Priest Touching your Shoulder or Forehead? What does this mean?


#1

Hello Everyone,

There were times, when I happened to be speaking to priests and they happen to touch my forehead (which I believe is a blessing, although I really dont know). Sometimes the simply touch the forehead, or make a cross on the forehead with a finger.

Another time there was this priest who I spoke to (a few times), and each time as I sat talking next to him, he would place his hand on my shoulder while he talked or prayed etc.

So, I have nothing against these things, I’m just curios as I do not fully understand what they mean.

I’d really appreciate some info/ explanations. Thanks.


#2

The cross on your forehead is a simple means of blessing. The hand on the shoulder is simply a gesture of familiarity or reassurance.

Remember, the priest is an “Alter Christus”. When our LORD was around, He very often laid hands on people to minister to them. We don’t have HIM physically. But in a consecrated sense, the priest has HIS hands!

ICXC NIKA


#3

Except for specific rites, there is no particular reason for him to do this. He probably intends the touch as conferring a blessing (especially when tracing a cross or praying). If it makes you uncomfortable, however, tell him so.


#4

Do you mean the Priest has HIS (as in HIS) hands??? You know what I mean?


#5

This is a very old form of blessing. Today, it’s more commonly used at Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and by religious superiors when dismissing their subjects. But it’s a valid form of blessing.

Another time there was this priest who I spoke to (a few times), and each time as I sat talking next to him, he would place his hand on my shoulder while he talked or prayed etc.

Imposing hands on someone while you pray is also an old custom. Normally, one places his hand on the person’s head. If the position is uncomfortable or if the person doing the imposition of the hands does not feel comfortable touching someone’s hair, he will often put his hands on the shoulder.

Some people are freaked out by having a hand on their head. Some people are germaphobes. They won’t touch another person’s hair, because human hair is full of germs. That’s the purpose of hair, to protect what’s beneath it.

The difference between a good touch and bad touch, such as the hand on the shoulder is easy. When the hand is removed as soon as the prayer is finished, the reason becomes obvious. It’s an imposition of hands. If the hand feels like its stroking or caressing, that is not a typical imposition of hands. During the imposition of hands, the hand does not move.

Some people, not just priests, have a habit of placing their hands on another person’s should as they talk to them. It’s an automatic thing with no real thought given to the action. As someone said, it can be a sign of friendship, affection or just a cultural custom. Again, I would pay special attention to whether it’s just a hand on my shoulder or a caress. One should be able to feel the difference.

One can politely explain that one feels uncomfortable when touched, without making any insinuations. If the other person’s intentions are honorable, he will understand and no offense will be taken. Again, one can tell that too. The person who is inappropriately invading one’s space will make light of it or make excuses. While the innocent person will simply say something like “OK” or “I’m sorry” or something to let you know that they respect your feelings on the matter.

If you’re a minor,** unless you’re in confession or spiritual direction**, you should not be behind closed doors with anyone who works for the diocese. This is a policy in every diocese in the USA.

There is no need for anyone here to make a bigger deal out of this than is necessary. For more information, you may want to visit Virtus online. www.virtus.org

Fraternally,

Br. JR, FFV :slight_smile:


#6

[quote="504Katrin, post:4, topic:300396"]
Do you mean the Priest has HIS (as in HIS) hands??? You know what I mean?

[/quote]

He means the priest has Christ's hands...


#7

[quote="JReducation, post:5, topic:300396"]
This is a very old form of blessing. Today, it's more commonly used at Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and by religious superiors when dismissing their subjects. But it's a valid form of blessing.

Imposing hands on someone while you pray is also an old custom. Normally, one places his hand on the person's head. If the position is uncomfortable or if the person doing the imposition of the hands does not feel comfortable touching someone's hair, he will often put his hands on the shoulder.

Some people are freaked out by having a hand on their head. Some people are germaphobes. They won't touch another person's hair, because human hair is full of germs. That's the purpose of hair, to protect what's beneath it.

The difference between a good touch and bad touch, such as the hand on the shoulder is easy. When the hand is removed as soon as the prayer is finished, the reason becomes obvious. It's an imposition of hands. If the hand feels like its stroking or caressing, that is not a typical imposition of hands. During the imposition of hands, the hand does not move.

Some people, not just priests, have a habit of placing their hands on another person's should as they talk to them. It's an automatic thing with no real thought given to the action. As someone said, it can be a sign of friendship, affection or just a cultural custom. Again, I would pay special attention to whether it's just a hand on my shoulder or a caress. One should be able to feel the difference.

One can politely explain that one feels uncomfortable when touched, without making any insinuations. If the other person's intentions are honorable, he will understand and no offense will be taken. Again, one can tell that too. The person who is inappropriately invading one's space will make light of it or make excuses. While the innocent person will simply say something like "OK" or "I'm sorry" or something to let you know that they respect your feelings on the matter.

If you're a minor,** unless you're in confession or spiritual direction**, you should not be behind closed doors with anyone who works for the diocese. This is a policy in every diocese in the USA.

There is no need for anyone here to make a bigger deal out of this than is necessary. For more information, you may want to visit Virtus online. www.virtus.org

Fraternally,

Br. JR, FFV :)

[/quote]

Exactly, the priest is very likely being freindly when he puts his hand on your shoulder and nothing more

Have we become so paranoid and suspicous that we have trouble trusting even our own clergy assuming the have bad sexual motives?


#8

There’s nothing wrong with Br. JR’s advice. A minor should not be behind closed doors with anyone from the diocese unless they’re in the confessional and then only for the brief time it takes to confess or receive spiritual direction. “Anyone from the diocese” includes teachers, principals, priests, deacons, scout leaders and all other personnel.

This is not paranoia. This is simply practical and reasonable. There is no reason that a healthy adult, who is not one of the minor’s parents, should seek any kind of exclusivity or intimacy with a child or young person that would require them to be behind closed doors.

Physical touch is a similar issue. Some people are “touchers,” meaning they instinctively touch others when they speak. But if this touching is uncomfortable, a child or young person has EVERY right to request that the person not touch. Or to ask a parent to relay the instruction to the person doing the touching. No one has the right to touch a child who does not want to be touched.

For more information, go to: virtus.org/virtus/


#9

Why not just ask the priest why he did this? We can guess but the primary source for the reply should be the priest since he touched your forehead and shoulder.

I feel sorry for any diocesan worker who speaks with anyone, especially a minor, in private. These people could never defend themselves against an accusation of impropriety even 50+ years down the track. Far better to speak privately where everyone can see but none can hear e.g. a room with double glazing windows.


#10

[quote="iloveangels, post:8, topic:300396"]
There's nothing wrong with Br. JR's advice. A minor should not be behind closed doors with anyone from the diocese unless they're in the confessional and then only for the brief time it takes to confess or receive spiritual direction. "Anyone from the diocese" includes teachers, principals, priests, deacons, scout leaders and all other personnel.

This is not paranoia. This is simply practical and reasonable. There is no reason that a healthy adult, who is not one of the minor's parents, should seek any kind of exclusivity or intimacy with a child or young person that would require them to be behind closed doors.

[/quote]

This is why some priests only hear confession in the open, near the sanctuary, in plain sight. People complain that confession is heard in the open, but I don't blame the priest. They want zero possiblity of being accused of anything.

Every diocese in the US has a "Safe Environment" program which every cleric, employee, teacher, volunteer and ministry worker has to go through. I had to be background checked in order to train altar servers. I cannot go into the vestry with the children by myself but have to have a second adult with me. That's the rules. I make sure that one of the adults with me is a parent so that there is no question. I will not reach down to adjust a child's surplice.

We hear deacons telling the volunteers "No touchy! No Touchy!" It's almost a joke when you hear it said, but it is a constant reminder that you never want to put yourself in a position where you could be accused of anything. I gave my daughter a hug once while she was in a cassock and surplice, and then I realized that I was probably going to be accused of abusing an altar server.

We are all secondary abuse victims to the extent that we have to do these things. The abuse affects all of us. There is nothing wrong with admitting that. One of our priests stopped making a cross on children's foreheads except when they appear with their parents in the commuion line. It's a shame, but I don't blame him. The abusers have stolen much from all of us.

-Tim-


#11

The fact that it has come down to this is just sad. This is the same legal condition we have for convicted child molesters on probation. (Yes, child molesters get probation where I live.)


#12

[quote="Deo_Gratias42, post:11, topic:300396"]
The fact that it has come down to this is just sad. This is the same legal condition we have for convicted child molesters on probation. (Yes, child molesters get probation where I live.)

[/quote]

It's also the same things that teachers have practiced for years. The fact that some significant number of Catholics think there is something wrong with keeping your hands at home and behaving yourself around kids is kind of appalling, if you want to know the truth.


#13

[quote="iloveangels, post:12, topic:300396"]
It's also the same things that teachers have practiced for years. The fact that some significant number of Catholics think there is something wrong with keeping your hands at home and behaving yourself around kids is kind of appalling, if you want to know the truth.

[/quote]

:thumbsup:


#14

It sounds like the priest was giving you a blessing when he touched your forehead.

As far as the hands on the shoulder, placing one's hands on another while you pray for them is part of tradition. Not everyone does it, but I attended a retreat once where we all took turns praying for each other and keeping our hands on the shoulders of the person as we prayed for them. It was a very beautiful experience to have a friend pray for you as they do this because the prayer felt so tangible and real. I came away from the experience with a lot of peace. If I ever coordinate a retreat I will probably make sure it is included.


#15

Actually, the OP never said his or her age. I threw in the advice about minors, just in case. An adult, on the other hand, should be able to tell when the touch is harmless and when one is being caressed.

In the part of the country where I live, a kiss and a hug are the typical greeting on the third encounter. It's the local culture. People with common sense and who know the local culture can tell the difference between custom and the inappropriate touch.

We want people to be safe, not to be fearful. If we stop and counts the number of people whom we meet in our lifetime and the number with whom we have interacted at school, work, church, neighborhood and other places, it's quite a large number. How many of them ever posed a threat?

What I'm trying to say is that the number of people who pose a real threat is actually small compared to the number of people with whom we interact throughout our lives. Therefore, fear is not the appropriate response, charity and safety measures are appropriate.

This past Sunday, I was standing outside after mass when I hear someone excitedly call out my name. There must have been about 800 people around, since one mass was going out and the other was coming in.

I turned to look. A young man of high school age, came running toward me at the speed of a hockey player, with his parents in tow. He gave me a big bear hug. It would have been very uncharitable for me to embarrass him by pulling away or putting out my hand as if I were a crossing guard ordering him to stop. I returned the greeting and greet both parents as well. Everyone was very affectionate toward me. The mother said, "He saw you during the mass and his face lit up. I had not seen this family in a very long time.

The story behind this is that this young man was my student in CCD when he was in grade 6. He's now in high school, at least four years later. For confirmation, he chose the name of one of our Franciscan saints and had to write a paper on his patron saint. It's a requirement for Confirmation. He asked me to lend him some books on the Franciscan saints and later asked me to proof read his paper. After finishing my class in grade six, he began to write articles on pro-life issues for his school paper. He has been telling his parents that he wants to join the Franciscans of Life after high school.

To the casual observer, who does not know any of this history, a high school boy running up to hug a friar would look rather strange. To the parents and me, everything seemed so normal. I bring this example to the table, because this is a family that is careful and respectful, but not fearful. These parents have taught their children to be the same.

I try to be careful and responsible, without putting anyone on the spot or embarrassing anyone who wants to be affectionate, is spontaneous or has a certain cultural background. I also make it a point to let the other person have as much space as is physically possible in the environment.

Prudence without charity is not a virtue. It's apprehension. That's not part of God's plan for our lives. He does not want us to life in fear. He wants us to be safe.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, FFV :)


#16

Yes, but when, only at mass and the sacraments or always? Does a Priest always have Christs’ hands? If so, wouldn’t we all line up in order to touch a Priests’ hands? I can only speak for the people in my parish(es) but they all treat Priests like “normal” persons.


#17

[quote="504Katrin, post:16, topic:300396"]
Yes, but when, only at mass and the sacraments or always? Does a Priest always have Christs' hands? If so, wouldn't we all line up in order to touch a Priests' hands? I can only speak for the people in my parish(es) but they all treat Priests like "normal" persons.

[/quote]

In the churches of the east it is quite common to kiss the priests hands. No one gives it a second thought. Even in our litigeous society.

In the Russian Orthodox church it is commmon to air kiss each other on both cheeks. This is why this comes across as so odd to me.


#18

[quote="504Katrin, post:16, topic:300396"]
Yes, but when, only at mass and the sacraments or always? Does a Priest always have Christs' hands? If so, wouldn't we all line up in order to touch a Priests' hands? I can only speak for the people in my parish(es) but they all treat Priests like "normal" persons.

[/quote]

When the priest is ordained, his hands are consecrated, thus are sacred.


#19

Thank you brother for your replies. Your first post basically summed up everything.

And thanks to everyone else as well. A few people here brought the topic to "safety" into the question. My original intention was not in any way related to clergy abusing people. I was simply curios to the meaning of such gestures, as I was not familiar with them. As brother said: it is an imposition of hands.

Thank you again everyone.


#20

=kieron123;9841910]Hello Everyone,

There were times, when I happened to be speaking to priests and they happen to touch my forehead (which I believe is a blessing, although I really dont know). Sometimes the simply touch the forehead, or make a cross on the forehead with a finger.

Another time there was this priest who I spoke to (a few times), and each time as I sat talking next to him, he would place his hand on my shoulder while he talked or prayed etc.

So, I have nothing against these things, I’m just curios as I do not fully understand what they mean.

I’d really appreciate some info/ explanations. Thanks.

Hmmmmm :hmmm:

Touching your shoulder is “just” the laying on of hands; a pleminary; optional and very personal method of granting you a Blessing:)

Touching your forehead though is not a common conversational practice for a blessing. I SUSPECT there MAY BE a bit more to this then your sharing or recall:shrug:

Was the sign of the CROSS made on your forhead, or just a “touch?”


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