Monday, March 05, 2018

“The Fingers that Hold God”: The Priestly Benefits of ‘Liturgical Digits’ (Part 5)

Today, we come to the final question of the survey, when the responding priests address whether and to what extent laity have noticed this custom and what bearing it might have on those observing the Mass. (Links to earlier parts: part 1 / part 2 / part 3 / part 4.) On Thursday, I will conclude the series with some philosophical and theological reflections.

Young people notice things...

QUESTION 5. Lay Observation and Piety
In your pastoral experience, has any layman ever commented on or asked about the holding-together of the fingers? Do you think it is noticed and has any bearing on the piety of the laity?

Fr. A.P.
I don’t recall anyone commenting on it. But all of the gestures in the usus antiquior are noticed by the laity, particularly children. This gesture, and the many other prescribed gestures, help the laity to foster reverence and devotion in their own bearing and prayers at Mass.
Fr. B.H.
I can’t remember lay people commenting on it one way or the other. But I do remember a liberal priest retreat master at a retreat for other priests some 25 years ago who ridiculed and excoriated the practice! He said (in these or similar words), ”Thank goodness we’ve now gotten rid of that artificial, prissy, unnatural-looking practice of holding our fingers together after the consecration!”  He was very big on insisting that the priest’s gestures manner of celebrating should look “natural” and “spontaneous” to the congregation.
Fr. B.J.
       On the occasions when I have been able to maintain custody of the digits in the Novus Ordo (e.g., because I did not have to handle several other vessels besides, before purification), no one has commented to me specifically on that. However, for all of the negative feedback I have gotten at times about how I “do the dishes,” I have also gotten some very beautiful feedback from lay people who have noticed the care that I take in the purification of the sacred vessels. There ARE people in the pew, even at your garden-variety Novus Ordo, who “get it,” and they ARE edified when things are done right.
       I have been intending for some time to produce a series of YouTube videos with principles of purification for the Novus Ordo (taking into account the different shapes of modern vessels, such as the “communion cups,” how to handle purificators, how to handle multiple vessels, etc.), but I have not had the time to act on this desire. It is sorely needed and I have a lot of ideas about what needs to be communicated. Maintaining custody of the digits is just the tip of the iceberg. Reception of communion in the hand is also sort of a symptom of a larger problem. Systemic disrespect for the Holy Eucharist is very widespread and extends from Bishops who absolutely should know better (but apparently do not) to very well-meaning Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and it is a great mystery to me how our Lord tolerates such grievous outrages for so long—with really only two or three Bishops (Schneider, Laisé, and to a certain extent, Morlino) ever speaking publicly about any of it! Lord have mercy!
Fr. D.C.
A few pious people have commented on it, saying they noticed it and were happy to see it.  Some youth have asked me about it “question and answer sessions” during Religious Education, which provides a great opportunity for catechesis about the Real Presence.  Not a single person has ever complained. 
Fr. D.F.
As I noted in response to Question 3, I do not ordinarily hold my fingers together during public celebrations of the Ordinary Form. Nevertheless, my answer to this question is yes. On several occasions (between five and ten), a layman has mentioned to me that he has noticed the way I hold my fingers together when turning pages, holding the chalice, etc. Sometimes, the person has raised the matter in the form of a question, curious as to why I do this. Most of the time, however, it has been mentioned in a spirit of gratitude, thanking me for a reverent ars celebrandi. I have not yet experienced anyone making reference to my practice in a pejorative fashion.
Fr. D.N.
When I was doing the Novus Ordo with liturgical digits, I got questions, but I don’t think the answers made any sense to the laity, considering crumbs of Our Lord’s body would be all over the place anyway. Hence, when I finally realized my answers to them were not in harmony with systematic protection of Our Lord’s body, I decided that I could only do the TLM. This is what I have done for the past four years, even as a priest in good standing with two dioceses.
Fr. E.W.
Occasionally, laypersons have asked me about the practice when I have used it in the more recent use. I can say from my own experience that seeing a certain priest for whom I served as altar-boy in my youth follow this practice in the usus recentior helped to foster wonder at the Real Presence in my soul.
Fr. E.P.
It has been noticed by others (even though I am rightly oriented at the altar) and has aroused curiosity, leading me to explain the purpose of it. The reaction to this explanation was always one of wonder at the great reverence for the holy Sacrament the Church expected to be shown by her priests. In the early days of my priesthood when sharing the sign of peace was expected of me (or so I thought), I would first wipe my fingers on the corporal (as is the practice for the TLM before the Consecration) in order to avoid any desecration of the Lord’s Body.
Fr. J.F.
I have never had a layman ask me about the practice, but I have talked about it in homilies trying to instill a greater awareness of the Real Presence.
Fr. J.K.
No one has ever commented on the way I hold my hands after the consecration. There have been many comments on the increased reverence in the celebration of the Mass, however. I have even heard some liberals comment that there is increased reverence and silence because of some of the initiatives I have offered at the Mass. These initiatives in the liturgy also were accompanied by preaching on the Mass as well as preaching on contraception, same-sex “marriage” and abortion. It is the combination of all of the above which caused the visceral anger among the liberal, heterodox crowd that caused my removal from my previous parish.
Fr. J.S.
Yes and yes. But for a full effect on the piety of the laity it is necessary to adapt a form of administering communion that is consonant with the finger-holding-action of the priest. So: communion on the tongue—preferably while kneeling. Otherwise it is a nice talking point from which to develop catechesis, but no more and not very effectively so because the reverence thereby shown by the priest is somewhat subverted by him distributing communion in the hand. This discrepancy I know from pastoral experience.
Fr. J.M.
No to the first part. The more observant will have noticed, but I’m afraid nowadays with such a range of shenanigans commonplace in liturgy worldwide and most priests making their own adaptations to the rubrics of the NO, I think a priest would have to dance on the actual altar (not just in the sanctuary) before people would think something odd is happening here!
Fr. J.B.
Not that I can distinctly recall. However, I have mostly done it in contexts where it is at least an already-known practice. My feeling, at least in my area of Austria, is that to the extent it is noticed, it may confirm laity in their eucharistic piety, but taken as an individual practice, doesn’t have much force to alter this piety; e.g., few who habitually receive in the hand (and with little reverence) would rethink their own practice or show greater reverence as a result of this practice by the priest. However, I believe that, as part of an overall renewal of liturgical practice accompanied by catechesis, it does play a role.
       Though I have limited experience as a priest in the USA, I suspect this observation of mine would generally apply much more to traditionally Catholic regions, as Austria and Italy, than to the USA.
Fr. M.K.
I suppose that ‘clerical’ religious women of a certain age will notice it and harrumph. Ordinary layfolk take it in stride as something quite normal and seemly.
Fr. M.C.
Of course. People regularly ask what we are doing there. And they understand the reasons for doing this. Some faithful even intuitively understand the reasons. Or more exactly: They ask why we are doing so, but then comment that they already felt “something different” in the priest's attitude towards celebrating the Mass.
Fr. M.B.
Many people have asked me why I hold thumb and forefinger together and I explain the general thinking of the practice.  I am unsure if it has any real bearing on the piety of the laity attending Mass.
Fr. P.M.
To date, no one has said anything to me regarding my fingers and thumbs together during part of the Eucharistic Prayer. But I must say this: this action has most definitely been recognized inasmuch as those who serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion now have mimicked me, even handing me the ciborium at the altar with thumb and finger together and returning to the Credence table for their ablution. Without my ever having said anything, they now have a heightened awareness that their hands should touch nothing until after they have been purified!
Fr. T.K.
A layman, no, but a religious Sister once asked me the reason for the practice. It is noticed, to be sure, but I cannot say whether it has deepened the Eucharistic piety of the faithful.
Fr. W.S.
An old nun, who had not attended the Mass of Tradition since her childhood, remarked approvingly on the gesture, stating that she remembered being puzzled by it as a child.
A priest reading this series contacted me to share a marvelous story from his own life. He gave me permission to publish it in honor of his father.
I would like to offer my own thoughts about the use of canonical digits. My father was an Episcopal priest and he always observed this custom since his understanding of the Eucharist was clearly Catholic. I grew up seeing him up close, and how carefully and lovingly he handled the "elements." He once told me that there were two things which could provide the measure of how good a priest was: first how carefully he did the ablutions, and second, how available he was to shut-ins and the dying for the sacraments. He used to say that the most devout of his parishioners were those who came to the spoken Eucharist early each Sunday (which had no sermon in those days! Imagine: Protestants who went to church just for the Eucharist and not for a sermon: that is how strong the Catholic sense remained in some people, even after centuries).
       When I was ordained, it never occurred to me to celebrate the new Mass without observing the digitis clausis tradition. It was natural and instinctive. And when my abbot asked me about it I explained that it was because of what I had seen my father do. The abbot said that he had been intending to tell me to stop, since this gesture is not prescribed in the new missal, but that given my reason, he would let me continue! Later I noticed that Paul VI, even when celebrating the new Mass, always kept his index and thumb together after the consecration. It is practically impossible to find images of this on the internet, but it would be great to find some, so that everyone may know that even in the practice of the legislator who promulgated the new Missal this ancient practice was perfectly fine.
       If we had all done what we had seen our fathers in the faith do, everything would be fine!

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