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A bishop’s hovering hands

by
08 July 2016

iStock

Your answers

At a recent confirmation the officiating bishop held his hands an inch or so over the heads of the candidates rather than on their heads. Is his act valid, given that the Prayer Book states that he will lay his hand on the candidate’s head?

 

Some men put cream on their hair, and some ladies have elaborate hairstyles; so putting hands just above the head may be prudent. God can surely bridge the gap.

(Canon) John Goodchild

Liverpool

 

Anglicans seem rarely to discuss validity of individual confirmations, unless perhaps with regard to the validity of the orders of the confirming bishop, not least because confirmation is not regarded among them as on a par with the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist, and validity is a legal concept. This may account for our receiving few responses to this question.

Nevertheless, confirmation is seen in Anglicanism as more than the candidate’s owning of baptismal promises made by others in his or her infancy. Confirmation rites vary significantly across the Church and through its history, but the Anglican tradition does assume the actual imposition of the bishop’s hand (singular) with prayer. In the 1549 Prayer Book, the sign of the cross was made on the forehead, which, as Jeremy Taylor (quoted in More and Cross’s Anglicanism, SPCK, 1935) observed, was never subsequently forbidden. Common Worship explicitly authorises chrismation (optional), which naturally entails physical contact.

Evidence from Richard Baxter and others suggests that Church of England bishops have not always been careful in their administration of the rite, but, even in those instances, its intention was verbally expressed. The prayer for a gift of the Holy Spirit was made.

Pete Maidment, in Reconnecting with Confirmation (Church House Publishing, 2010), develops a hint from Geoffrey Lampe. He recalls the impact when Diana, Princess of Wales, was seen holding an AIDS patient’s hand, and suggests that the symbolism in Acts 8, when John actually places his hands on a Samaritan, is relevant. He notes that young people are often alienated and marginalised, and “the same symbolism is undeniable as a bishop places his hands on a former outsider.” A hand or hands merely hovering at a distance over each individual might be perceived as conveying a different idea, questions of validity aside. Editor

 

Your questions

 

What, if any, are the biblical teachings and the teachings of the Church on the question whether we will eat, drink, and sleep in heaven — three activities I am particularly fond of on earth?

F. R.

 

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.

questions@churchtimes.co.uk

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