Friday, November 30, 2012

Left-handed Priests?

The rubrics describe the ceremony of the benediction, and other liturgical actions, as using the right hand. The maniple is worn on the left wrist.

But what if the celebrant is left-handed? Assuming that he is serving in the United States and there is no stigma attached to the left hand, can he swap? Can he reverse everything the rubrics say about the right and left hand?

I think so. I think this would give him better control at the distribution. Reverence first wants the Body and Blood of Christ handled carefully. All else is secondary. I also suspect that if he uses his naturally dominant hand, he will be more comfortable and therefore more competent.

But the liturgical actions aren't that difficult. A left-handed man could probably take one for the team and learn to use his right hand for distribution, the benedictions, etc. Every left-handed man I know shakes hands with his right hand.

So should he swap the rubrics left for right? Or should he learn to use his right hand liturgically? And, though it probably won't do any good, yes, I know this adiaphora, etc. I am not asking you to demonstrate how free you are. We're all impressed with your great grasp of libertine Gospel reading of the rubrics. I am asking what you think the strongest practice is and why, not to tell us what is commanded and forbidden. Assuming freedom and no condemnation for contrary opinions, what is the strongest practice?

38 comments:

  1. That's a good question. The sinister among us will have to give us their experience. My dad is left-handed but like many of his generation was taught to do all kinds of things right handed: scissors, batting, etc. About the only things he does left handed are throwing and writing.

    The distribution of the chalice does indeed require some dexterity, so I could see that change as really useful. Although I once served with a pastor who had shoulder surgery on his (dominant) right side and did just fine distributing with his off-hand only.

    But making the sign of the cross? No need to switch that up, certainly: no fine motor skills there.

    But I look forward to the left-handed comments.

    +HRC

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is an interesting question! Left-handed musicians sometimes restring their instruments and play "backwards." In some cultures around the world, using one's left hand is considered vulgar - but that isn't generally an issue in the west. I think the Piepkorn Rule (reverence) applies here. I've never known a pastor to switch hands - and if he did, I must not have noticed it.

    I think reverence is the key regardless. I don't think anyone would really notice if a pastor went from right to left - unless Fritz registered as a Democrat. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am left handed and totally agree with both of you. I have learned quite easily to follow the rubrics as they have been so salutarily delivered. No south-paws should have any real difficulty. I still instictively favor using my left hand to pour the Baptismal Water over the infants head however, but even that is easily done with the right hand.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Follow the rubrics.

    We shake hands with our right hands; we don't change the hand because one of us is left-handed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Left-handed, and had never really given it much thought, simply learned it the way the rubrics directed me to learn it. Had I learned it "left-handed," I presume it would be difficult to switch. Interestingly, I play trombone, and have never played "left-handed," and I shoot pool, throw a frisbee, and cutch with a scissors right-handed as well. In all reality, aside from making the sign of the cross, many of the functions required involve both hands, do they not. If I distribute with my right, my left had better have a solid grip on the paten, yes?

    ReplyDelete
  6. How do you teach ad dexteram patris? I used right/left handed to teach it. With a joke and an apology to the sinister among my bible class, I talked about the ancient view of the right hand as the hand of power, blessing, etc. I suppose for a more modern phrase, we still speak of the "right hand of fellowship." Thus, Jesus is not sitting in the lazyboy to the right of His old man; He's ascended to fill all things, to the right hand of power and blessing, to be present in blessing with His Church in all places—even bodily present. I then went on to point out that all of the significant actions of blessing or distributing in the service are done with the right hand. I'm a righty, so I'm biased, but I was actually using my left hand for the chalice initially, until I was corrected by the rubrics.

    There is this theological significance placed on right vs. left hand in the Scriptures. On the one hand (heh), adjusting the rubrics might merely result in a lost opportunity to explain the biblical worldview to a culture that no longer likes to distinguish anything among "all [people] [evolved] equal." On the other, I'm always nervous in this same culture to speak about anything in the bible as "merely cultural" or "contextual." We're aware of the damage that is often done with that argument.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was taught how to cross myself by a blessed yia yia at the Greek Cathedral in Miami. She took me under her wing and taught me what I had to know. Don't cross you legs in church, it is a casual act and we don't do casual in church. Just don't cross your legs in church, and when I checked it out by visual research, no one but non-Orthodox cross their legs in church, and usually about half way through the service someone has advised them to sit straight and uncrossed.

    The first thing you have to know about crossing yourself is how to hold your fingers. You must press the first 3 fingers (includes thumb) tightly together. No, tightly, let me show you. And hold the last to finger you press tightly against your palm. This is for the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. Of course use your right hand, wuddaya stoopid? It would be an insult to God to use the Devil's hand. Do you see anybody in this cathedral cross with the wrong hand? No and never have and never will. Then touch with your 3 fingers your forhead (father), your right shoulder, and then your left shoulder near your heart. (As Zorba so astutely remarked in the movie, the Pappas will not bury his French girl friend becaue she crosses herself with only 2 fingers.)

    Now, the idea that the right hand would have to be used in any connection to God and good, was not new to me, and I instantly understood and learned to cross myself right handed, like all the world does. When you use your right hand to tell everyone that you honor God. The left hand is for common, mundane, it really doesn't mean much, unless this is a Black Mass where the left handed mockery is very significant.

    Basically, at every mention of the Trinity in the liturgy, you cross, some cross 3 times in a row, never did find out why. You cross at the end of the Nicene Creed when the church is mentioned.

    I was a pew sitter and in the choir. Most of the time when I asked what are we doing, whats in the epitaphion that we are going to go kiss later, why is the priest got us all outside and banding on the church door so somebody will open it. The answer from others near me was. Who knows, just do it. That became my motto in all Orthodox. Don't even ask (even if you think it might be old holy monk bones in the kissing box), just do it.

    For about the first year, I thought I was the only one who did not natively understand what the priests and psaltis were saying. Then I learned that the service is in medieval Greek which the average Greek understands as well as the average English speaker understands Chaucer's English (14th century). Only the clergy, the psaltis, and some of the choir really understand what is happening in a Greek language service. Same with Church Slavonic in all the slavonic churches. Orthodoxy makes much of using the vernacular, but don't mention it's a non-understandable form of the vernacular.

    Anyway, just do what your yia yia taught you, use your right hand with God and Church. Oh, I'm radically left handed; I use my notebooks starting from the back. I refuse to use tools that don't work for left handed people. I will not sit in a right handed desk in college. If there wasn't a left handed desk in the whole room, I very noisily when looking in other rooms till I found a left handed desk and drug it banging and screeching into my classroom. I will bitch and moan till they throw me out or find the tool for left handed people. But, for Yia Yia and God, I know the right hand is the right thing for everyone who sees it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joanne, this is a gem! May I have permission to repost it (credited, of course) on my blog?

      Delete
    2. Hi Pastor Beane,
      I've reread it a couple times and there are multiple places that need some editing. If you would do a quick edit, I'd be pleased and honored to appear on your blog. I never became Orthodox and so never took the sacrament there. I never studied Orthodox theology, since I find it a great deal more apophatic than they do. And only former protestants worry about what it really means. I was genuinely a stranger at the gate there just making sense of what I saw and heard. Their reliance on Mary and the Saints kept me skeptical. And I knew I had gone far enough when I was talking about what things the patron Saints helped or protected you from and I said, in all honesty, and "Jeses, what's he the patron saint of, Carpenters, you think?" But, you just gotta love those Greeks; they are such fun.

      Delete
  8. Everyone is a priests except the priests, right, therefore the priests is free!

    ReplyDelete
  9. There was a medieval council of some kind held in England, where the question was raised whether a man with six fingers could hold the office of priest. The council determined that it would be allowed, but what interests me is that they had a council at all to determine this. And had the council said "no," the man would not have been permitted. My guess is that this council, in spite of its leniency toward the six-fingered man (one thinks of the Princess Bride), it would have disallowed a priest so left-handed that he would not have been able to employ his right hand in the usual way, as priests do. How hard is it to do, after all?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I cross my left thumb over my right. I've been doing that my whole life. I'm not going to change.

    And when my wife is holding our daughter in her right arm she makes the sign of the cross with her left hand. She's probably not going to change, either.

    I'm intrigued that of the two most recent discussions on Gottesdienst--this one and Fr. Petersen's article regarding ways to improve synod--this conversation has more involvement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Josh,

      The Petersen post has actually gotten three times as many hits as this one. I think there is less comment for a couple reasons: 1) There is just a lot in there to consider, 2) A lot of people don't want to weigh in on such a controversial topic in a public forum.

      However, I'm encouraged by the heavy traffic because it does show that the topics of what the synod's purpose is, what its issues are, what reforms ought to be made, and how to we get from point A to point B are weighing on a lot of minds. And ultimately, a lot of brainstorming and prayer by a lot of people is more likely to yield helpful solutions rather than a top-down bureaucratic imposition of some Five Year Plan or Mandate From Heaven. We need to keep what is working, improve what is weak, and get rid of what is obsolete or failing.

      There is a huge amount of behind the scenes discussions going on, and I do think a lot of these private discussions will spill over into public commentary.

      And once again, this is all Dave's fault. I blame Dave. ;-)

      Delete
    2. Indeed, I have seen the other discussion reposted on BJS and ALPB. It's getting discussed there.

      Your second reason is very poignant. Nobody wants to talk about it. Everyone is afraid. In such a climate nothing will ever get fixed.

      Delete
  11. "Nobody wants to talk about it. Everyone is afraid. In such a climate nothing will ever get fixed."

    I think it just takes time. Even the Soviet Union eventually collapsed. It all started with the tiny little crack appeared in the Iron Curtain. As more people found their courage, eventually a critical mass was reached, and things changed.

    I've only been in the ministry for a little more than 8 years, and one of the things that I have found shocking is the stifling atmosphere of the LCMS. The DPs have a lot of power, and frankly, it is intimidating to have one's family and their welfare subject to the whims of one man who really might like to see you gone, with weapons at his disposal like restricted status, compulsory mental health evaluations, and even greater power to destroy ministries and careers in an informal way with a whisper here and a raised eyebrow there. We live and work and serve in a highly-politicized culture. The stakes are high - spiritually and temporally - and the Church has a 2,000 year history of what those in power are willing to do to whistle-blowers (we are Lutherans after all...).

    So, a lot of guys lay low, only speak when no-one is around, and "play the game." I think one of the unintended consequences of having men working at outside jobs and becoming less financially dependent on their ministries for salary and insurance is the willingness to engage in dissent and criticism without being cowed into silence. And you're right. Until we can speak freely and until we have a culture that does not intimidate critics and whistle-blowers - it can't get better.

    But I'm actually encouraged to see that little crack appearing in our synod's own Curtain - especially with younger pastors (it seems to me) being a little more willing to express their opinions and ask the tough questions. And I think social media has been a game-changer.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I agree with Fr. Petersen, by the way. This is certainly a place where freedom in the Gospel must reign supreme. In fact, I'd suggest that it'd be fine to wear the maniple on the right hand when distributing with the left.

    My primary concern would be that the pastor be comfortable and not feel like he's risking a spill or drop everytime he gives out the Lord's gifts.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Yes, Paul, because Fr. Petersen made it vividly clear that this matter was of the utmost importance and in crucial need of settling right away in his post, lest any of the elect be deceived, were that possible.

    Don't they have any books for you to edit?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Now, now, Tom. According to his own biography http://cyberbrethren.com/about/, "Pastor" McCain served two years in the ministry twenty years ago. That's more than 700 days in the parish!

    You need to listen to him.

    I do believe he is the smartest man in the LCMS. While critiquing how actual pastors use their time (in this case one that works a secular job in addition to fulltime pastoral ministry), Paul manages to pull in a pretty good salary (reputedly $180k but frankly I can't believe CPH would be throwing money around THAT recklessly - but I suspect he makes a tad bit more than the guys who actually lead worship and give pastoral care...), while having time enough on his own hands to deign to speak to the rest of us peasants on such topics as his midlife crisis/decision not to wear ties any more. Oh, what would we ever do without Paul tossing us such golden nuggets?

    I was following that one with baited breath.

    Way too much time... And money?

    Interestingly, Paul is not commenting on Pastor Petersen's previous post here: http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2012/11/what-should-synod-do.html in which he suggests this as a possible reform:

    "CPH needs to rethink its mission. It should be taken back as a non-profit subsidized by synod. Hymnals and Catechisms should be "sold" at as near cost as possible. Grants should be created to help CPH give away hymnals and catechisms at less than cost. The point of the hymnal should be to unite the Synod in doctrine and practice not to underwrite a terrible VBS program that promotes contemporary worship. CPH execs should not be paid at the same rate as Zondervan execs but at district scale. The Catechism translation should be owned by the synod not CPH. It should be made available for reproduction, without cost, to anyone who is using it piously, without modifying it."

    All of a sudden, our friend Paul McCain is silent!

    And again I say: Way too much time... And money?

    ReplyDelete
  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm left handed. I would like to know whether there are ANY left-handers out there who actually have trouble doing anything with their right hand except for writing/drawing and eating.

    I type, play piano, use a mouse, open door knobs with my right hand. I play flute, whistle, and fiddle right-handed. My little league coach switched me to right-handed catching because I had a weak left arm, and I adapted within a week. I know other left-handers with similar experiences.

    The thought never occurred to me that anyone would have trouble making the sign of the cross with their right hand. I distribute the host with patin in left, wafer in right, but honestly, I never gave it a single thought.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Just a brief word here of apology, both to my brother-in Christ and office, Pr. Beane, and to his dear congregation for my remarks posted here yesterday. I was able to reach out personally to Larry first and receive his gracious word of pardon and am happy here to share these remarks.

    Pray for me that the Lord would guard my fingers from typing things that should not be said!

    PTM

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thank you, Paul. I greatly appreciate it as do my parishioners. Peace in Christ!

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm left handed and I struggle to do anything well with my right. Also, as a left-handed purist, I consider southpaws like Martin who play instruments right-handed to be total sell-outs:-)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Can you do satire left handed? Left handed compliments? The left hand of fellowship?

    ReplyDelete
  30. It is weird, though, the way people play guitar. Left handed people use the right hand to fret and vice versa, which really doesn't make sense when you think about it.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I just don't get it. What can be so wrong about writing a post merely out of curiosity? How does that become "an issue that we don't have to lose sleep over anymore"? Are we completely incapable of talking about adiaphora without someone getting their panties in a wad? If there is a war going on, is it reasonable to assume that not every discussion had between officers was of utmost importance? Is it reasonable to assume that sometimes the Officers just brought up a point about maneuvering that didn't really affect the outcome of the war, but just was curious as to how it might be done differently? I'm just amazed at the inability to have a discussion about anything that isn't of profound importance for Christianity.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Just so I am not misunderstood, I am referring to this post by Petersen as a case in point. It was an innocent blog post, not meant to suggest that the Church will stand and fall on the basis of the answer. And then it is made out to be this big deal by a certain lurker on the blog. Ugh.

    ReplyDelete
  33. As in so many circumstances, the debate here can be effectively resolved by pondering traditio’s answer to “What would Peter do?”

    Scripture relates that Malchus’ right ear, in the Garden, was cleanly sliced off with a surgeon’s precision, by the prince of the Apostles (Jn 18:10). Some rascals have maintained that this could only have been accomplished, were Peter a port-sider like baseball’s Sultan of Swat, or … as revealed here … the internet Lutherans’ Satrap of Satire.

    The rub here is that we have no clue, from the Holy Ghost, as to what the precise position of the high priest’s servant was. Perhaps St. Peter approached the arresting officer from behind, in which case a right-handed flash of steel would have nailed the target squarely. Think about it. Admittedly, it would be a less than a manly gesture from the burly fisherman, then again it was a tight spot, in which the gates of hell seemed to all eyes to be prevailing at their worst. In addition, a few moments later, St. Peter memorably wilted when he was confronted by a mere maiden, face to face.

    The tactics of confrontational maneuver are not afforded by St. John. Nor does he provide details about the Great Physician’s compassionate response, to the amputee’s distress. Ditto Ss. Matthew and Mark. Leave it to Dr. Luke (22:51), to write the definitive procedural note.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

    ReplyDelete
  34. When I am tangibly receiving the gift of God at the rail, I only care that my tongue (or, sometimes, hand) safely receive the bread and that the chalice is held firmly for me. I am not there to critique, but to receive. This seems to argue for choosing care and caution in handling, not concern over sinister versus dexter.

    However, in my not-as-short-as-wish life, I have only shaken hands lefty when that was the only hand available. This regardless of handedness on either party. Thus, I must echo, "But making the sign of the cross? No need to switch that up, certainly: no fine motor skills there. "

    ReplyDelete

Comments are moderated. Neither spam, vulgarity, comments that are insulting, slanderous or otherwise unbefitting of Christian dignity nor anonymous posts will be published.