Consecrated Hands

Monday, February 01, 2021 03:49am

“And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. ”

— John 1:16

Greetings to dearest Sisters in Christ! The Lenten season arrives this month with special grace upon grace.  We journey together in united prayers with and prayers for the bishops and priests who lead the way in this most fruitful of seasons!

In the tender, early moments of the germination of the Apostolate (when all was there, but only little known), Fr Johnson, leaned forward in his chair and brought to life an image of Moses.  His glance was in the past and future all at once.  “Janette, just as the hands of Moses were lifted by Aaron and Hur, the Seven Sisters will do the same for the priest.” In Exodus 17 Israel faced a major military threat, the fierce Amalekites. As they engaged in combat, Moses up-stretched his arms in prayer.  With arms raised the Israelite soldiers prevailed, but as Moses drooped in weariness, the battle shifted.  Moses’ brother, Aaron (whose name means strength), and brother-in-law, Hur (whose name means liberty), fittingly stood beside Moses assuring his arms remained elevated, guaranteeing victory for the Israelites.  These men were not mere spectators, but resolute partakers in the battle!

Father Johnson’s words have proven prophetic.  As relay runners pointedly and surely hand off a warmed baton – one hand to another – our seamless prayers surround and fortify the priest’s efforts and prayers.  We have not abandoned him in the battle for souls, but rather – join him!  As Aaron and Hur were family to Moses, we are sisters in Christ to our priests.  It has been said that “A need seen, is an assignment given.”  New Anchoresses over and again relate that they observe their brothers in Christ, their pastors or nearby priests, sorely in need of strength. Love compels them to help (II Cor 5:14), to come alongside to lift up their hands.

Hands receive special attention by the Church on a man’s Ordination day to the Royal Priesthood of Jesus Christ.  The imposition of hands upon the head by the Bishop is born in ancient tradition.  It is an act of consecrating a man for the service of God and transmitting a divine gift of unique identification with Christ.  There is ontological change.  The man leaves the altar the same, but different. “In my judgment, this concept of the ontological nature of the priesthood, is critical. We don’t just put on vestments; we don’t just receive an assignment. Neither makes us priests. We become priests at ordination. There is an “ontological change” in our spiritual nature. Such is a profound mystery. Is it too bold an analogy to compare the change to Christ the Son of God’s retaining His Divinity while becoming a man? Or to observe that after bread becomes the Sacred Body of Christ, it still tastes like bread and feels like bread, but is now the Body of Christ? There has been an ontological change. A cup of wine still smells like wine and tastes like it, but it is now the Blood of Christ. At ordination an ontological change takes place” (John Cardinal O’Connor, 1996).  Mystery. Hands. Truth. Goodness. Beauty. Grace. Gift.

The hands of the Ordinand are anointed with Chrism oil, a mix of olive oil and balsam. The oil symbolizes strength, the fragrant balsam represents the aroma of Christ (II Cor 2:15).  The oil is also used for Baptism, Confirmation, and consecrating a new Bishop, new altar or vessels for use at Mass.  Anointing with chrism signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit in consecrating someone or something to God’s service.

Consecrated hands.   Set apart for holy purposes.  The priest’s hands are steadfastly raised to invoke the Trinitarian God in protective blessing.  They generously serve to worship, express gratitude, seek wisdom, beseech healing and mercy.  The beautiful hands of the priest confer the sacraments. They absolve and sanctify.  They hold and offer the fruits of earth and vine – and the work of human hands.  Those same hands elevate those same offerings as our eternal Bread of Life and Spiritual Drink.  A priest’s sanctified hands bless marriages with the strongest of hopes, fortify the weak of the sick-bed, and big-heartedly fling the holy spray of the aspergillum at the graveside, as expectant of new life as rice tossed at a Wedding.

The hands of a priest devotedly turn page-after-page, ribbon-after-ribbon, day-after-day … the Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture, the Sacramentary, the book of blessing.  They grip the pulpit tightly or wave passionately to punctuate a truth of Scripture in homilies.   They are meant to comfort, squeeze confidence into the shoulder of a lad lacking courage, and lift high a newborn post Baptism for the congregation to bask in the glow of the new light of a Child of God.  All in a day…

The custom of kissing the hands of a newly Ordained priest stems from a recognition of the fundamental change that has occurred and of the unique importance of the hands of the priestly ministry.  You may be aware of this well-loved story of St Francis of Assisi: A parishioner brought to the attention of St. Francis a priest involved in a scandalous affair. He asked St. Francis (who himself remained a deacon, never becoming a priest) to go and correct the priest. Upon arriving at the home, the little Saint immediately knelt, gently cupped the hands of the priest in his and kissed them.   Not condoning wrong behavior, he was teaching that God works through His church, even when its ministers fall short.  “If I were to meet at the same time some saint coming down from heaven and any poor little priest,” said St Francis, “I would first pay my respects to the priest and proceed to kiss his hands first.  I would say, ‘Ah, just a moment St. Lawrence, because this person’s hands handle the Word of Life and possess something that is more than human. These hands have touched my Lord, and no matter what they be like, they could not soil Him or lessen His virtue . . . To honor the Lord, honor His minister . . . He can be bad for himself, but for me he is good.”

As Seven Sisters, let us fold our own hands in prayer and decisively venerate the holy hands of priests through an awareness of their ordained purposes and through the graces of our prayers.  In so doing, we elevate those hands and arms that are fated to be raised for our very lives!

(See attachment:  The Beautiful Hands of the Priest poem)

 United in prayer and mission…that our prayers may find the heart of every bishop and priest…

 … eternal gratitude continues as you each remember to offer a wee Hail Mary for me every day….  “One Ave Maria makes hell tremble” (St John Vianney). Pray that I will not ‘spoil the beautiful work that God has entrusted…’  (St Teresa of Calcutta)

… your kind emails and notes and phone calls and generous support always arrive to my heart door at the right moment! Your financial sacrifices are for 100% furtherance of Apostolate.  THANK YOU!  The letters of testimony are so beautiful and edifying! What glory is given to God through your writing! Eternal gratitude is mine for YOU! Be assured of my continued daily prayers for you at the altar.

 Janette (Howe)