From a reader…
I have recently noticed something strange at my school. We had an Advent Prayer service in which the students were told to extend their hands to bless the Advent wreath. Is this alright? I heard that lay people shouldn’t be raising hands and giving blessings, but I wasn’t sure.
Also, we began praying the Our Father later on, and most of the students began holding hands. I think that’s a negative effect that when they pray the Our Father, many think of holding hands before the thought of actually praying. I know that we aren’t supposed to hold hands during the Our Father at mass, but what about a prayer service?
Ah, “prayer services.” In the seminary, during the bad old days, we had “prayer services” outside of the regularly scheduled Masses and morning or evening prayer. Come to think of it, all the morning and evening prayer were all just prayer services because we never used the actually Liturgy of the Hours. We used a service made up by a team of heretics. “Prayer services” were opportunities for the seminary faculty – or the seminarians themselves – to develop some sort of creative “thing,” often involving some Scripture, poorly composed and often heterodox prayer texts, some sort of movement, and, of course, music (generally involving guitars). Apparently, the benefit of these “prayer services” was that, since they weren’t official liturgies of the Church, we had complete freedom to be as creative as we wanted. Rules didn’t apply.
You wouldn’t believe some of the …. rubbish that was inflicted on us. But I digress
When it comes to public, communal prayer and worship of Almighty God, I’d rather not be left to my own devices. The rubrical guidance of Holy Mother Church, and her 2000 year experience, is not a straightjacket. It is a trusted, tried and true map.
Even when engaged in freestyle prayer (as, perhaps, before a special meal with a group), we should be attentive to the guidance that Our Holy Mother, the Church gives us. Even though holding hands during the Our Father doesn’t render a prayer service “invalid” (if such a category can be applied to something so amorphous), I think it should be avoided: that’s not how the Church prays in her formal structured moments. The same applies to having everyone extend their hands in “blessing” over an advent wreath. The Church understands blessings to be a particularly clerical thing. That’s why we have priests, to sanctify and bless.