From a reader…
This morning I was at a Catholic men’s prayer group. This is a wonderful group of men all holding each other up and pursuing their Catholic faith. This morning however one of the men, who is in deacon formation, got up and invited all the men to join in offering a blessing on one of our members, in which several of the men familiar with this gathered in a circle around him, put their hands in the air over him and started singing “May the Lord Bless you and Keep you” This sent shivers through me, not in a good way, I just bowed my head and prayed with them. So I guess the question is; is it right to feel like that was super weird? Or maybe that is acceptable in our Church to wave you hands in the air singing blessings over people? It felt an awful lot like a throwback to something in the 80s/90s through that I have been actively working to help purge from our church. I believe it originated with the cursillo program.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
Ah, laying on of hands. Yes.
There is a long history in the Church of laying on hands, dating back to Apostolic times. The New Testament records several instances of the Apostles laying hands on their successors, and the faithful being exhorted to go to the elders for healing by the laying on of hands.
Outside of the apostolic and sacramental tradition of laying on of hands, in Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick, and sometimes Penance, there’s little historical record of laying on of hands. Abbots were consecrated thusly, and in some religious orders, new members were added by this ritual.
But the general practice of members laying hands on each other as a sort of blessing? Nope, that’s not apostolic, that’s pretty much brand new. I don’t think it originated in the Cursillo movement, but I think it probably had some roots in the Protestant, Pentecostal tradition.
It is pretty weird. When we ask for a blessing, we’re asking for something from a superior – from someone in Holy Orders, from a parent, from a religious superior. Of our equals – our brothers and sisters – we don’t generally ask for blessings. Instead, we ask for prayers. Fraternal prayers. Which may be offered with a hand on a shoulder, or hand grasping hand, or even – horrors in our touchy feely era – without even touching each other!
In most places, the practice of laying hands on each other is dying out. New generations want authentic tradition, not made up rituals and weird, hippie-type emotionalism. When one encounters this sort of throwback prayer, one can either roll one’s eyes and go along with it, sit stoically back and refuse to participate, make fun (perhaps by starting to sing Kumbaya or Michael Row the Boat Ashore), or make a Catholic suggestion – “Hey guys, instead of that, why don’t we pray the litany of the Sacred Heart together for each other?” or “Joe, we did that last month, how about this month we pray a rosary?”