Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Priest's Hands

In his book, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church, author Peter Kwasniewski discusses the priesthood in a number of different contexts. Consider this paragraph (with my emphases):

Preparing for Mass
…The priest’s hands are specially consecrated with holy oil – why? So that he may rightly and fittingly handle the Blessed Sacrament; that he may handle God Incarnate. His hands are sanctified in view of touching and administering the holy gifts. A layman’s hands are not consecrated in this way. We receive the Blessed Sacrament from the hands of the priest, like a baby bird being fed in the nest by its parent. From this symbolic vantage, it is utterly inappropriate that the priest put the host into our hands, so that we may then administer communion to ourselves, symbolizing that we owe our nourishment to our own action, as dutiful democratic Pelagians would have it… [T]he priest is a man set apart by Holy Orders, and his hands, too, like the rest of his powers of body and soul, are dedicated to sacred service. Communion in the hand, therefore, helps create and support that noxious atmosphere of egalitarianism, horizontalism, and activism that has stifled the Church’s spiritual life in the past half-century. (p. 101-2)

I don’t remember exactly when I switched from receiving Holy Communion in the hand to receiving on the tongue, but I think I made that switch before I had actually experience the EF Mass. It was a result of what I experienced in the way a very reverent priest celebrated novus ordo Mass (ad orientem and in Latin) before Summorum Pontificum took effect. I had become aware of the basic concept of the priest’s consecrated hands. Before that, I had been a “Eucharistic minister”, but I abandoned that “ministry”. And long before that, I had ceased taking Holy Communion to the homebound, because it just didn’t seem right for me, a layperson, to be handing the Blessed Sacrament that way.

In The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Sister Emmerich’s veneration of a priest’s hands is mentioned in a number of places. Sometimes she sought just to touch her confessor’s hand, knowing the power of its consecration. She knew how special that consecration is. Here’s an excerpt I read the other day:

…And of the priest’s consecrated fingers [Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich] says that were his body fallen to dust and his soul in Hell, yet will the consecration still be recognized in the bones of the fingers; they will burn with an altogether peculiar fire, so ineffaceable is the mark.

While Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s pronouncements are not dogma, this certainly gives one pause, does it not? The priest’s hands are specially consecrated; that is something we forget with the endless processions of “extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist” from amongst the laity.  Ponder that next time you are at Mass and see lay people administering the Host at Holy Communion! Think of that when you see people receiving Holy Communion in their unconsecrated hands – the very Body of Christ, casually given and received by the hands of the laity!!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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