Hand washing

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: It is my understanding that ritual of the Priest washing his hands before the Eucharistic prayers Is rooted in Jewish custom before animal sacrifices and requirements of cleanliness. Those customs may have stemmed from necessary health practices learned by their people, but now it remains as a tradition and is more of a symbol of inward purifying.   I may be wrong in that understanding and if so, disregard my question.  

But, if that is a correct understanding…in light of the pandemic and potentially new normalization of health practices in our society, could you see that ritual of hand washing actually being restored to being more intentional with soap, etc..thus combining the ordinary/practical and the symbolic/ritual into one?

Just stray thoughts during the day. 🙂


A: I treat the origins of hand washing on p. 59 of my book At the Supper of the Lamb. It probably came about in the Middle Ages as a practical matter after using incense during the preparation of the gifts. Parallels to Jewish customs are coincidental.

Using water alone, as you suggest, isn’t very hygienic. During the pandemic it’s customary for priests and others to use hand sanitizer just before distributing communion.

I guess a priest could add soap to the washing of hands, but he’s going to touch the missal, the ribbons, the chalice, the paten and the host before he starts distributing communion. During the pandemic, he’ll still need hand sanitizer.