Monday, February 26, 2018

“The Fingers that Hold God”: The Priestly Benefits of ‘Liturgical Digits’ (Part 3)

We continue our survey of priests on how they perceive this particular custom in their offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and how they have adopted or not adopted it in the context of the Novus Ordo Missae. (See here for part 1 of the survey; here for part 2.)

QUESTION 3. Lack of Rubrics and Mutual Enrichment
Has this traditional practice affected the way you view the corresponding lack of rubric in the usus recentior? Have you considered adopting, or do you adopt, the traditional practice in the modern rite? Why or why not?

Fr. A.P.
When I began celebrating the usus antiquior daily, and only occasionally the usus recentior, it became more and more apparent to me that the usus antiquior corresponded much better to the reality taking place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It became increasingly painful for me to celebrate the usus recentior, even when celebrated ad orientem and reverently. For example, I recall feeling particularly poignantly at the moment of the consecration that those words should be uttered sotto voce rather than out loud. Because I felt an increasing need to celebrate exclusively the usus antiquior, which I eventually did, I did not give much thought to how to adapt customs from the usus antiquior for use in the usus recentior. I would occasionally, instinctively, keep the thumb and forefinger together in the usus recentior, as it certainly seemed the more fitting gesture for the Holy Sacrifice. But on the whole I was simply trying to move away from its celebration altogether. 
Fr. B.H.
Answered already in no. 1 above.
Fr. B.J.
I generally do not maintain custody of the digits in the usus recentior, for practical reasons: often, in most celebrations, there is a plethora of “stuff” to be handled, such as the array of “communion cups” to be handed out to Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. With the way these “cups” are shaped and the necessity to be careful in handing off the Precious Blood to another person, maintaining the digits is really not advisable. Therefore, I have gotten into the habit of thoroughly rubbing my fingers together over the chalice each time I have handled the Eucharist, and then visibly inspecting them afterward, before going on to handle some other item. It still does not feel right, but it is the only practical solution, until such time as we can do away with distribution under both kinds. That is the topic of another discourse, but suffice to say: many priests (myself included, at times) have judged that it is not worth “dying on that hill”—so hysterically do people react to the idea of “the wine” not being available; many Catholics are materially utraquists. Faith in the Eucharist is so weak and so uninformed. There is little to no episcopal leadership in this area (as in many others). Individual priests must fall on a sword and then watch all that they have done be destroyed a few years later when they are moved to a new parish and their successor restores everything they “took away”. In short, it’s a messy situation. While it persists, maintaining custody of the digits in common parish Novus Ordo celebrations is often difficult.
       (Aside: I was intrigued to notice that Cardinal Burke, while importing some things into the Novus Ordo such as the prayers at incensation, does not maintain “the digits”—something he clearly does do when celebrating the usus antiquior. It has never seemed appropriate for me to query him on this. I do wonder if it is a conscious decision on his part. It seems to me that the ethos of the Novus Ordo is so different and that one might not intuitively think to “import” this practice into it.) 
Fr. D.C.
I have adopted this, even before offering the Extraordinary Form. I believe, even though there is no rubric calling for it, that it is in total continuity with tradition. To me, when there is a lack of rubrics regarding something, the best practice is to adopt the posture, action, etc. from tradition. To me that is the Catholic position.
Fr. D.F.
It has been a struggle for many priests in the years since Summorum Pontificum to decide what steps toward “mutual enrichment” can be taken by the priest, himself, without direction from above. The rubrical silence of the Ordinary Form on many matters leaves leeway on the one hand, but the status quo of parish life and among presbyterates exerts pressure on the other. In my mind, holding the fingers closed would be an acceptable step to take in the Ordinary Form.
       Thus, on the occasions when I offer the Ordinary Form alone, I hold my fingers together. When I celebrate the Ordinary Form for a congregation, however, I do not. The reason for this is the (sadly very justified) concern of being written off by my diocese and/or brother priests as extreme or “too traditional.” In every Mass, however, I maintain the closed fingers in certain actions: turning the pages of the missal, the manner of holding the chalice, striking the breast at the Nobis quoque, turning the tabernacle key, removing ciborium lids, etc.
       Holding one’s fingers together becomes particularly difficult during the Pax as it is commonly observed in parish life. 
Fr. D.N.
See above answer [to question 2].
Fr. E.W.
I now usually adopt this practice in the new rite. Except when I am celebrating the conventual Mass in the monastery, for fear that it would annoy and distract certain of my confreres. However, even then I adopt a modified version of it: I join my fingers whenever I have to touch something—e.g., turn a page, or lift the pall, etc.
Fr. E.P.
I do indeed keep to this practice even when celebrating the “ordinary form” of the Mass.
Fr. J.F.
I adopted this position in the Novus Ordo within six months of celebrating the Traditional Roman Rite. It was difficult at first because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I use it at all times and wherever I celebrate Mass. The only times I felt uncomfortable has been in the presence of other priests. But, respect for the Blessed Sacrament is more important than human respect.
Fr. J.K.
When I celebrate Mass in the Ordinary Form, my preference is to use many elements that I have learned from the Extraordinary Form, especially because the rubrics are absent in the Ordinary Form. This includes the act of holding together thumb and forefinger from the consecration until the ablutions. This also includes the use of an amice with the alb, crossing the stole, wearing the maniple and using the biretta.
Fr. J.S.
I have adopted it, but then again, I like to joke I'm a liturgical liberal, not a rubricist. In my mind liturgical freedom ends where abuse begins. Abuse is not simply something done besides certain rubrics but something that is contrary to the liturgical end. Bearing in mind that the liturgy is the action of the Church not the act of an individual, I as an individual priest do not get to decide what befits the liturgical end. It is decided by the competent authority gaining the force of tradition at some point. But this competent authority not only exists in the present but has also existed in the past. So I think it is legitimate for the priest to select from those things that have been approved by the competent authority and that have gained the force of tradition at some point in time, AS LONG as those things were at no later point in time recognized or abolished as an abuse by the competent authority or were thus dropped as less fitting in the furthering of the liturgical end (e.g. due to excessive length, such as was the case of numerous personal priestly prayers that were interjected in the canon in the gothic era and later abolished by Trent).
       Following this rule, the priest would never get to invent anything according to private taste (barring therefore arbitrary innovation by someone lacking authority—which takes care of most modern liturgical abuse). Rather a priest who adopts a compatible element (one that is adaptable to current use) can be said to be reviving something from the past and "enriching" what is present. If his enrichment" catches on you get what is essentially liturgical development (sanctioned in virtue of previous authority/tradition and possibly re-approved by furture church authority).
       In my mind, on account of the nature of the liturgical reform in 1970 (in which much was changed but none of the old was forbidden as abuse) the priest can in principle adapt and enrich the NOM with virtually anything from the usus antiquior that lends itself to adaptation without contradiction (something would be contradictory if it has a "surplanting" character: for example changes in the liturgical calender or the actual missal texts and readings—which is the reason why for now in the German NOM we still have to say "for all" instead of "for many"—as confirmed by my bishop).
       This is basically my justification why I, as a liberal, celebrate the NOM—when I celebrate it (which I very rarely do anymore as a part time hermit)—as close to the old as is possible while keeping all the forms that are positively prescribed by the NOM.
       Possible objections to my reasoning: firstly, a greater "dis-unity" is the undesirably result if my liberal ways are followed. Respondeo, this objection is mute given the concrete and very mad reality in which we find ourselves. And a certain type of liturgical plurality was never a problem in the Church for the first 1500 years as long as it did not include abuse (i.e., that what is contrary to the liturgical end and that which has the force of competent authority/tradition). Pastoral concerns need to be weighted—and I believe pastoral concern may be in fact a very good reason to enrich the NOM with elements from the usus antiquior.       Secondly, if what was claimed above was true then priests could just go and try to recreate old liturgies from past centuries that were approved then. Respondeo, this objection does not hold, because I'm not advocating the (re)creation of a liturgy by the priest on account of its elements having existed at some point in time—which only the competent authority (however unwisely) could do (and in fact is somewhat what it tried to do in the last reform). Rather the priest may only incorporate fitting elements from the past to the current order of the Mass inasmuch as they are adaptable thereto. So he does not get to make up a new Eucharistic prayer based on ancient texts or replace this or that element with an ancient one. But he may hold his fingers together and sneak in a double genuflection, for example. Such latter changes would be sanctioned by tradition (previous authority) without destroying the integrity of the NOM, but rather enriching it.
       I don't know if this exposition is air tight. I never spent too much time rationalizing it. I virtually only celebrate vetus now and in the time before abided by the very traditional mode of celebration that was requested by my boss (parish priest) with toleration from my bigger boss (bishop). So as a simple vicar I more or less had to do things in a hybrid "new as the old" way (causing me little pain, as should be clear!).
Fr. J.M.
See above. The lack of this rubric leads to other lacunae in the NO, especially concerning De Defectibus. It all adds up to an undermining of what Aquinas would call a practical intellectual grasp of the truth of the Real Presence, even if the NO still has a valid theoretical intellectual adherence to the truth. But we are not pure intellect! We are also corporeal beings. And without a greater scope for prayer and worship to be expressed through gesture and for sacred objects such as the sacramental species to be recognised for what they are through how they are handled, then the modern liturgy will not be as fruitful in generating and sustaining faith as its traditional counterpart.
Fr. J.B.
As I can’t place myself into a situation where I don’t know the traditional rubric, I don’t know for sure, but probably if I didn’t know of the traditional rubric and practice, the lack of such a rubric in the usus recentior wouldn’t strike me particularly at all. I have considered following the traditional practice, and in some cases have, in celebrating according to the modern Missal, but do not generally in my current parishes. While there are various and to some extent complicated considerations for and against, one main reason why I do not is that in the countryside parishes where I am, the Mass tends to be seen as a mere tradition and ritual, and as merely “what the priest does,” and I believe more important developments need to be made in fostering interior and authentic participatio actuosa before my adopting this practice would be fruitful rather than counter-productive.
Fr. M.K.
I almost never celebrate the modern rite. Family funerals would be the rare exception. Then I do just as I do in the traditional rite because I cannot squeeze myself into another paradigm on command. It does violence to my soul.
Fr. M.C.
See response to #2.
Fr. M.B.
I have adopted the practice in the modern rite and I believe that there are three ways to read the rubrics of the ordinary form: (1) fill in the lacking rubrics from the extraordinary form on the assumption that the authors of the new rubrics had the old rubrics in mind; (2) the lack of information on things (like canonical digits, manipole, crossing the stole, etc.) is interpreted neutrally, meaning one is free to do or not do these things; (3) the lack of rubrics means one may not do things not mentioned. I follow options 1 and 2, believing that unless there is mention in rubrics of not doing something, the celebrant is free to do it if it was in the rubrics of the usus antiquior.
Fr. P.M.
I find myself, with the Ordinary Form of the Mass, holding my fingers and thumbs together, after the consecration until after the elevation of the Chalice, after which point I thoroughly wipe together my thumbs and fingers over the chalice. After I elevate the host over the chalice with the Ecce Agnus Dei and then consume the Host, I wipe my fingers and thumbs again over the chalice before consumption of the Precious Blood.  I hold my finger and thumb together after distribution of holy Communion until the ablution.
Fr. T.K.
I haven’t given much thought to the lack of said rubric in the postconciliar Missal. Sometimes I adopt the practice, and sometimes I don’t. If I’m celebrating Mass with a congregation that is accustomed to seeing it (such as when I provide coverage for my traditionally minded confreres), then I do it; otherwise I generally do not.
       The inconsistency reflects my divided mind about the use of elements particular to the 1962 Missal when celebrating the modern rite. On the one hand, rubrics exist to instruct the priest in what to do, not what not to do. If I do something the Missal does not call for, then I have no business complaining about other priests who do their own thing. Also, I think it’s important to avoid whatever could confuse the faithful or be construed as idiosyncratic.
       On the other hand, the practice in question, like other traditional practices (e.g., the priest genuflecting before as well as after elevating the Host and the chalice, and crossing himself with the Host and chalice before consuming the Body and Blood of Christ), are, as Fr. Timothy Finigan has argued (quoting Summorum Pontificum), part of what is “sacred and great” both for previous generations and for us; their use, even though technically unauthorized in the modern rite, is not on a par with liturgical abuses and novelties.
       Moreover, I can hardly imagine what “mutual enrichment” (which is supposed to be taking place already) looks like without the adoption of “Tridentine” elements in the usus recentior.
Fr. W.S.
Yes, I use the practice in the Novus Ordo out of sheer coherence—the gesture is not aesthetic but practical, in order to avoid particles falling.
Cardinal Brandmueller

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