So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ritual Actions • Why does the priest wash his hands during Mass?



Why does the priest wash his hands during the Mass?
Because it is practical, prayerful and purificatory so to do.
The Practical 

In the early days of the Church, the offerings people brought to the altar likely included things such as vegetables, fruits and perhaps a sheep or two. After handling the various offerings, washing hands was necessary for the priest whose hands would, in due course, touch the Body of Christ.

The Prayerful & Purificatory

The washing of his hands reminds the priest of his baptism.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal
28. Then the priest, standing at the side of the altar, washes his hands, saying quietly: Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (“Wash me completely from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Ps 51:4). 
76. Then the priest washes his hands at the side of the altar, a rite in which the desire for interior purification finds expression. 
145. After the prayer In spiritu humilitatis (With humble spirit) or after the incensation, the priest washes his hands standing at the side of the altar and, as the minister pours the water, says quietly, Lava me, Domine (Wash me, O Lord).
Notice, too, that the priest prays the words Wash me, O Lord quietly. The rubrics call for varied voice levels throughout the Mass, for example: the use of full voice to engage the congregation to the praise of God (#32 p. 27; #38 p.28, etc.); a hushed tone (sotto voce: 175 p. 52) to request of the Lord a particular grace to assist the priest (or deacon) in his duties; etc.

from Saint James Cathedral

A little more about purificatory washing:
Rite for the Blessing and Sprinkling of Holy Water (p. 1455 GIRM)
Outside Easter Time 
Antiphon 1 
Sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Ps 51 (50): 9. (You can also pray these words, for example, when you dip your finger in the Holy Water font to bless yourself as you enter the nave of the church.)
Antiphon 2 
I will pour clean water upon you, and you will be made clean of all your impurities, and I shall give you a new spirit, says the Lord. Ez 36: 25-26
Jewish Heritage
The liturgical actions of the Roman Rite have their origin in Jewish practice:
And Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat; when they go into the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to cause an offering made by fire to smoke unto the Lord. Exodus 30:19

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