"When did Mother Church train us to extend our arms towards the priest when replying 'And with your spirit’? When did she teach us to lift our hands or hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer? I cannot find where Mother Church taught us those things, and I know Mother Stella (my third-grade religion teacher) didn’t teach me them."
Mother Stella knew best
By Frank Trotta
In his new book, That Nothing May Be Lost, Father Paul Scalia reminds us, "Mother Church trains us in the integrity of worship. In the Mass she unites our words and actions. As we make the Sign of the Cross, we say, 'In the Name of the Father….’ As we say that we have sinned through our own fault, we strike our breast. As we confess the Incarnation, we bow low. Our words become flesh."
But when did Mother Church train us to extend our arms towards the priest when replying "And with your spirit"? When did she teach us to lift our hands or hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer?
I cannot find where Mother Church taught us those things, and I know Mother Stella (my third-grade religion teacher) didn’t teach me them. Indeed, the latter would likely have smacked my hands with her pointer for "making fun" of the priest, if I imitated Father Sullivan’s hand gestures during the Our Father.
Why does it matter? As famed author Father Roman Guardini reminds us in Sacred Signs :
"Every part of the body is an expressive instrument of the soul. [W]hen we stand in God’s presence in heart-felt reverence and humility the open hands are laid together palm against palm in sign of steadfast subjection and obedient homage, as if to say that the words we ourselves would speak are in good order and that we are ready and attentive to hear the words of God. Or it may be a sign of inner surrender. These hands, our weapons of defense, are laid, as it were, tied and bound together between the hands of God. "
"Some gestures and postures are reserved for the priest-celebrant," according to Father Bryan Babick of the Diocese of Charleston ("Praying with gestures," The Catholic Miscellany, October 13, 2013). He points out that since the time of Moses, both Jewish and Christian traditions have reserved extended hands as a priestly gesture, much like Moses elevating his hands resulted in battle victories for the Israelites. Each has his role, Moses or the celebrant of the Mass as leader, and the Israelites or the congregants, as those led. Father Babick likens this diversity of roles to "the right foot work[ing] in tandem with the left … in unison to advance us in motion."
Cardinal Robert Sarah, who was appointed by Pope Francis to be Prefect for Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, recently wrote about the Mass and the serious crisis of faith in his essay, "Adapting the Liturgy to Our Decadence." He says:
"[W]e cannot close our eyes to the disaster, the devastation and the schism that the modern promoters of a living liturgy caused by remodeling the Church’s liturgy according to their ideas. They forgot that the liturgical act is not just a PRAYER, but also and above all a MYSTERY in which something is accomplished for us that we cannot fully understand but that we must accept and receive in faith, love, obedience and adoring silence. And this is the real meaning of active participation of the faithful. It is not about exclusively external activity, the distribution of roles or of functions in the liturgy, but rather about an intensely active receptivity: this reception is, in Christ and with Christ, the humble offering of oneself in silent prayer and a thoroughly contemplative attitude."
One simple way each of us can work towards a return to the level of reverence required for the Mass, is to keep our hands folded during most of the Mass, as Mother Stella taught me and as those not fortunate enough to have a Mother Stella can learn from reading Cardinal Sarah’s essay or Father Guardini’s book.