Monday, November 14, 2005

I (Don't) Wanna Hold Your Hand

By Mitchell

Screed alert.

The fine site Roman Catholic Blog has been host to a rather disputatious discussion regarding the probity of holding hands during the Our Father. Even Hugh Hewitt took notice of it. Yours truly made a brief foray into the comments box, but as you know I'm not much for engaging in combox debates; they usually yield more bluster and backbiting than intelligent discussion. (Which is not to say that comments here aren't welcome; you know the rules.)

As far as I'm concerned this discussion is a moot point, much ado about nothing. You can't hold hands during the Our Father. You can say you like it, you can say you don't like it. You can do it, even though it's not permitted, you can suggest that perhaps it should be allowed. But you can't defend it. Period.

QUERY: In some places there is a current practice whereby those taking part in the Mass replace the giving of the sign of peace at the deacon's invitation by holding hands during the singing of the Lord's Prayer. Is this acceptable? REPLY: The prolonged holding of hands is of itself a sign of communion rather than of peace. Further, it is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on personal initiative; it is not in the rubrics. (Emphasis added.) Notitiae 11 (1975) 226. [Response by the Congregation for Divine Worship; courtesy EWTN.)

The established rule as far as liturgical rubrics is this: if it's not specifically mentioned as being allowed, it's not allowed. Therefore much of the discussion on this topic has been, I'm sorry to say, drivel. People discuss this as if they had a choice. Well, they do - they can obey the rubrics, or they can disobey. That's it.

But it's the height of banality to defend it. Because what you're really doing is trying to defend why you're breaking the liturgical law. And you notice how many people in this discussion get started on how oppressive the Church is, how stifling ritual can be. That's the classic technique used to distract you from the central point, which is that these people are being disobedient. And to listen to the excuses they make, methinks they protesth too much. They're wrong, they know they're wrong, and they're desperately trying to convince themselves otherwise by attempting to legitimize their behavior.

Granted, this kind of liturgical abuse is far from the worst. There are people at St. Olaf that hold hands during the Our Father, and I just close my eyes; that way it doesn't bother me. (Fortunately, none of them have been pushy enough to try to grab me against my will.) And compared to other kinds of disobedience, I suspect God may have more important things to worry about.

But it is disobedience nonetheless, and the attempts to rationalize it, to somehow offer a justification for doing something you know is wrong; these attempts are a mirror of everything that's wrong with the world and every kind of stupidity that sin introduces into our natural reason. It's the "yes, but" type of justification. And it's an all-purpose type of excuse, suitable for justifying anything from adultery to theft to murder, running the gamut of rationale from self-esteem to self-interest.

Because, let's face it, there's always a good excuse for sin. Sometimes it carries you along in a wave, so that you don't realize what you've done until after the fact. But most of the time, when presented with the opportunity for sin, we immediately go to work on a way to rationalize it, to make our sin somehow "OK." Very few of us sin just for the hell of it. We sin because we sense there's something in it for us, and we want to make this act somehow acceptable. It isn't, of course; sin never is. But as Mark Shea often says, sin makes you stupid. And sin offends God, whether you've got a good rationalization for it or not.

So that's why I'm bothered by these casual types of liturgical abuses. Because there is a real defensiveness in the way many of these people attempt to letigimize their disobedience to the Church. And disobedience, like most everything else nowadays, is a slippery slope. While some of them are ignorant of Church teaching, many more are saying, "I don't care if the Church teaches that; it's not the way I feel; therefore, I don't have to follow it." Living a holy life is challenging enough; we don't need more temptations, especially those generated by people within the Church, to make it harder.

End of screed alert.

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