ASK FATHER: Prayer services and lay people extending hands to “bless” an Advent wreath

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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PhilipNeri says:

    Ugh. We had these things in my studium days. . .anytime we had a “school event” that included the lay students and faculty, we would be forced to endure one of these “creative prayer opportunities.” Usually, we’d spend 30mins praying to a variety of Platonic Forms: Justice, Peace, Equality, etc. No mention of Christ, Jesus, God, Church. We were, however, admonished over and over again in prayer to “value the community” and “respect a diversity of voices.”

    Ugh. Again. . .ugh.

    I thank God everyday that I am teaching in an orthodox seminary that uses the prayers the Church has given us.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  2. iPadre says:

    Oh yes. Those “para liturgies.” They bring tears to my eyes. And not from good memories. Maybe from the gag reflex.

  3. pejan says:

    Also related is the current custom of everyone holding up hands, palms up, during the Our Father, mimicking the priest. The way it was explained to me back in the day was that the priest was symbolically catching the prayer of the people and directing them off his palms up to God. He’s the mediator. The new explanation for the faithful doing this is that it is symbolic of us to kind of show God that we have nothing to offer (the empty hands) except our prayer.
    This to me is just another manifestation of the post Vatican II trivialization of age old reverential practices, including the sacred species, with communion in the hand and everybody slobbering all over the cup, etc etc etc…….. And by the way, thank you father for toughing it out in the seminary!

  4. MAJ Tony says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I won’t extend my unconsecrated hands to bless anyone/thing, for, as the current Supreme Pontiff has stated “that’s not within my competency.”

  5. aviva meriam says:

    Can we just inspire Priests around the world to STOP the extention of hands by the laity…. both inside the mass and out? Why is this so difficult? (Yes I live in Texas and this is rampant around here….. for all sorts of reasons, both inside Mass and Out)

  6. MrsMacD says:

    Since we can be creative and want to be modern, what if we all hold our cell phones out and all text at the same time?

    On a more serious note we have a prayer for ‘blessing’ the home advent wreath. Can the man of the house read this prayer or would that be like trying to bless an object and only priests can bless objects?

  7. thefeds says:

    Ah, Father Z, the bad old days. Many years ago, in 1982, I was attending a college seminary (no longer open!) where we too were forced to attend these travesties. I had to sit through morning prayers led by someone in clown facepaint and various efforts at what we were assured was “liturgical dance”. By far, the worst experience was an evening prayer where we were forced to sit through Roberta Flack’s recording of “Killing Me Softly”. Even the liberal faculty took exception to that!
    Thank God I graduated before I lost my faith!

  8. Tom T says:

    We have in our Parish a bit of tension between a conservative Pastor and a liberal Vicar.
    Now the Parochial Vicar who has been here for a lot longer period of time and served under a very liberal Pastor who now,thank goodness is gone, surrounds the alter with children holding hands below the alter while he expects the parishioners to assume the orans position which some do and others do not. Worse he has the school teaching all grades levels to do the same during the Our Father. Strangely, a notice came out in the Church bulletin this year in July that addressed this very issue in detail and describing it as a process that started in the 70s in protestant churches and was adopted by the Catholic Charismatic movement. Sadly the notice has been largely ignored and the practice goes on. The notice reads as follows.
    “The process for introducing any new rite or gesture into the liturgy is provided
    for in liturgical law. This process entails a two- thirds majority vote in the bishop`s conference and the go ahead from the Holy See before any change may take effect. Thus, if neither the bishop`s conference nor the Holy See has seen fit to prescribe any posture for the recitation of the Our Father, no lesser authority should assume to impose a novel gesture not required by liturgical law. While there are no directions as to the posture of the faithful, the rubrics direct the priest and any concelebrants to pray the Our Father with hands extended. ”
    “The U.S. Bishops have considered permitting the laity to mimic the gestures of the bishop or the priest, but the Holy See has not approved this, and the 1997 Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the non-ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests, prohibits the laity from mimicking the gestures appropriate to a priest. Specifically it states: “Neither may the deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to “quasi-preside” at the Mass while leaving only minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity. [ICP, Practical Provisions 6 2].”

  9. Patti Day says:

    Some months ago there was a picture in the Diocese newspaper of our bishop and a bunch of women with hands raised up in front of them. The caption read something like: Bishop _____ leads the ladies of St. Ipsydipsy in blessing their newly-elected guild president. Our bishop is almost retirement eligible. I dread what may come next.

  10. Tom T says:

    An update from my comment on 12/3. I Emailed over the weekend the Principle of the School I mentioned in my post about teaching children at all grade levels to hold hands and extend them during the Our Father at Mass and forwarded to him a copy of the Bulletin notice.
    I received a warm response this morning from the Principle stating that “I am correct and he will immediately instruct the children at all grade levels the proper position when praying the Our Father during Mass”. He did miss that notice as it came out during school summer break.
    It is comforting indeed to know others do care about the rubrics and GIRM and the proper celebration of the Mass in accordance with Liturgical Law. Pax.

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