May 27, 2011

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

‘Stay in my hands and give me yours’

Sean GallagherJune is traditionally a month when many weddings occur. My wife, Cindy, and I were married almost 10 years ago on June 9, 2001.

June is also a month when transitional deacons are often ordained priests. Our own Deacon Dustin Boehm will be ordained at 10 a.m. on June 4 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

On the surface, these two vocations can seem very different. But if you look closely at the use of hands in rituals in the liturgies that celebrate each of them, you will see that they are very much related at a deep, fundamental level.

In the rite of ordination, the man to be ordained places his hands in the hands of the bishop, who ordains him and promises obedience to him and his successors. Later, the bishop ritually lays his hands upon the head of the deacon.

After he is ordained, the new priest has his hands anointed with chrism oil by the bishop. And a chalice and paten are ritually placed in his hands.

At a wedding, the bride and groom hold each other’s hands when they profess their vows of marriage. Later, they again hold each other’s hands when placing wedding rings on their new spouse’s finger.

Why are hands so important in these rituals?

Pope Benedict XVI offered an interpretation of the importance of hands in a priestly ordination during a homily that he delivered at a chrism Mass in Rome in 2006.

I think his words relate to those called to marriage as well as those called to holy orders.

“The Lord,” he said, “ … wants our hands so that they may become his own in the world. He no longer wants them to be instruments for taking things, people or the world for ourselves, to reduce them to being our possession, but instead, by putting ourselves at the service of his love, they can pass on his divine touch.”

Priests are special sacramental signs of Christ to all the people of God. They use their hands, especially in the celebration of the sacraments, to extend Christ’s divine touch to all of us here and now.

Husbands and wives are also sacramental signs of Christ for all the faithful. For Christ joins himself completely in a bond of sacrificial love to his bride the Church (cf. Eph 5:21-33).

Spouses are especially signs of Christ for each other. That sacramental life was inaugurated on their wedding day when they held each others’ hands while promising to be true to each other for the rest of their lives.

But it was intended by God to unfold and blossom more fully over the years of their life together as each uses their hands to sacrifice themselves in acts of love and service of the other. In that service, a husband or wife extends the divine touch of Christ to his or her beloved.

Whether we are ordained or married, we are not to use our hands selfishly but selflessly. That is how Christ comes to life in us for those we serve.

Of course, we are powerless to do this on our own. That is why Christ made holy orders and marriage sacraments, which are channels of his grace, of his very life. We can only live as he lived with his help.

Pope Benedict highlighted this reality in his homily by saying that Christ, in a sense, speaks to the man being ordained a priest in that ritual. These same words seem to also be fitting for husbands and wives.

“You are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. You are kept safely in the palm of my hands, and this is precisely how you find yourself in the immensity of my love. Stay in my hands, and give me yours.”†

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