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
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!