Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ms Catherine Combier-Donovan: Holding Hands at the Lord's Prayer

I received the following email from Catherine Combier-Donovan, Director of the Office of Worship of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond in response to the question about hand holding during the Our Father at Youth Masses, etc.

The information was too long to go into the comment box so I am giving the email its own article.

I want to thank Ms Combier-Donovan for responding to the question so completely and thoroughly.



Dear Blogmaster,

Thank you for sending me the question about holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer at youth Masses. Here is as official and complete an answer as I can give you.

It is often a practice in many American Catholic churches for everyone to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes snaking around the room to sure that no one is left out. The origins of it are not clear, though some have suggested that it may come from AA meetings or the home Masses of the late 60’s and early 70’s. It is a lovely sign of solidarity, especially meaningful for a group praying outside of Mass, but it is not a liturgical gesture envisioned in any rubrics.

Hand-holding becomes the only gesture demanded of everyone, one to which it is difficult to say, “No, thank you” without being considered unfriendly. Many people are not comfortable or do not wish to hold hands for personal or health reasons, yet they are forced to do so as their hands are grabbed without asking. Often when I speak of this gesture to church groups around the Diocese, the strong response is that this is their real sign of unity! But do we need that as a sign of unity? After holding hands we must break apart and turn to one another at the Sign of Peace, our sign of the community’s unity in Christ, which prepares us for the most unifying moment of all – namely the sharing in the Eucharist.

No particular gesture is mandated by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the assembly. While holding hands is not prohibited by either the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, nor the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship, it is described nowhere. A few years ago, the US Bishops considered ruling against it, but decided not to do so since the custom was so ingrained in many parishes. The presider, however, is directed by the rubrics to pray the Lord’s Prayer with his hands extended.

The orans, the standing posture of praying with hands open and arms raised, is the oldest prayer posture of praise in the presence of God, described both in Hebrew Scripture, in the New Testament, and by the Early Fathers of the Church (see Gen 18:22 and Mk 11:25). For centuries the Virgin Mary has been portrayed in iconography with hands extended in prayer this way (see the Virgin Orans). It was the common posture until around the 9th century, when it became perceived as the posture of the ordained. Vatican II restored it as the posture for the whole Body of Christ. It connotes vulnerability, surrender, praise and supplication, and is the universal posture seen in churches around the world.

There is a very rich tradition, both scriptural and patristic, that supports the orans, while nothing other than localized American custom supports holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. There are other ways to pray this. Therefore, while some people, families in particular, may certainly hold hands, others should be free to pray in the orans, to simply pray with their own hands clasped together, or to do nothing at all other than utter the words in fervent prayer. However you pray the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, just remember to allow each person to pray it as he or she wishes, and to impose it on no one. This goes for presiders as well…

So the final answer to “is there an official Diocesan policy about holding hands at youth liturgies?” is multifaceted. Is it an official posture? No. Is it prohibited? No. May it be done? Yes. Is it obligatory? No. And this applies to all liturgies.

A word about singing the Our Father: The Sacramentary/Roman Missal provides a chanted setting (which very few people know) for this prayer and it may certainly be sung to other settings. My preference for not singing it, as noted by John Southworth, applies only to weddings, funerals, and other liturgies where there may be non-Catholic Christians. We have this prayer in our common memory. Recite it and you welcome them. Sing it and you exclude them.

Catherine Combier-Donovan
Office of Worship
Catholic Diocese of Richmond
7800 Carousel Lane
Richmond VA 23294

From: standing maryanna [mailto:standing.maryanna@gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, August 02, 2009 7:06 PM
To: Worship Office
Subject: Blog question for the Office of Worship


I am the blogmaster of the blog titled, Richmond Voices that can be found at http://richmondvoices.blogspot.com/ One of our readers has posed a question concerning the holding of hands during the Our Father at youth Masses.

Please take time to respond to this question since it concerns the official position of the diocese.

Here is the blog article: Official Posture for the Our Father at youth liturgies

Thanks for your time...

standing maryanna


Anonymous said...

I'm taking it that this means parish liturgical leaders cannot encourage children to hold hands during this part of the Mass since it is not an official posture. I imagine only official practices are taught to our youth.

Stu said...

Miss Combier-Donovan said" ...Often when I speak of this gesture to church groups around the Diocese, the strong response is that this is their real sign of unity! But do we need that as a sign of unity? After holding hands we must break apart and turn to one another at the Sign of Peace, our sign of the community’s unity in Christ, which prepares us for the most unifying moment of all – namely the sharing in the Eucharist...

...A few years ago, the US Bishops considered ruling against it, but decided not to do so since the custom was so ingrained in many parishes...

So many Catholics have no understanding that the Eucharist is the true sign of unity and instead want to display their OWN idea of such and nothing is done to correct such a tragic misunderstanding of our faith. Didn't someone say something recently about "Charity in Truth?"

I do wish the Bishops would courageously teach lead on such things rather than using committees and lay leaders.

One truly wonders at some times.

Robert Dibdale said...

In consideration of Mrs. C-Donovan’s response to JS communicating her preference for a recited Lord’s Prayer over a sung one at Masses where non-Catholics may be present in significant numbers:

The latest Roman Missal’s general instruction chapter II, footnote 49 (GIRM 2002) specifically references “Musicam sacram,” (1967) when choosing which parts of the Mass to sing. “Musicam sacram” places singing the Lord’s Prayer in the 1st degree before including hymns (3rd degree) or a sung Sanctus (2nd degree).

Furthermore, the irony in restricting a recited Lord’s Prayer at Mass because Protestants might feel excluded by a sung prayer is

a. the fact that a Catholic “Our Father” already has a different text than a typical Protestant one.

b. she restricts one of the fruits of the post V2 liturgy which brought the sung Lord’s Prayer to the people – recall that it is often restricted to the celebrant at a sung E. F. mass.

If Mrs. Donovan is still reading this blog three great questions to ask would be:

a. where her office has the indult to suppress the deacon’s kneeling posture at the consecration during Mass (2002 GIRM #179) in our diocese of Richmond. This is not a part of the Mass where bishops modify rubrics without an indult (those areas are found in Chapter 9). It would be helpful for her to make the indult known.

b. why her website tells readers that the universal Catholic Church remains standing for the Eucharistic Prayer and that the US is the only place where the people normally kneel throughout the prayer. To illustrate: on the Richmond diocesan Office of Worship's website under FAQ we see:

“…(kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer) is a requirement found in the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) in an addendum only in the United States, whereas the universal Church remains standing”.

The problem is that the universal law is to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer for the consecration not stand – something made clear in all versions of the GIRM. Australia, moreover, is at least one large (English speaking) country that duplicates the US particular norm (in GIRM #43) by kneeling for the entire Eucharistic Prayer. Their version of the GIRM with their own approved adaptations in English can be easily found on the web.

c. Why our diocesan Office of Worship seems to place “Built of Living Stones” in opposition to the GIRM when addressing the use of a cross with the image of our Lord during the Good Friday adoration. Why would our diocese attempt to be more restrictive than the bishops’ own instruction in BLS #83, especially when we consider that our own bishop is a member of the conference that approved & promulgated BLS? Furthermore, the "Book of Blessings" describes a cross intended for public veneration as “preferably” having a Corpus. Lastly, we have the example of our current Pope using the crucifix during the Good Friday devotions suggesting that our current Office of Worship interprets the GIRM’s use of “crux” differently than our Holy Father does: (http://msnbcmedia3.msn.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photo_StoryLevel/080321/080321-pope-vmed-2p.widec.jpg).

Mark said...

Since the Holy Eucharist is the summit of our worship, and the ground of true unity in Christ, any other practice that has crept in and attempts to compete with the Holy Eucharist, should not be tolerated, no matter how deeply ingrained it has become.

Thus, if experience shows that in the minds of many Catholics hand holding, and not the Holy Eucharist, has become "their real sign of unity" during Mass , how can it not be prohibited? One can understand that for pastoral reasons such notions may have to be dealt with via gentle and patient instruction at first, but the goal here must be to not allow such practices to compete with the Holy Eucharist.

I hope the USCCB will revisit this issue soon, if only to reassure the rest of us that it has the guts to back up what it says about the Holy Eucharist. Without this support from the USCCB, I can see Ms Combier-Donovan's predicament.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Ms. Combier-Donavan for taking time to address this question. I do not envy her position since she did inherit a diocese of rogue liturgical views and attitudes and it appears that the bishop is not sufficiently interested to address any widespread liturgical confusion in the Richmond Diocese. I agree with Mark. Any misguided attempts to put pressure on Ms. Combier-Donovan over widespread handholding during Mass is just that, misguided. The real pressure should be placed on the USCCB who likes to play both ends of the liturgical spectrum. The bishops are a lot like politicians, they adjust to whatever group they're around and refuse to offer strong leadership or guidance. In the real world - the bishops wouldn't be able keep their jobs; they would be replaced by competent leaders. We need spiritual leaders; not secular managers.

Anonymous said...

I just pray that one day the leadership of this diocese will change its offensively complacent attitude towards the out-of-sight placement of tabernacles across the diosese. I know tabernacle location has nothing to do with liturgy, but the status quo attitude of the this diocese needs an extreme makeover. I realize that no lay person can change this stubborness, but I do pray for this.

Stu said...

Anonymous said..."I know tabernacle location has nothing to do with liturgy..."

I'd say it has everything to do with liturgy. When front and center, it helps to remind the parish that Christ, present in the Eucharist, is the focus. When we choose to put Christ off in the corner or somewhere out of the way, we naturally start to put other things (our own golden calf) at the forefront. Is it any wonder that handholding as a sign of "our community" and man-centric fixations creep in?

Anonymous said...

Good point. Although it would be nice if the Diocesan Office of Worship were able to enter into dialog with the lay people via technological means such as this blog regularly (wishful thinking I know). Maybe we could learn more from them and they could learn from us as well. I realize this is an avante-guarde proposal, but this type of interaction with our leadership would be praisworthy as well as educative.

Mark said...

August 5, 2009 12:21 PM Anonymous:

I've been thinking about your suggestion to present questions to the laity in leadership positions in this Diocese, and believe it has merit.

Here are my thoughts on this subject:

(1) I believe Church law allows us, the laity, to ask questions of those in leadership positions;
(2) After we agree on our questions, would Standing Maryanna be willing to submit them to the Chancery? ;
(3) I think it would be prudent to engage the lay leaders only, since they seem to play a very prominent role in this Diocese. We should make it clear that we are interested in their own words, experiences, and thoughts, and less in quotes or references to documents - that is, we would like answers that come from the heart. We would welcome responses from a variety of these lay leaders;
(4) If any answers are received, we should not engage in any further discussions with those who responded, except maybe to get a clarification. We should confine any resulting charitable discussions of the substance of their replies to ourselves;
(5) We need to agree on the number and subject of our questions, and ask Standing Maryanna to be the final referee. I think the questions should be short and to the point, emotionally neutral, and not rhetorical. Here are my suggestions:

Question: What is the proper role and placement of the Tabernacle in the Sanctuary?

Question: What is the status of the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" in our Diocese?

Question: How would you like to see the Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest implemented in our Diocese?

Question: What do you think are the main strengths and challenges of this Diocese?

Question: What do you think are possible solutions to the worsening priest shortage in our Diocese?

standing maryanna said...

Mark, your idea is interesting but I am unclear just how this would work on a blog.

I also have some questions:

1. You spoke about engaging the lay leaders only. Do you mean the lay leaders at the diocesan offices, such as Ms. Combier-Donovan? Or do you wish to address parish leadership such as parish councils or leaders of the different ministries in a parish?

2. I don't know if the bishop accepts anonymous communications. I am not willing to give up my anonymity though I would be willing to allow the blog to be the conduit for this project.

3. Perhaps something can be worked out through the blog and the CV, although I realize the CV is mainly an organ of the bishop and not independent. Again, I must keep my anonymity.

4. I realize that these questions will be coming from a generally trad or conservative base since I see most of the comments fall into that category. You realize that I lean left of center. You would have to trust that I would not skew the questions...

Please clarify how this project could occur. I would like to hear from others about whether such a project would have value...

Thanks, Mark...

Maybe after more feedback, I could make a new blog article about it...

Mark said...

Dear Standing Maryanna:

Thanks for your reply. As I wrote, I was following up on the idea August 5, 2009 12:21 PM Anonymous proposed. This is something new, and if deemed workable, certain details would have to be worked out, as you suggested:

1. I think our questions should be addressed to the lay leaders at diocesan offices only. They set the tone for the local parish lay leaders, play a prominent role in this Diocese, but also to keep the scope of this discussion contained. They could be addressed as a group;

2. In this medium, the questioner's anonymity will have to be preserved. On the other hand, if anyone in Richmond cares to answer, then we would expect to know who it is that's answering - Ms Combier-Donovan showed how it can be done. Otherwise, we can't vouch for the authenticity of the reply;

3. CV could also be engaged in the form of a letter, if we agree that the blog is not the best way to ask these questions;

4. The questions would be agreed on by all those who care to participate in this discussion on your blog. It would be helpful if we chose some names for ourselves, other than "Anonymous". In the event of an impasse on some question, we would agree to authorize you to be the final referee whether to ask or not. This Traditional Catholic trusts you.

After some initial misgivings about this project, I came to the conclusion that perhaps such a dialogue would be "in the spirit" of lay involvement in the life of the Church. Also, it would be beneficial for us ordinary folk in the pews to hear from our lay diocesan leaders, in their own words. Right now, we have zero direct interaction with them (Ms. Combier-Donovan excepted) - they interact with us via local lay leadership councils, or the CV. Come to think of it, if they choose, they could reply to us via the CV.

We should agree that the purpose here is not to engage in any polemics, but simply to hear straightforward answers to straightforward and polite questions - and leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

In the meantime, I wonder if Ms. CCD (Catherine Combier-Donovan)would be willing to answer another question just like she did with the hand-holding question. Is the diocese ever going to examine the offensively complacent attitude of many Richmond Diocesan parishes regarding out-of-sight tabernacle placement in many parishes. The reality is you can't even politely inquire without being subjected to a scornful answer or dismissive attitude from parish liturgical leaders. We're expected to listen to our leaders, but they do not pause to acknowledge or consider our concerns. It's almost as if we have gone from a clericalism version of "pray, pay and obey" to a laity version of "pray, pay and obey." I thought the lay-followers were members of the Church too.

Mark said...

Dear August 15, 2009 7:47 PM Anonymous:

My experience in these matters is that many such decisions are usually made without the involvement of the people in the pews. From the "pew" perspective, it seems that the lay leadership in Richmond communicates with the local parish lay leadership to make this or that change. The people in the parish are usually neither asked about, nor informed beforehand, of the coming changes in their worship environment. Any objections after the fact are usually rebuffed, as you noted.

That's how this decision process seems to work, but we may be wrong - for example, it may turn out that the local lay leaders are really independent operators, or that it's a mixed bag. To get a more accurate picture of how it actually works, we would need to hear from the lay diocesan decision makers themselves. A question here may be to explain the decision making process that affects the worship environment of the parishioners.

Since there are so many unknowns here, I think it would be charitable if we keep our emotions in check, and ask short and emotionally neutral questions.

I have two questions for you:

How would you like to formulate the question on the placement of the Tabernacle?

Would you consider choosing some blog name, other than "Anonymous"?

Katie Beaumont said...

First of all, I appreciate Standingmaryanna's willingness to present lay-followers' concerns even though she may not share those same concerns. There really needs to be a willingness from liturgical leaders to consider other points of view regarding liturgy in this diocese. For example, what is this diocese doing to foster the use of Gregorian Chant? Is the diocese sharing these treasures with the youth of our diocese? If they're leaving it up to local parish leaders, it's not happening (and I think it's pretty safe to say that it will never happen with the status quo). Why is there such a reluctance to implement instructions from the Holy See? Is this diocese married to other dioceses' that share the same liturgical philosophies and therefore stubborn to the idea of a liturgical makeover sometimes described as the "reform of the reform"? Which members of our diocesan liturgical leaders have read Ratzinger's "Spirit of the Liturgy"? Of the diocesan leaders who have read that book, how many agree with it and how many disagree with it? A good starting point would be for them to at least be aware of their own imbedded biases before making decisions or in some cases not making decisions at all. Is there any room for the other side of the liturgical spectrum in the Ordinary Form? As far as the next question to pose to Ms. CCD...I need a little more time to formulate a question that could address the tabernacle-problem.