Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Holding hands, clapping, etc

Ask Sister Mary Martha has a post summarising a dialogue that has been taking place in response to an earlier post about holding hands for the Our Father at Mass. The post title - ON and on - indicates the number of comments received on the original post! Sister summarises the dialogue from the comments box in this post.

I think Sister makes a good point in suggesting that, in considering the question raised, we should focus on the question of unity in the celebrating community. An evaluation in terms of unity in the celebration of the Liturgy is more important than one in terms of different likes and dislikes. I think she also makes a good point in response to those who say that they have stopped going to Mass in a particular parish because they can't stand X or Y practice that goes on there. In principle, getting annoyed by what happens isn't a good reason for leaving and going (or perhaps not going) elsewhere.

But I would like to offer some thoughts on the question of unity in the celebration of the Liturgy.

Thought One

There are some aspects of our bodily posture during the Liturgy that are defined for us in the rubrics. So, for example, there are times when the people are directed by the rubrics to stand, sit or kneel. In these cases, where the rubrics define a bodily posture for the people, then pastors/parish priests serve the unity of their congregations through celebrating in accordance with the rubrics. They can expect their people to follow them, also at the service of the unity of the community. Sitting vs. kneeling for the offertory might be an example of this.

Thought Two

Those postures or bodily actions, such as holding hands for the Our Father, which are the subject of the discussion at Sisters blog, fall into a slightly different category though. I think we can say that they are not expected by the rubrics in any way but they are not forbidden by the rubrics either. So how we act at the service of unity over these postures and actions is a not so easy to discern. I would suggest that we can perhaps adopt two criteria of discernment. The first is a discernment of sacrality or signification about the posture or action being undertaken. Does the posture or action being proposed really express, act as a sign of, an intended spiritual/Liturgical reality? Holding hands for the Our Father, for example, can I think be seen as really expressing unity in the praying of that prayer. Applauding after the young children have sung a song at the offertory probably does not express anything sacred. The second discernment is one of allowing a difference of practice in the same congregation. A congregation cannot be directed to hold hands for the Our Father since it is not expected in the rubrics. But it is possible for those who wish to do so to do so and those who prefer not to do so not to do so, and a context of mutual respect between those who wish to do so and those who prefer not to to mean that this does not constitute a disunity in the congregation.

An example that I am seeing in parishes near me which, in my view, meets both criteria is that a goodly number of people now extend their hands during the praying of the Our Father and others don't. Nobody worries about it, so it is not becoming a cause of disunity.

Thought Three

Since the Liturgy - and particularly Sunday Mass - is something that belongs to the whole of the parish community, one can suggest that it should not express any one style or expression of the life of prayer. It should remain "neutral" before different styles, a neutrality expressed in a celebration that adheres to the rubrics, not in a slavish and neurotic way, but in a natural and open way. The scope for particular styles or expressions in the life of prayer - what one might call people's likes and dislikes in the best and most positive sense of those terms - lies in the devotional life of a parish. Rosary and Benediction might reflect one style, and contemporary worship music another. If a parish has a lively and varied spiritual life in addition to the Liturgy strictly so called, is there not less need to introduce peoples' likes and dislikes into the Liturgy itself?

Thought Four

This thought brings the discussion at the level of principles contained in Thought One and Thought Two do the level of the individual "I". What should I actually do in my parish when something like this comes up.  How can we act at the service of unity rather than against unity? We will - inevitably - notice who does and does not hold hands for the Our Father. But our contribution to unity is not to ever comment on what we notice, to do our bit to respect other people's freedom in this regard. I think we should also try not to leave one parish and switch to another simply because of likes and dislikes. This is not the same as saying that we should never switch parishes. I think circumstances can mean that we find we just "cannot cope" and, in the interests of our own peace of mind, need to switch parish. If we do switch, our service towards unity is to switch with the utmost discretion so that we are not seen by others to be "making a point".

Now, about the sign of peace .....

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