Shaking hands, holding hands, communion in hand as mentioned in a parish bulletin several years ago . . .

* You don’t have to shake hands (at “sign of peace” time), you can just say hi in a “genuinely warm” way, said the bulletin in 2012, concerned about germs in the flu season.

But being genuinely warm can be the trouble. What’s not to like about that. A handshake is lower-level sacred in itself, something I give myself to wholeheartedly, but here it’s distracting when one is absorbed or trying to be absorbed with God-centered thoughts, which are essential to a worship experience or any religious experience as I understand it. Am I wrong?

* Plus maybe skip hand-holding (at Our Father time).

Or any other season if you don’t mind: forget the kumbaya if you don’t mind.

* Plus reconsider your aversion to communion in the hand if you have one.

Didn’t have one at the time (have acquired one), but was and remain averse to persuading people to do things opposite to what’s done in the Vatican. Or is hostile to their belief and a trifle insensitive to religious emotions. But more than that to one’s conviction that it’s God-time at Mass and that it’s important to pay attention to that.

Something else: Control freakism here? Uniformity pushed if not subtly enforced by professionals? Some of that maybe, or probably. All part of the decline of the worship experience, loss of the sacred. I thought so then, do so now.

The Mass belongs to the Church, not the priest – March, 2012

Opinion: Letters To The Editor March 13th, 2012

Dan Haley is indignant about Bishop Braxton’s telling a priest not to ad-lib the Mass, as if it’s the priest’s Mass and he can do with it anything he wants. But it’s not his, it’s the church’s. Braxton had no choice. Once apprised of the situation, he nixed the practice. What was he supposed to do, poll the congregation?

Dan knows the church doesn’t act that way, but he continues to kick against the goad, betraying either naivete or stubbornness in the matter. He would like the church to conform in this matter. And in how many others?

It’s an institution that claims divine founding and has thousands of years of being governed pretty much as it is today. But a priest wants to remake the Mass, the center of Catholic worship? Braxton is supposed to say go ahead, suit yourself? If he has authority in any area, it’s in worship.

He doesn’t have Dan’s vote, and he may not always have mine, but in either case, so what? We’re both trying to be decent Catholics; that’s the important thing.

Jim Bowman
Oak Park

Acid comments on a church redecorated . . .

CHURCH AS REDECORATED, January, 2002 . . . Astute, knowledgeable reader reports a church redone in “a rainbow of colors,” including purple and pink and “new shades of blue-greens . . . all radiating from a once dramatically stark huge crucifix above the sanctuary, which now looks like a Divine Mercy wannabe, clashing with modern stained glass windows already there in bold blue, green and yellow.

“The ‘liturgy committee’ . . . saw autumn approaching and brought out last year’s hangings on either side of the crucifix in vivid orange and yellow, with nosegays of artificial orange/yellow flowers. Streamers of artificial leaves cascade down the walls of the nave between stations of the cross.

“We have either become the Rainbow Coalition or been taken hostage by Puerto Ricans. Not to say that would be such a BAD thing, but if you are not color blind you wish you were.”

She was a writer and a dedicated Catholic who has gone to her reward.


The mass is reconstituted by free-lancing priest-celebrants.

For instance . . .

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands
for the praise and glory of his name,
for our good
and the good of all his holy Church.

. . . is in some quarters changed to

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at our hands
for the praise and glory of God’s name . . .

. . . which never in my hearing has been explained to the congregation. It’s simply done, over and over until the people, or most of them, do it that way too. You can hear the cacophonous blurring in the recital.

The changes are easily explained. “Our hands” ignores the priest’s unique role as celebrant and “God’s name” avoids the masculine pronoun.

The first changes the meaning and is pernicious. The second flouts tradition as scandalous and offensive.

What Catholics pray for during Mass: Should they watch their language?

Praying for peace is a good idea, but for an “end to violence” or even the specific “end to violence in Chicago”? That’s praying for the end of the world, which will be a wonderful thing, to be sure. The earliest Christians prayed for it. But we might add an Augustinian “not yet.” Why not “less violence”? Or “fewer killings on our mean streets,” something we can take seriously without calling for an end to life as we know it. (Unless we are truly asking for the Final Coming.)

Or an end to vote-stealing. Why not expand social-justice discussion to troubles behind the obvious — poverty and the like — into political corruption, which does poor people no good and like everything else affects them most of all.

Or we are asked to pray for the deceased who “rests in the loving embrace” of God, which is romance-novel talk. “May he or she rest in peace” works nicely. Do we need this loving-embrace talk? One cringes.

The Mass as sacrifice, more than a meal

It’s an event.

Failure to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the only crisis of Eucharistic faith the Church currently faces.

It is the most well-publicized crisis of faith, because studies have consistently shown a decline in the percentage of Catholics who believe that the Eucharist is truly and substantially the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. But lack of faith in the sacrificial nature of the Mass is an intimately related crisis of paramount importance.

This failure is at the heart of the happy-meal diversion.

Saint Ephrem, Deacon (373 A.D.); Saints Mark & Marcellian, Martyrs (286 A.D.)

His hymns did what?

Ephrem the Syrian (c. 300-373) was a native of Nisibis, in Roman Mesopotamia, and was very probably the head of the catechetical school of that city until its capture by the Persians. He subsequently became a monk near Edessa and there spent most of his life writing commentaries on the Bible and composing hymns. Ephrem’s hymns, written in his native Syriac, kept his people free from heresy and won for the saint the title of “Harp of the Holy Spirit.” His hymns to the Virgin Mary, in particular, form an important contribution to Catholic dogma.

Hymns can do that, which points up a main complaint about the mass of the ’70s until now: they flirt with sentimental nonsense, blurring doctrine in favor of a mostly sweetness-and-light contribution to what Catholics believe.

Handshaking time at holy mass, quick thinking under fire

Aggressively sought today by a fellow worshiper two pews ahead of me for what was sure to be an aggressive handclasp, I held back.

It didn’t matter. My fellow worshiper was not to be denied. I knew I had to act and act fast, or all was lost. Come up with something or be crushed by this enthusiast. In a flash it came to me, and I said it, holding up the threatened limb: “Bad hand.”

Without a blink, wink, or nod, like a quarterback deciding to run, he reached across the aisle to make the flesh-pressing contact he desperately needed.

A friend once suggested that a person might claim leprosy and thus fend off such a handshaker. Never tried that, but now I have a better way. Keep it simple. Say “bad hand.”

Glad-handing in the middle of Mass, #3: Catholics being Christians — glad-handing pro and con but mostly con

In response to #1 and #2 of this brief series, faithful readers chimed in, March of ought-six.

Bob K., with a brighter view:

Sometimes it is good for Christians to reach out . . . and communicate with each other. The MASS is as good a time as any and better than most to do so. It is when we GATHER TOGETHER to worship and celebrate the Transubstantiation and our gathering of power from the spirit . . . .

If we can’t talk to each other (whom we see and know and who are standing right next to us), how can we talk to the Lord (Whom we . . . have not seen or cannot see) or to the world (whom we are to evangelize)? At that time of [mass], I make it a point to talk to those near me — the wheel chair kid, the three African-Americans who always sit in the last pew, being shy [in] an all-white congregation, older women I know who are widows, and some teen-agers who rarely come — in each case to make them feel welcome.

It’s hard to argue with that, though we must cringe at his saying we “celebrate the Transubstantiation.” Priest celebrates the mass, not we.

Reader D. didn’t argue with his making people feel welcome, but offered a corrective.

The logical moment to greet each other is when entering one’s favorite pew and finding another “regular” there, or if I’m there and the regular comes in after me. That’s when I greet folks, but I don’t shake their hand because it’s not a natural gesture in that spot — the person kneeling or sitting, or walking in to sit or pray.

To the regular lady in the pew in front of me, I kneel and whisper in her ear as she sits in the pew. I find out how she’s feeling because I know she has a heart problem. She tells me a few of her aches and complaints, including about her husband in the pew with her, who she says doesn’t show her any compassion. I wave hi across a section of pews to friends as they come in. That’s normal “greeting” and wishing-well time.

D. has more:

Why can’t a bunch of bishops realize shaking hands in the middle of mass after being cheek to jowl with everyone for 25 minutes is not natural? What do you think a survey in church would disclose about hand-shaking?

But most seem to like it. Depends on the congregation, but it’s borne out by the sometimes rampant enthusiasm here recorded. And yet not so or not clearly so, as many seem relieved to have only to return a small smile with head nod.

Bob O., a veteran newsman and thus prone to skepticism and colorful expression, mixes irony and stand-offism with his commentary, beginning with “the germ question.”

My physician daughter shrugs [it] aside, saying, “Just remember to wash your hands as soon as you get home.” But what about passing a neighbor’s germs on to another? Saying, “I’m sorry but I’ve got a bad cold,” and pointing to your throat will work once in a while, but every Sunday? How about wearing a sign that says, “UNCLEAN” or “UNSOCIABLE”?

Depends where you go for mass, he said.

The problem’s not too bad in parishes that haven’t been brain-washed too long by a liberal pastor. But for parishes that have been, the only solution is: Avoid them. I’ve been in some that had enough empty pews to allow enthusiasts to kiss-hug-shake everybody in reach, then scramble church-wide for more fellow enthusiasts or victims. It usually took up to five minutes before the church settled down.

The worst are churches where everybody is expected to hold hands and daisy-chain across aisles, etc., during the WHOLE Our Father. As someone who had to attend one too many rallies during the sixties where we had to pretend we were all one downtrodden race, hold hands, sway in rhythm and sing “We shall overcome,” I have a strong aversion to this.

Looking straight ahead and holding on to the pew with a death grip doesn’t always work. I’ve had a bright young thing give me a sharp rap in the ribs to let me know this kind of thing isn’t tolerated.

Depends too on the priest.

Give me the celebrant who knows the whole greeting of peace is optional and skips it, Save me from the celebrant who, contrary to Vatican directions, leaves the altar and parades down the middle aisle, handshaking both ways.

He has a solution:

I’m not hardline on this, though, Why don’t ushers just greet Mass-goers and ask, “Kissing or non-kissing?” and wave us to the appropriate pew?

A good use of ushers and usherettes!

Vernacular: the cause that won hands-down

More serious than glad-handing in the post-council reform (and more successful) was the all-church changeover from Latin to, in our part of the world, English. The centralized planning and execution here was enough to make a statist weep with envy.

The world over, Catholics got used to mass in everyday language. It became part of the worldwide social engineering taking place — change by design, not by natural influences, not organically, as explained and favored by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

Vatican II celebrated the freedom of the children of God, but it did not work that way when it came to liturgy. Latin, declared by Pope John XXII on the eve of the council as a very good thing and by the council itself as “to be preserved” had to go. Latin went. Rebels were marginalized. Only decades later did Latin return with church authority’s blessing.

So it went, change dictated from above for our own good by people who knew what was best for us. My friend M., in his last year before ordination as a holy Jesuit, complained. He had enough trouble believing in the mass in Latin, he said. Now (in the mid-1960s, he spoke) the mystery would be severely lessened. He was not happy.

M.’s problems would sound strange to those of today who see in the mass essentially a church-sponsored, Scripture-referenced celebration of unity with each other. M. had to believe in transubstantiation. Who now uses the word? For him in the mid-60’s the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus in substance, while accidents (of breadness, etc.) remained.

The priest held the host (unleavened bread) and believed he held the body of Christ. Some few could hardly do it and would stutter at the “words of consecration,” barely able to say them, making painfully sure they got them right.

After Vatican II a whole new mass developed. This liturgy of the future, vernacularized, would be as much communicating with people as with God. The priest would face them, look at them, saying the sacred words. He would be a presenter, a presider (horrible word). The mass would be more pew-sitter-friendly.

My friend saw the mystery dissolving away, and with it his belief. This happened. Mass is now something in which we celebrate unity with each other. As for the mystical and mysterious, that’s a happy memory, fast fading from Catholic consciousness.