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Living Liturgy: Laying on of Hands

Easter Vigil 2010
Easter Vigil Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu.

Julie Kelly
Living Liturgy with Julie Kelly

As I sit here late in the night surrounded by Confirmation liturgies from across the Diocese, I am reminded of the powerful action of the Laying on of Hands.

The Laying on of Hands is the ritual action of calling upon the Holy Spirit during Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick and Ordination of Clerics.

The Christian tradition of the Laying on of Hands has its roots in Jewish beliefs and practices. In biblical times the laying on of hands was an action that conferred blessing or authority. Jacob blessed his son Joseph in this fashion, and Jesus laid hands on children to bless them and on the sick to heal them.

In the New Testament the laying on of hands is associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-19). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as those who were called to a particular service. (Acts 6:5).

In the Rite of Confirmation, the laying on of hands is carried out when the celebrant extends his hands over the Candidates and prays that they might “receive the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, and the spirit of wonder and awe in God’s presence.”

We are most familiar with the calling of the Holy Spirit each week during the Eucharistic Prayer. When we hear the familiar words of Eucharistic Prayer III “And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son …”, and “Grant that we, who are nourished by His body and blood, may be filled with His Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.”

We understand that not only are the gifts of bread and wine to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, but that we are all the gifts to be made holy and changed into the Body of Christ.

Pentecost, which we celebrate next week, culminates our 50-day Easter celebration of salvation. We are reminded that our receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit continues our salvation story: we become 'joint heirs with Christ' advocates of God's presence.

The story of our salvation recounts the untiring gift of God's self to humanity – in creation, in covenant, in prophetic word, in the incarnate Word, and in the gift of the Spirit.

What a fitting end to the Easter celebration as together in the Opening prayer we claim our gift that will enable us to go out to “unite the races and nations on earth to proclaim your glory.”

« Return to Catholic Outlook May 2010

With all your heart turn to me, for I am tender and compassionate.Joel 2:12-13

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