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Healing Touch

One of my very favorite essays is Andre Dubus' "On Charon's Wharf" (in his collection, Broken Vessels). He writes:

My belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist is simple: without touch, God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy: he must touch and be touched, the tongue on flesh, and that touch is the result of the monologues, the idea, the philosophies which led to faith; but in the instant of the touch there is no place for thinking, for talking; the silent touch affirms all that, and goes deeper: it affirms the mysteries of love and mortality.

A wise monk-liturgist once wrote that touch is the fundamental sacrament. Among the horrors of clergy sex abuse is that it perverts touch and thus, almost demonically, attacks the sacramental order itself.Those who were present or who saw on television Pope Benedict's encounter with children with disabilities yesterday, at Dunwoodie, witnessed the sacramental power of a loving and enabling touch -- a blessing, not a curse.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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From today's New York Times: I feel whole here, Mrs. Calazans, 42, said one recent Sunday in the Astoria sanctuary, the Portuguese Language Pentecostal Missionary Church, as she swayed to the pop-rock beat of a live gospel band. This church is not a place we visit once a week. This church is where we hang around and we share our problems and we celebrate our successes, like we were family.This is a statement from Maria Calazans who was a Catholic until recently. Is this something that is missing in our churches, despite the Catholic charismatic movement?

Yes, Bill, there is a lot missing from the average Catholic church. Way too many Catholic liturgies are terminally unemotive. The very nature of worship involves all of the senses and not just the intellect. There are many opportunities for individuals to engage in personal prayer and acts of piety outside of the communal liturgies. But when we gather at Mass we do so as a community, not a gaggle of individuals getting their tickets punched!The question of the capability of the traditional forms of liturgy to respond to the needs of new situations of life and contexts of experience must continually be raised. To declare, imply or dictate that only staid, overly-intellectualized spoken words and music best described as performance art represent that most desirable form of worship fails to recognize that catholicity of the Catholic world. People in many cultures respond to their relationship to and with God in other manners, not the least of which is what many in Gods frozen chosen world of over-Europeanized Catholic worship would consider to be emotive.The church in the U.S. is rapidly becoming dominated by Hispanics, who bring their own worship, prayer and music appreciations to the table. Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Americans and Asians all have their own. What is sacred music to one set of sensibilities is simply dull and boring to anothers. Misa Luba, Misa Flamenca and Misa Criolla are as beautiful and awe-inspiring as Gregorian Chant. If the Church is truly Catholic then it needs to recognize that it is necessary to reach peoples minds and hearts in the way that best fits their needs. An obsession with uniformity that ignores in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas fails the test..Turning communal worship into a hushed, magical mystery tour of my Jesus and me is equally as spiritually unhealthy as holy roller extremes so common in Pentecostal excesses.

The old radio-dramas used to end with a disclaimer that it seems appropriate to echo: any connection of the comments to the post is "purely coincidental."

Well, it is a weekend and the most likely voluminous post-B16 cussing and discussing will most likely continue in the new week. That having been said, the time the greater majority of Catholics come close to a " witness(ing) the sacramental power of a loving and enabling touch " is at their weekly liturgy. If this touch doesn't come to them appropriately then the people for whom the liturgy is conducted will not know the ability of their souls to quicken.As Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox theologian, has put it: "the liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the Risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber." The truth of the liturgy is the feel (touch) of it, not the think of it.

James,thank you for the Schmemann quote. His "For the Life of the World" is a gem of a book ... soul-expanding.

Yes, thanks to jimmy Mac for the quote. For a long time I have been wondering just what is the nature of the Eucalharist is as a communal event. So often, especially when a discussion is about specific forms of the liturgy, people seem to be taking sides about community * experience* (or,rather, the experiences of the individuals who happen to be present)rather than *expression* of the nature of the Christian community as a whole. The arguments are fruitless because no one liturgy can express all the experiences in the whole Church.What all foirms of liturgy can do iswitness to the faith, with each gathering becoming a symbol of the larger community. The aesthetic problem in a diversified country such as the U.S. Is to find a liturgical form that incorporates the common understanding of the complex group -- to find a liturgical "language" that can "express" that witness. And that language must. Of course, be physical

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