As we learned from todays Gospel, Ephphatha is the command Jesus utters when he touches the ears and, with his spittle, the tongue of a deaf and speech-impaired man who immediately can hear and speak intelligibly (Mk 7:31-37). It is also the name for an optional moment in the baptismal ritual for children when the priest or deacon touches the ear and mouth of the child and says: The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ear to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father. Amen.The rite in use when I was ordained had this rubric:

After this, the priest takes saliva from his mouth with his thumb (the use of saliva in touching the ears and nostrils of the infant may be omitted for a reasonable cause, to safeguard cleanliness or to avoid the danger of contracting or spreading disease) and he touches the ears and nostrils of the infant.

His words were: Ephphatha, which means Be opened, so that you may perceive the fragrance of Gods sweetness. But you, O devil, depart, for the judgment of God has come.The reformed rite is close to the account of Jesus healing of the deaf mute and omits the use of saliva, even as an option, to the relief, I am sure, of many parents.You can find here what I made of the Gospel in a homily.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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