“Make sure you wash your hands before coming to the table. Quick tea is ready!”
I wonder how many times I heard that said to me (and my brothers and sisters).
And, having spent most of the day outside touching everything from cricket balls to tennis racquets; from rugby balls to worms in a puddle; from bike chains to the bark and branches of trees; it was a reasonable and sensible request.
Now that same request is being urged on myself and indeed on us all.
With the presence of the coronavirus, Covid-19, in our communities and nations world-wide there is a strong request that we wash our hands.
It seems so simple: Washing our hands is one of the easiest ways to keep ourselves safe.
Wash often with soap for 20 seconds. Then dry.; this kills the virus by bursting its protective bubble.
When you pause and consider your daily activities prior to the virus pandemic, handwashing was a regular occurrence during our daytime activities.
The Cambridge English dictionary gives the meaning of “ritual” as ‘a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially as part of a ceremony’.
Is it pushing things too far to suggest that the simple act of hand washing is a ritual?
When you stop and reflect for a moment we have many daily rituals, fixed actions which we perform with such regularity, that their very regularity demotes them to habits.
When I retire for the night, when I wake in the morning, how I wash and prepare myself for the day, what I have for breakfast, what is my morning drink . . . . and on and on.
Our day is filled with habitual behaviours.
If we dared slow down and took time over these actions honouring them as wholesome and life-giving then I am convinced the ritual nature of them would become evident.
At the beginning of our Eucharist, after the opening song there is what is known as the Penitential Rite.
Frequently it is over before persons have put their hymnal away, and before you know we are sitting down to attend to the readings which form the Liturgy of the Word.
The Penitential Rite begins with an invitation from the Presider to ‘call to mind our sins’, or words with a similar invitation, and then, before we have time to recall even one little word or act we move on.
However, there is a part of that ritual I consider vitally important.
In the text the presider uses there is a small line written in red which is known as a rubric. This ‘rubric’ reads, “the absolution by the priest follows” (Roman Missal p. 507).
Stop a moment and read that again, “the absolution by the priest follows”.
The Oxford dictionary defines absolution as “a formal statement that a person is forgiven for what he or she has done wrong.”
Now, logic was not one of my better subjects, however I would take it that any indiscretion/sin that I have called to mind during the Penitential Rite is forgiven!
The questions I hold are twofold,
- is such a dramatic ritual in the right place in our liturgy?, and
- do we do it so often that it has become a habit rather than a ritual?