The tactility of the Church

We have a friend who has been going through a hard time and who remains in need of prayer. I was pleased, however, when she elected to attend Mass on Friday, and even more so that she chose to go up for a blessing. 1 She has voiced a feeling of being distant from God, and people relate better to that which is tangible.

I find it striking that Catholicism understands God as having chosen to relate to his creations in ways in which one might expect the creations to be able to understand; to put a finer point on it, I find it striking that some denominations understand God as having chosen to relate to us in ways that don’t engage the whole person. Throughout his ministry, Jesus went out of his way to physically touch people, 2 and the Church understands her mission as being, in large part, to extend Christ’s sacramental presence on Earth. Christ “intended His work not just for His small number of contacts … in the brief time of His ministry. He wanted everyone to experience his presence and his healing touch. He established the Church on earth so that he could extend his incarnation through time and space.” 3 When I felt lost and alone, and despite urgent prayer felt that I was getting nothing, it made a difference to receive a blessing—for one of God’s priests in persona Christi to put his hand on my head and say “may the Lord bless you and keep you.” I may well have gotten no more grace from that than from prayer. It may even have been less, theologically. But it felt more tangible. I felt more immediately and viscerally aware of that grace.

God doesn’t need a priesthood now; he didn’t need a priesthood under the old covenant. So why did He ordain first the Levitical and then the Catholic priesthood? Having created us as tactile creatures that relate better to the concrete than the abstract, it makes sense that He would still seek now—as He always has—to relate to us in ways that are well-tailored to how He tailored us. The grace of a blessing may well be available through prayer. But it is more tangible, I think, when it’s experienced in a tactile way.


  1. Candor demands that I note that I have previously voiced doubts about this practice as a general matter, see Blessings and the communion line, 1 MPA 138 (2012). I leave the tension unresolved for the time being.
  2. E.g. Mt 8:3; Mt 20:34; Mk 1:40-42; see 1 Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate 7-9, 15 (Downes, trns. 1955).
  3. Scott Hahn, Swear to God 15 (2004); accord Dominus Iesus, no. 16, 92 AAS 742, 756-57 (CDF Decl., 2000) (Christ “continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church, which is his body”)