Friday, 3 June 2011

Whatever happened to priestly OCD?

Now I blame Vatican II for many things but it would be a little OTT to hang this one on the poor old Council. I am talking about an obsessive compulsive disorder that was once common among priests - incessant hand washing. You hardly ever hear of it these days but I knew several priests and even one Auxiliary Bishop who suffered with this and, seemingly, never found a way of ceasing the hideous practice which produced countless painful side effects such as psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis.

One does not need to be a psychoanalyst to comprehend the reasons why clerics often suffered from this, although, I guess that, today, some pretty nasty reasons might be levelled in the wake of the child abuse scandals. The reason then (and it was well accepted in Catholic circles) was that an imbalanced view of worthiness developed and was linked, of course, to the physical handling of the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest did not feel 'clean' enough, on a daily basis, to take the Body of Christ between thumb and forefinger and then to proceed to distribute the Eucharist to the mouths of the kneeling faithful.
It is a very comprehensible disorder and a very disruptive one for the priest because the handwashing exercise would manifest itself every few minutes and, very often, the hands that would hold the Sacred Host the next day at Mass, would be red raw and bleeding by the end of the day.

There was no help available, of course, I am sure that the view of the Canon observing his curate's fetish type habit would be to say: "Pull yourself together and cut it out at once Father!" Not very helpful but, there were quite a few bad things about the days before Vat II. In some instances, those who committed suicide were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground - very hard and now, happily, a thing of the past.
When Pilate washed his hands it was
for a very different reason!

So why is it apparently absent today? I believe that we are more relaxed in respect of the Blessed Sacrament today and that this easy going attitude has rubbed off on the priest (after all, most priests will have a coven bevy of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to aid him in the time consuming and laborious task of distributing Holy Communion to all those hordes who await with hands outstretched. No OCD amongst that lot, their hands were probably peeling spuds or throwing darts down the local the night before......ahem.

Of course, do not misunderstand me, it is a good thing that priests do not suffer with this complaint so much these days; it is just an interesting reflection on how time changes observance.

I have a book written by a Herefordshire Catholic woman in the early 19th century and, in those days they would begin preparation for the Sacrament of Confession a full three days before the priest was due to call. Each day would be a blend of prayer, silence, meditation and examination of conscience.....but no handwashing!

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