Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sign Language

Almost every priest talks with his hands as he preaches, and the accents are as distinctive as are the accents of voice.  Some are given to grand gestures; others hold their hands closely and more controlled.  Watch any priest in the course of Mass, and his favorite gestures will become evident very quickly.  See him outside Mass, and you’re likely to find the same motions in conversation.  Recognizing the postures was easy, but posing them was more difficult.  Our subjects were often unaware of their most characteristic poses and stiff when asked to reproduce them. 
One expedient Steve used was to get his subject talking, and the discussion was often as interesting as the resulting images.  One priest told the story of a taxi driver and a priest—the priest ending up with time in purgatory and the taxi driver waltzing right into heaven despite his profane life.  The punch line?  The priest’s homilies put people to sleep but the taxi driver regularly drove (literally) people to prayer. 
The result is a diverse collection of images.  One priest regularly pushes up the sleeves of his alb before beginning to preach--or celebrate-- as though to emphasize that he is preparing for important work.  One is given to elegant, inviting gestures, palms up, that beckon both the listener and the Spirit.  Another’s “accent” is to bring his hands together in various ways, emphasizing the connections of the people of God.  Yet another often raises his hands in sheer joy at the wonder of the subject he teaches. 
One of the great gifts of Catholic worship is that we get to use our bodies, not just our hearts and minds, as vehicles for worship.  We see the beauty of our churches, we hear consecration bells and some of the most glorious music ever written, we touch beads and holy water, we are surrounded by the fragrance of incense, we taste the Blessed Sacrament.  The language of our priests’ hands in worship provides yet another dimension in a tradition already rich in expression,inviting us to communion with God and each other.

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