AM I COMMITTING A SIN AT MASS?
Concerns have been expressed to me recently about a series of issues that seems to be very upsetting to a certain faction of the Catholic faithful. I would like to address these issues and hopefully ease some folks’ (wrongfully) troubled consciences.
Is it wrong (even, perhaps, a sin) to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the “orans posture”? That is the posture with hands held up (like the priest typically does, to one degree or another, during Mass prayers). Let’s review…
This posture is presented to us in catacomb art from the earliest times of Christianity, including a man in the house-church of Ss John and Paul in Rome, a woman in the catacombs of S Priscilla, and the 3 young men in the fiery furnace (in the same catacomb), among others. All these were laypeople. I think they were in the Lord’s good graces by praying in this way. Self-appointed “guardians of orthodoxy” seem very upset by this practice, but why? Is there harm or heresy being embraced by this? Let people pray as they choose, for heaven’s sake!
Related to this is hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer, and even (once upon a time) rejection of the greeting of peace. If you choose not to want to hold someone’s hand, you are perfectly free to refuse the offer. But if others do, why should this be the concern of anyone else? Again, there is no harm or heresy here.
Related to this is the directive stating that Special Ministers of Holy Communion may not purify the sacred vessels after they are finished with their ministry. What is the purpose of this edict? If ministers are “worthy” enough to distribute the Blessed Sacrament, why are they suddenly “unworthy” to help purify the vessels? My mind reels at the pettiness of some of these prescriptions.
The bottom line, it seems to me, is the re-surfacing of the old heresy (I use the word advisedly) of “Jansenism.” This is the heresy (especially prevalent in 17th century France, but in other places as well) that attempts to embrace far too much of the Calvinistic teaching of the depravation of the human race as a result of the Fall (this, under the guise of being faithful to St Augustine). It sees humanity in large part as meriting being part of the mass damnata (a phrase that probably needs no translation). As such, we are unworthy of virtually everything that God’s grace wants to offer us. These are people who (historically) rejected the idea of frequent reception of Holy Communion—lay-folk being too sinful to “merit” this gift! Really? Did God’s grace come only to those “worthy” of it? Is God’s will that all be saved (I Timothy 2:3) really a sham? Is the name of God not “mercy”?
Jansenism was formally condemned at least twice by the popes, but its spirit lives on. It describes lay-folk especially as undeserving of consideration, and it suspects these outward expressions of piety as desires to be “crypto-clergy” (and we can’t have that, can we??). It’s time to let people’s expressions of prayer speak; let people worship as they wish, so long as there is no disorder involved, no upset of the community. After all, God might actually really enjoy people who are committed and enthusiastic in their worship and faith-walk.