Readers ask about Sunday obligation, ‘Our Father’

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Fr. Thom Hennen
Question Box Column

Q. Is there still a dispensation from the Sunday obligation in place from the pandemic?

A. No. In the Diocese of Davenport the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass was officially lifted March 1, 2022. However, as was stated in that same letter: “For serious reasons

Fr. Hennen

such as advanced age, a serious medical condition, caring for someone who is sick, restrictions on travel, or some other grave reason, you don’t need permission to be absent from Sunday Mass. Use your common sense to excuse yourself and find another way to pray and keep holy the Lord’s Day.” Given the resurgence this fall/winter of COVID-19 (now with a new variant), plus RSV and the seasonal flu, this may be especially good advice, even if the dispensation is no longer in force.

Over almost 19 years of priesthood I have often been amazed by the very casual attitude of some when it comes to the Sunday obligation, effectively dispensing themselves for most any reason or minor inconvenience (travel, sports or other activities, the weather was too nice or they think they saw a snowflake, the football pre-game show, etc.). At the same time, I have been similarly amazed by those who are absolutely guilt-ridden if they miss Sunday Mass or a holy day for even the most legitimate of reasons (serious illness, hospitalization, etc.). And if you ever want to see a parade of people with walkers, canes and wheelchairs, just try canceling Mass in an ice storm. It’s like a challenge to them!

I have often said that if we could just give a little bit of the laxity of the lax to the scrupulous and a little bit of the scrupulosity of the scrupulous to the lax, we would have a perfect Church.

Q. Is it true that holding hands during the “Our Father” at Mass is the result of Protestant influence on our liturgy? Is it in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal?

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A. I have never heard or read anywhere that the practice of holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer was a Protestant thing, though that could be. It is definitely not mentioned in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which is the “how to” manual for the celebration of the Mass. Of course, lots of things are not mentioned in the GIRM. This is because liturgical rubrics tend to be prescriptive, that is, they tell you what is to be done, not everything that is not to be done. In that vein, the GIRM also doesn’t specifically prohibit the juggling of chain saws during the entrance procession, but it is ill advised. So, that still leaves us with the question: Is it okay to hold hands during the Our Father at Mass?

I would say (and I would guess most liturgists would agree) that it certainly should not be imposed. And, of course, you should never forcibly grab the hand of the person standing next to you at Mass. It does seem that in some parishes the long practice of holding hands has taken on the force of custom. Ironically, what may be meant as a welcoming, inclusive, unifying gesture can actually be very off-putting for some, especially for those who may have a more tenuous relationship with the Church. That being said, if a married couple or family likes to do this as a part of their full, active, conscious participation in the Eucharist and as a prelude to the infinitely more unifying gesture of receiving holy Communion together as the body of Christ, then there is little to prevent them.

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and Vicar General for the Diocese of Davenport. Send questions to messenger@davenportdiocese.
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