Thursday, March 01, 2018

“The Fingers that Hold God”: The Priestly Benefits of ‘Liturgical Digits’ (Part 4)

Continuing with our survey of priests (previous installments: part 1 / part 2 / part 3), today we take up the question of how this comparatively minor but, as we have seen, valuable and much appreciated practice fits into the larger whole of the liturgy.

QUESTION 4. The “Ethos” or Spirit of the Liturgy
In your mind, how does this practice fit into the overall “ethos” or spirit of the classical Roman liturgy?

Fr. A.P.
The classical Roman liturgy constantly emphasizes that one is taking part in the holiest act on earth: the renewal of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary in an un-bloody fashion upon the altar. As such, this practice serves as a reminder and sign that my other movements, and the movements of my heart, should be particularly reverent from the consecration until the ablutions.
Fr. B.H.
I see it as one more example of greater reverence for and emphasis on the Real Presence in the traditional rite. But for me it is less important than other gestures like the double genuflections for the consecrations, facing 'East', the silent canon, and more signs of the cross and kissings of the altar.
Fr. B.J.
Because of the care I take in purifying sacred vessels, I have been accused many times of being “scrupulous” in how I “do the dishes” (this level of flippancy from the mouths of people in the pews is a sad commentary on where we are at today). Yet I would maintain that the detailed instructions and received tradition for purification in the usus antiquior are a safeguard against scrupulosity: if you have followed the instructions, you know that you have purified the vessels according to the mind of the Church, which is to say, in a way that reflects Church teaching concerning the Real Presence. Whereas for a priest whose only experience is with the usus recentior, the total lack of serious guidance about how to handle purification opens him to a wide range of possibilities, from a total lack of scrupulosity (and therefore sloppiness) to a scrupulosity fed by the fact that his faith tells him one thing but he must figure out on his own how to accomplish it and wonder if he has done it right. (The highly imprudent instruction in the GIRM about how one is to use the purificator to wipe the particles from the paten would only feed this sense of scrupulosity, since the sincere priest would then fret about particles that might get stuck on the purificator and then possibly fall to the floor afterwards when transporting it to the sacristy. How this instruction made it into the GIRM is beyond me, considering that the usus antiquior requires the thumb to be used, since the thumb can then be rinsed in the ablutions.) I really could launch into a separate “storytime” on this topic from here, but will curtail this and conclude by saying that the practice of maintaining custody of the canonical digits between the consecration and the purification is perfectly harmonious with the overall ethos of the classical liturgy.
Fr. D.C.
This practice perfectly fits into the overall “ethos” of the classical Roman Liturgy in that it is what we have done for centuries. Not only that, but it speaks to the utter awesomeness of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It also speaks to our doctrine regarding the Eucharist in that if we really believe that Jesus is indeed present in every particle of the Sacred Species, then we will go to great lengths to protect every particle of the Sacred Species. Celebrating Mass, and distributing Holy Communion using communion patens, it is clear to me that many, many particles fall from the Sacred Hosts, and also cling to my fingers. These particles, if we believe that they are actually Jesus Himself, must be protected from profanation or indifference. Keeping “canonical digits” is one way of protecting the Sacred Species. An anecdote could be helpful here: one time a priest who I would not describe as “traditional” visited my parish and helped distribute Holy Communion. We use communion patens and after Mass he shared how surprised he was to see so many particles of the Eucharist on the paten. He went home, and instituted the use of communion patens. This illustrates just how important things like keeping ones fingers together after touching the Sacred Host are. If so many particles fall from the Sacred Host at Holy Communion, they also, no doubt, stick to our fingers. To keep those particles that stick to our fingers from falling to the ground, being walked on, or vacuumed up by the cleaning lady, we should keep “canonical digits.”
Fr. D.F.
There is some truth to the description of the Roman liturgy as “practical.” In this sense, the practice of the priest holding his fingers closed is quite fitting, as it is a very practical conclusion of the Church’s belief in the Real Presence. 
Fr. D.N.
Liturgical digits gel with the ethos of the Roman Liturgy because everything is well-ordered. There is no need for creativity to reverence the body of Christ, to effect a sacrifice, to even know which foot to step up the altar first with (the right foot, of course). I once read a priest on an online forum write how unnatural all of this sounded to him. Within my first year of switching from the new Mass to the old Mass, however, I was astonished to find how natural all of this was. In other words, the Traditional Latin Mass is one single movement of reverence to God with no real breaks. The holding of the fingers is so clearly a part of this worship and reverence.
Fr. E.W.
It fits with an ethos that shows reverence for the awesome mystery of the Real Presence through formalization.
Fr. E.P.
Someone has written that he attributes the loss of priestly discipline of life to negligence in the observance of the rubrics of the missal. Our Lord’s authority for caring about such “little” things may be invoked: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (Lk. 16:10).
       There is an act prior to the Consecration that merits mention, too: the wiping of the two fingers of each hand on the corporal. This is a miniature cleansing rite (if that’s not too strong an expression) which, along with the washing of hands before Mass and then again at the Lavabo, is expressive of the purity to be sought by the priest before he will hold the Lord’s Body in his fingers.
       The ablution in the chalice of the fingers following Communion should also be noted. There is a rubric somewhere (or perhaps just a comment by a rubricist) to the effect that in the ablution of the fingers after Communion any other part of the hand that may inadvertently have touched the Host should also be purified.
Fr. J.F.
It is part and parcel of the the Traditional Rite and should be mandated in the Modern Rite. Too many priests treat the sacred particles as if they were bread crumbs. The practice of the canonical fingers ties in with the whole celebration of Mass. If a priest incorporates this practice into the new Mass, it can’t be stand alone. It must be part of a greater “cross pollination” of both forms of the Roman Rite.
Fr. J.K.
The act of holding together thumb and forefinger from the consecration until the ablutions is just one action among many in the traditional Roman rite. But the more I can conform myself to the rite, the more I pray I may conform myself to Christ. I believe that the more reverence that I can show in the ars celebrandi, the more reverence might be called forth from the congregation. In my experience, this has been the case. Some loved it, some hated it, and some did not even notice it.
Fr. J.S.
It is consonant with it.
Fr. J.M.
By expressing greater awe and reverence for sacred realities it is quintessentially Roman. The high and fearsome reverence of the words of the Roman Canon are mirrored in corresponding rubrics such as the canonical digits.
Fr. J.B.
The practice fits in well with, and can support the overall atmosphere of worship of the awesome mystery, the “one thing necessary,” that pervades the traditional Roman rite.
Fr. M.K.
It is wholly expressive of it.
Fr. M.C.
It is a strong sign of reverence for the precious species of the Eucharist, and in this way it fits perfectly with all the other ritual actions in the forma extraordinaria. I’m wondering why all priests do not do it this way spontaneously.
Fr. M.B.
It fits in very well since the liturgy should instruct on the nature of the Eucharist and protect the Eucharist from falling on the floor and the like.
Fr. P.M.
The action most definitely speaks our appreciation of Transubstantiation and the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.
Fr. T.K.
The practice is of a piece with the reverential and devotional spirit of the classical Roman liturgy, which takes the greatest care to safeguard the Blessed Sacrament from profanation.
Fr. W.S.
Yes, the ancient rite is coherently logical, from the principles of divine revelation to the minutiae of gestures.
Archbishop Alexander K. Sample offers the usus antiquior

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