Numbering the Psalms; Holding Hands for the Our Father


A couple of recent examples of the numerous questions I receive about liturgical matters – and the replies I gave – might be of interest to readers of “Liturgy Lines”.
One lady phoned to ask why, when and under whose authority the Liturgical Commission, in its publication “Break Open The Word”, had changed the designation of the well-known Psalm, “The Lord Is My Shepherd”, from Psalm 23 to Psalm 22.
The caller was rather surprised to learn that she would find it labelled Psalm 22 in her Sunday Missal and in the Lectionary used in the parish since the 1970s.
This not-uncommon confusion about Psalm numbering comes about because the Roman Catholic Church, since the promulgation of the Latin Bible (Vulgate) in the 6th century, has followed the numbering and division of the Psalms employed by the Greek translation of the Scriptures (the Septuagint). The versions of the Bible used by other Christian traditions follow the division and numbering of the Psalms in the Hebrew text. (It has always struck me as strange that any Christians would see fit to change the numbering system used by the Jewish people whose prayers the Psalms are anyway!)
Psalms 9 and 10 in the Hebrew text are combined into one Psalm in the Greek/Latin Bible, so from Psalm 9 onwards, the Roman Catholic Psalm numbers are one less than those in other versions. Because Psalm 147 of the Jewish Psalms is split into two separate Psalms in the Catholic system, the total number of Psalms in both finishes up being the same -150. However, only the first 8 and the last 3 Psalms agree in numbering.
Because the popular sung settings of “The Lord Is My Shepherd” came out of the Reformed (Protestant) tradition, they were always referred to as Psalm 23, and many Catholics assumed, quite understandably, that this was the same for everyone. This area of difference between the Churches is being rectified as new, ecumenical Scripture translations come into use in the Catholic Church.
On another matter, a gentleman wrote asking whether the custom which has arisen in some parishes of people holding hands during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is permitted. He seemed almost disappointed to learn that the fact that this practice is not mentioned in the rubrics does not mean that it is banned! A lot of things we do without question at Mass aren’t set down in the book. In several parishes, people routinely make the sign of the cross at the end of the penitential rite. That’s not in the rubrics either, but I haven’t heard any complaints!
The reason usually given for holding hands during the Our Father (it seems much more common in the USA than in Australia) is that it creates a sense of unity and community. This, however, is the express purpose of the Communion Rite, as we walk together to the table and share the one bread and one cup.
I see two other drawbacks in the practice. Firstly, unlike any other part of the liturgy, people are virtually forced to participate whether they feel comfortable or not. Secondly, holding hands has never been an accepted gesture for public prayer. A more appropriate alternative might be to encourage people to adopt the orans stance, with arms raised and palms turned upwards, as practised in some parishes and permitted in the revised Italian Sacramentary.
While holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer should not be introduced where it is not currently practised, it would be pastorally inappropriate to suppress what is a genuine part of people’s prayer in some places.


Elizabeth Harrington