I am fascinated by hands.
I think my fascination began when I was a little girl in church, my head resting in my mother’s lap as she toyed with my hair, smoothing it behind my ear, twisting and braiding it while the pastor ranted on about matters that were far above my childish concerns. Those same hands would move over the keys of piano, stretching what seemed to me to be impossible distances to connect the sounds of low notes to higher ones, adding the harmonies or the dissonances of what lay between. The dexterity of her fingers was an incredible thing to watch as she sorted through fresh-shelled peas, pulling out those that were less than perfect, removing the bits of hull that had fallen in through our negligence as we worked in a hurry, disgruntled by the task and anxious to get back to our more youthful pleasures. I loved the sparkle of her wedding bands, and as I grew older, the gentleness with which she tended her patients in the hospital where she worked, and eventually, the care she gave her own mother as she entered her declining years.
It is an amazing thing, what God has crafted in the human hand. It is an example of both the strength and frailty of the human condition. The same hands that can save one can destroy another. To have four fingers and a thumb on each is to incline us toward normalcy in a world that still abhors that which is different or strange. We lend a hand, we discuss what is on hand, we admire the dexterous and dread the sinister, we hold things dear to us within them, we wring them in worry, we clasp them together when we adore, we strike our breasts to indicate remorse. They are as expressive as our speech, in every gesture and sign.
I am, as an adult, no less fascinated by hands. I do not have the same vantage as that of my childhood, and the hands that cared for me then no longer offer such ministrations, yet I find that I still watch another’s hands when I am in the house of God. The one who ministers to me now stands at the high altar, facing God in His tabernacle, and handles things which are sacred and holy, using the ritualistic gestures of Christianity’s youth, performing the rites of sacrifice, each movement graceful and lordly, each action the same as yesterday, the same as those like him around the world who celebrate this feast. These hands hold aloft the Body of Christ, ever present in the Eucharist, ever held within His Most Precious Blood. They fracture the Host, breaking His Body, as he who wounds our Lord thus proclaims himself unworthy. They grasp the altar’s edge as the priest kneels in adoration, they bring our Lord to those of us who wait, our own hands making the sign of the cross as we receive Him upon our tongues. Our every gesture, our every sign during this corporate moment is to present ourselves to our Lord as an offering, to be made worthy of His Sacrifice, to take upon our tongues what we dare not take into our hands.
I have my mother’s hands. They are, in their imitation of hers, perfect in every way. I accept this gift without question, without seeking to justify why or how she gave them to me, recognizing that there was no other gift that would replace them, no substitution for their design. So it is, too, for those who offer the Mass for us, whose hands, perfect to this calling, present our offerings to God in the eternal moment that perfects us all.
Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken. Amen.