Saturday, December 3, 2011


Saint Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, Georgia (guess who is the former pastor there?)


Let me be clear, if family groups or friends wish to hold hands at the "Our Father" or there is a Mass designated for such, then so be it. I'm not a prude or a liturgical Nazi.

What I don't like is when the priest-celebrant or some commentator says, let's join hand and pray the "Our Father." I despise when the priest joins hands with those around the altar, whether Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or altar servers. That shouldn't happen, period.

However, if people hold hands naturally, especially if they belong to the same family or are close friends, so what!

When I first arrived at St. Joseph, because someone had foisted holding hands during the Our Father, I simply wrote in the bulletin but never said publicly the following:

"Holding hands during Mass especially at the "Our Father" is not a rubric for the laity at Mass nor of long-standing tradition for praying in the Catholic Church. If done it should respect those who are not inclined to do so, thus never foisted upon someone. I would ask you to consider simply holding hands with your family members or close friends who find this meaningful but not force others you do not know to hold hands with you unless it happens naturally."

I had many people tell me how much they appreciated my comments and the fact that they did not like holding hands especially of strangers. But of course there were others who thought saying this would turn the congregation into a frigid, unfriendly environment.

This contempt for respecting the private space of others comes from the "free love" period of the 1960's when respect for the personal boundaries of others was challenged and overturned. It has led to all kinds of problems, scandals and sometimes sexual harassment suits at the workplace, although not at church because of unwanted hand holding. There are those who do not have "impulse" control when it comes to the personal, physical boundaries of others and we should not be naive about it and the "jollies" that some people get infringing on others personal space!

For some people, holding hands is just too physical for them, especially with someone they don't know and just too intimate, especially with someone they don't know. I say be sober and respectful about this.

Following the common rubrics for postures at Mass for both the laity and the priest puts us all on equal ground and makes clear what expectations are and leaves out the element of surprise and discomfort when individuals foist their physical needs for intimacy on others.

Finally, the Bishop of Covington as primary liturgist for his diocese has made clear his desire for parishes in his diocese based upon his understanding of the rubrics of the Mass.He is completely within his rights to do so. But as far as I know there is no definitive statement about non-rubrical postures the laity take at Mass from the Vatican or the United States Conference of Bishops, so to select one and not the other non-rubrical postures for elimination strikes me as a bit odd.

For example, many people make the sign of the cross before or after receiving Holy Communion. This is not prescribed in the rubrics. Some people kneel for Holy Communion although the rubric for the USA is to bow before receiving and to receive standing.

Some people return to their pew and relax their head on the pew in front of them as they kneel (but with their rear-end leaning the the seat of their pew and simply meditate. This is not in the rubrics.

There might be other things you notice parishioners doing during Mass that aren't prescribed. What are they?


Gene said...

Making the oracular gesture. I was told by one Priest in another state that this is actually considered a liturgical abuse. It is really annoying and, I believe, rather a presumptive gesture.
Allowing kids to play with hand held devices.
Couples mouth kissing as in "making out" during the sign of peace.
Chewing the Host like gum.
Going directly from receiving out the door to the car.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Those are serious abuses and also bringing Fruit Loops and other snacks for small children to munch on during Mass--that is something new and God spare the priest who tells the parents to stop doing it!

Gene said...

I know it is awkward for a Priest to confront some of these behaviors. One option would be to address them in a cautionary homily, perhaps using a Scripture verse ("The Lord is in His Holy Temple, let all the earth keep silent")or, more to my preference, some verse promising woe to those who are irreverent in the Lord's presence...maybe Christ's words as he threw the money changers out of the Temple. Or, it could be done in the announcements, "By the way, for all you slobs and louts out there who engage in all kinds of irreverent behavior during Mass, you are on the fast track to Hell..." or some other equally tactful and diplomatic statement.

Joseph Johnson said...

To my mind, the most serious lay abuse is to receive Communion in the hand and then, rather than taking a moment to face the Crucifix and communicate oneself, to walk away with the Host and pop it into one's mouth while enroute to the Cup or to the pew.

This is one reason why I so fervently wish the Church would reconsider Communion in the hand, as it is easy to abuse and the loss of Particles is a Sacrilege (I believe that the use of a Communion paten is still in the rubrics or Instruction, but is widely disregarded). Communion on the tongue (whether standing or kneeling) takes away, or at least lessens, the ability of the communicant to walk away with an intact Host.

Additionally, and I wouldn't prefer this (but it would be an incremental improvement), even a change to the option of Communion in the hand kneeling (as it was probably done in the early Church, at that time with women having cloths placed over their hands before receiving) would at least promote "stationary communication" (receive and comsume while kneeling and then get up and walk away).

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Agreed, walking off with the host or "eating" on the run is irreverent for receiving Holy Communion. Receiving in the hand while kneeling and in the ancient way is very pleasing to me!

Anonymous said...

MegaDeath T-Shirts, chewing gum. We used to have an 'amnesty box' at my old job where people could throw their contraband items before going to work.

Wonder how it would be received if the ushers handed out robes to the people who show up dressed for a rock concert?

The hand holding thing has always been awkward. People will sometimes force it when they think they are being 'welcoming' and other times people seem to not know what to do.

A really good buddy of mine went to a Pentecostal church with his mother. He had been out all night carousing with his buddies but Mom said he had to go to church. He had dozed off when suddenly he pulled a leg cramp. Starting awake, he uttered an oath and began kicking out with his leg to stretch the cramp. He suddenly found himself surrounded by a group of very young boys in coats and ties fanning him. The congregation began to clap assuming he had gotten the 'spirit' although Mom was neither fooled nor pleased.

It seems that a lot of the activities of the laity in the pews distracts from the point of the Mass or service and should be thoughtfully coached by the pastor while not necessarily restricting personal devotions, i.e. kneeling for communion.


qwikness said...

How about when folks cross themselves following the absolution by the Priest:
May almighty God have mercy on us,
forgive us our sins,
and bring us to everlasting life.
Some do, some don't. Is it ok or not are we supposed to? I like it but sometimes it feels rote and sometimes it feels right.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

That's another excellent example. It is not prescribed by the rubrics and certainly the priest should not do it, thus leading others to do it. But with that said, I'm not alarmed by it. As well I think the laity can strike their breast at the Lamb of God if they wish and also at the "Lord, I am not worthy." Also, if one is impeded from kneeling during the Eucharistic prayer I don't get all bent out of shape if everyone stands and when the priest genuflects at the consecrations everyone else bows profoundly. that's not prescribed but I see no big deal in it. Also with the Our Father, if someone wants to hold their hand slightly raised and unobtrusively with palms up, no big deal as far as I am concerned, although I don't like the exaggerated, look at me extension of arms as many charismatics do in their prayer meetings and sometimes at Mass like at the Gloria or Sanctus, not to mention the Lord's Prayer.

qwikness said...

How 'bout when people bow for the cross during the procession like the Episcopalians do. And during the consecration people are already kneeling but still bow their heads when host and cup are raised. Are those okay? I like both.

Joseph Johnson said...

The part about crossing oneself and the striking of the breast during the Agnus Dei and at the Domine non sum dignus are carryovers from the EF, I believe. They may not be specifically in the OF rubrics but couldn't they be considered part of the hermeneutic of continuity or mutual enrichment (or at least a matter of personal piety by those who experience the liturgy with an EF mentality)?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Quikness and Joseph, a priest cannot promote these things since these are not in the rubrics, but certainly the hermeneutic of continuity doesn't prevent anyone from doing it--I don't see it as any big deal, as long as one is not forced to do something that is not in the rubrics.

Templar said...

This is precisely where all the disunity and confusion comes from. There appears to be "no rules". Everything seems to be okay, or at least limited only by the sensibilities of a particular Pastor at a particular place and time.

If we desire Unity we need to know what the rules are, period.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

That's precisely the problem templar, we have rules all the way from posture to genuflecting to how one receives Holy Communion, but others including clergy and also laity like to do their own thing, like kneeling for Holy Communion in the OF Mass and that certainly is tolerated but not promoted, just as standing for Holy Communion in the EF Mass is tolerated but not promoted. No one should be denied Holy Communion for not following the expected "norm" or "rubric" when receiving Holy Communion in either form of the Mass. People are so stubborn these days and super-sensitive, that pastoral flexibility is a virtue.

rob said...

Re: Receiving and dashing to the car.....

Didn't Judas do that? Dipped his bread and then left to collect his 30 pieces of silver?

Seems that mentioning that part of the passion story would give people pause.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Frajm, the problem is when a guy like me is in Mass and the posture, local tradition, etc. is different or even contrary to that what is in the instructions I don't know what to do.

I have been troubled by this, but stuck with my community and gritted my teeth. Part of the reason was that I honestly thought the parish would 'come around' and partly because I did not want to become another lay master theologian interpreting everything that comes from the Vatican for my priest. Now Templar and Pin have created a pain in my neck because they asked me out loud what I have been wondering inside: if I can find a parish that is trying to be faithful to the Mass why not go there? Now I have to act where I have been able to evade the decision before. Now I have to act.


Templar said...

And that is precisely my point Father we really don't have rules. Like kneeling for Communion. You say it is tolerated but not promoted. In reality is the "norm" for the Universal Church, promoted by the Pope, not the norm in the US per the USCCB, but encoraged by some Bishops, while being ignored or outright denied by some Pastors. Thats not a rule it's chaos. To be rule it needs to be Universal. And if flexibility is such a Blessing why aren't the SSPX lauded for being flexible instead of lambasted for recalcitrance?

Templar said...

Bully for you rcg. In my mind silence is acquiesence. Speak up, take action, and then vote with your feet and your wallet. It is the right of every Catholic to receive the Sacraments in a worthy and reverent manner.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Templar, the universal rule for kneeling during Mass and this is true at the Vatican, to only kneel from after the Sanctus until after the consecration. No kneeling after the Lamb of God. The United States provision extends the amount of kneeling, so I think you should start standing after the Mystery of Faith and until you kneel for Holy Communion given this what is done by the Holy Father.
The same is true of the EF, more kneeling here than at the Vatican.

Robert Kumpel said...

" I despise when the priest joins hands with those around the altar, whether Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or altar servers."

Father, again, I am so glad you are saying these things on your blog, because when I used to say them on MY blog, the locals from my parish just wrote it off as more hot air from an intolerant nut.


Templar said...

Alright Father, as you wish.

Carol H. said...

I am one of those who makes the sign-of-the-cross during the absolution in Mass. I make an examination of conscience on my 40 minute drive to St. Joseph, then cross myself as I receive absolution for my venial sins at Mass. I also cross myself when I receive absolution in the confessional. It is by Christ's sacrifice on the cross that absolution of my sins is possible, and this is how I acknowledge this fact.

I just assume that those who don't sign themselves have either just been to confession, or do not realise that they have just received absolution. It is not a matter of Mass posture but rather of reception of a sacrament.

Gene said...

I do pretty much as Carol says. We should remind ourselves of our Baptism as often as is appropriate. If there is any question of propriety, err on the side of excess.

Anonymous said...

I agree pin, err on the side of excess.
For me it is because how I act affects how I pray, and how I pray affects how I act.
It's not a piety show-off, but merely the heart's desire to give glory to God.