Saturday, December 10, 2016

Liturgical Postures #7: Excerpts from First Sunday of Advent

Happy New Year! Today we begin the new liturgical year on this First Sunday of Advent. If we are beginning a new year, and we are in Advent, why is our Gospel reading from the end of Matthew’s Gospel? The Lord reminds us the world is passing away. So He invites us to rethink being invested in the world. Advent reminds us: The King is coming. We don’t know the day or the hour. The Lord invites us to faithful service for the Kingdom. We have the opportunity to prepare to meet the Bridegroom, the Master, the King of all the nations.

The closest we can get to the King this side of Heaven is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So let’s unpack the sacred mysteries. When I first thought about doing a series on liturgical postures, I was going to call it this: “Should we hold hands during the Our Father, and everything you ever wanted to know about liturgical postures, gestures, and non-verbals”. And I thought about holding the series once a week in the evening. As I continued to pray about it, I realized it is much too important for only a handful of people to hear. So I decided the Sunday homily would reach more people with this important topic. If we were in a classroom setting, I would ask the question: In what ways do we show our unity at Mass? I could write all the answers on the board.
People might answer with some of the things we have already covered: Common posture like sitting and standing; Some might say: responding together, singing together, maybe the sign of peace, which we haven’t covered yet. Some might even mention the most awesome and ultimate way we show our unity. And it’s not holding hands at the Our Father, it’s receiving Holy Communion.

We’ll finish with that next week. Today we pick up where we left off at the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. The priest gives the introduction with his hands closed and then he opens his hands to the orans position as he says the words: “Our Father”. From what we already covered about the orans position, we know it is one the priest uses at Mass to collect the prayers of all the faithful into one as it is presented to the Father in Heaven. I already mentioned that the orans position is an ancient prayer posture and it is appropriate for people to use in their devotional lives of prayer. However, at Mass, it could confuse the meaning of our common posture especially if people are doing different things, since unity is one of our goals. 

So we might ask: What are the people to do? We already covered the priest: he has to hold his hand out in the orans position because he is collecting the prayers of all in his role of leadership. We can explore this question more deeply if there is a deacon present. Actually, in two weeks, we will have a deacon here to preach at Mass. You will notice that at the Lord’s Prayer, the deacon will have his hands closed in prayer the whole time. He is not permitted to open his hands in the orans position during the Lord’s Prayer. So we might ask: If a deacon, who is an ordained minister, serving at the altar during Mass, in an official capacity, prays the Lord’s Prayer with his hands closed, why would the lay faithful open their hands like the priest does? It would be more appropriate for the faithful to imitate the deacon, rather than the priest. 

What about the other question: Should the faithful be holding hands during the Our Father? I would answer with another question: Why just during the Our Father? Why did we not hold hands during the opening hymn, the Collect, during the readings, during the Gospel, during the Eucharistic Prayer? So my answer would be, it would only make sense liturgically if we were holding hands during the whole Mass. And I’m sure we would all agree that would be strange. Some people have wondered how holding hands crept its way into the liturgy over the past few decades. I heard one person guess that people were imitating the priest in the orans position and then they started to bump their hands into each other and then they just decided to grab each other’s hands. My theory is that some families hold hands during grace before meals and they have tried to introduce it into the sacred liturgy.
And then, after the Our Father, why do some people raise their hands really high when we say: For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.”? I have no idea where that comes from. But we can learn something from concelebrating priests. That’s when there is more than one priest offering Mass at the same time. After we say: “Deliver us from evil,” the concelebrating priests have to close their hands. Only the one main celebrant can keep his hands open showing his role of leadership in prayer.

Several years ago, Bishop Foys across the river had all his parishes in the Diocese of Covington do catechesis on why is would not be proper to hold hands during the Our Father at Mass. He actually asked the faithful of his diocese not to do it. I’m not here making a rule today. But I am trying to unpack what is proper and improper at Holy Mass and why we are doing what we are doing.

I have always wondered: how prayerful can it be to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer? I am thinking more about the prayer or am I distracted by the other person’s hand? When I was teaching high school, I would see students use it as an opportunity to mess with each other. I remember two seniors rubbing each other’s fingers trying to get the other one to giggle. Even since I’ve been pastor here, I have seen children using it as an opportunity to misbehave.

So we have this opportunity to ask ourselves this question: In this liturgical new year, how can I, or how can our family, celebrate these mysteries with greater devotion? How can we understand more and more why we do what we do as a Church? How is the Lord drawing me into His presence?

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