussed it. Our Chair did some more digging and found Church documents that seem to officially denounce the use of orans during Mass.

I know that the GIRM says that the priest only is to use the orans position, and the deacon is to stand with his hands seems to me, through the use of pure logic, that if the DEACON can't use orans while standing on the altar, then neither should the laity.

I might just contact our Chair and see if he still has the info, although it'll be a couple days before I can get to it as it's a class weekend.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Adrienne and Adoro. Agree, Father, about Cleveland. My husband has gotten into the habit of the orans gesture. I never could explain *why* it was unnecessary...I will *gently* inform him of this information though :)

Anonymous said...

Adrienne said...

Your welcome. It is always nice to feel like the hours and hours spent studying (and still feeling quite dumb) can be of some minor help.

The orans posture never bothers me as much as the hand-holding, no doubt because the hand-holding invades my personal space. (It is all about meeeeeee, isn't it??)

Adoro - waiting for more help with the documents but don't short change your study. That comes first!

sattvicwarrior said...

In other words, we become what we hate. It is like being in a small sailboat listing heavily to port in a strong wind and overcompensating too much to the starboard side. End result: You get wet. You just happen to be on the other side of the boat.
BINGO!!!!!!! RIGHT ON DUDE. . THATS WHAT I BEEN SAYING ALL ALONG.[ but no one listens do they?????]
99 % of the problem has been recognized in your statemet . BUT it will take 99 YEARS to correct it with that last 1%

uncle jim said...

sattvicwarrior -
good to hear from you. change is indeed slow. the pendulum seems to move ever so slowly - we get into trouble over time and we correct [or over-correct] over time. my gauge would suggest that in these errors within the church, most took several generations to bloom in folly, and it will take several generations to pull it back in.

Anonymous said...

From the GIRM (regarding Orans position during Our Father)

"Many Catholics are in the habit of holding their hands in the “Orans” posture during the Lord’s prayer along with the celebrant. Some do this on their own as a private devotional posture while some congregations make it a general practice for their communities.

Is this practice permissible under the current rubrics, either as a private practice not something adopted by a particular parish as a communal gesture?

No position is prescribed in the present Sacramentary for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer."


Anonymous said...

Sorry - from the Committee of Divine Worship (USCCB) LM

Anonymous said...

I did not think we were doing the orans posture for the Lord's Prayer, which is palms up. We were taught to hold our hands in the surrender position which has your hands up. I hate to explain this way, but like when someone pokes you in the back and says "stick em up!" I'm in the Cleveland area.

Some people in our parish do the orans posture, but most due as we were taught holding the hands forward instead of facing up.


Michelle said...

There are those of us who occasionally use the "orans" position for the Our Father (there is nothing specified, and presumably any reasonable reverent gesture acceptable in the local community is fine: hands at side, on pew back, folded, crossed on chest, folded with fingers extended, etc.) and ALWAYS bow during the Creed.

The analogy I find coming to mind is too many cooks in the kitchen - you can have too much help.