The Armchair Liturgist: Gestures of Blessing

At the end of every college semester, we call up graduates-to-be for a blessing before the dismissal rites. It’s been a fairly common, if not near-universal practice in parishes for the clergy to invite the entire assembly to “make a gesture of blessing if you wish,” in these or similar words.

I have to admit I’ve never started that practice anywhere I’ve been. I’m disinclined to discourage it.

Among those who disapprove, the worst I’ve seen of the internet caricatures is to call attention the similarity to a Nazi salute. I was watching the assembly today at Mass, and I can’t say that’s accurate. Many people extended two hands. Some who extended one kept their arm bent and somewhat upright. Didn’t seem like a salute to me. Plus, the context of the prayer for someone seems to negate the notion of national socialism.

I’ve also heard the argument that only the clergy can offer a liturgical blessing. That’s not exactly true, considering sacraments across the board. But the point is well-considered. The spoken prayer of the priest and his leadership seems to keep the lay-clergy divide intact.

So what do you think, armchair liturgists reading this? Would you start the gesture if your community didn’t practice it? Would you end it if it did? Would you take an approach of benign neglect and non-interference with an existing practice. And for whichever of these you adopt, why?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to The Armchair Liturgist: Gestures of Blessing

  1. Liam says:

    I’ve grown to detest the group arm raise in liturgy. The group gesture is ill-conceived. I would not advocate for its adoption, and would let it fall into benign neglect. (I wouldn’t badger PIPs into not raising their arms, but I wouldn’t invite them to do so any more.) The congregation has a role: to join its intentionality to that of the priest, and sound forth a hearty Amen. The gesture adds nothing. (And, yes, over the years, I’ve witnessed many PIPs are either creeped out or darkly humored by the resemblence to totalitarian assemblies, not just of the German flavor. While it’s not the intention of those who developed this gestural idea, they cannot control mental associations in the pews. Though it’s not as bad as the truly clueless liturgists who came up with the idea of washing hands rather than feet for the Mandatum…)

    Much simpler solution for emphasis: Have the priest chant the blessing, recto tono, with his arms raised, and let the congregation sing its Amen.

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