Work of Human Hands

Two human hands, palms open

In the Eucharist the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar in procession. When the celebrant receives them he elevates the bread a little and offers the bread to the Father with the prayer.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through you goodness we have received the bread we offer you;
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.

When he receives the wine he acts similarly and uses the prayer:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you:
fruit of the vine and work of human hands,
It will become our spiritual drink.

Let’s reflect on the phrase ‘work of human hands’.

The bread has gone through a very long series of processes. The farmer ploughs the ground, fertilizes it, plants the seed, waits while the wheat grows and then harvests it.

The wheat may be stored in a silo, then trucked to a flour mill where it is processed into flour. Water is added to the flour and the dough is then formed into hosts which are baked in the oven. The hosts are then distributed to the churches.

A lot of hands have been involved in this process. It has not always been a hands-on process as much of the work is done by machinery.

The wine has gone through a similar process. The species of vine is carefully chosen to suit the climate and soil of the area. The grapes are picked, taken to a factory where they are crushed and processed into wine which is stored in barrels until it is mature. It’s then poured into bottles or casks and distributed to shops where it is sold to the churches.

The way bread and wine have been made has been refined over thousands of years, each generation building on the work of the previous generation.

In Jesus’ time making bread and wine was very much a hands-on task; in our day we use machines but the machines are operated by hands. Maybe it won’t be long before robots do everything!

The work of human hands!

In the Eucharist just before communion we have the greeting of peace to show our solidarity. This is a friendly shaking of hands. Our hands come together and we say, ‘Peace be with you’. To be at peace with everyone is necessary for a worthy communion.

Human hands are amazing tools! They are a gift from God and can perform so many wonderful things.

Of course the mind is an essential part of the picture. We use our brains to decide what the hands will do.

A symphony orchestra is a wonderful example of what human hands can do. String players hold the instrument in the right hand and change the notes by placing fingers of the left hand on the strings. Different positions of the fingers give higher or lower notes.

Musicians of wind instruments place their fingers on the keys to lengthen or shorten the tube, giving higher or lower notes.

Percussionists use their hands to play the drums, cymbals, tambourines and a host of other instruments.

To see an orchestra playing a symphony of Beethoven, Mozart or Mahler is a very uplifting experience. There could be fifty, sixty or seventy musicians but they play in perfect unison directed by the hands of the conductor.

The keyboard is a wonderful example of the work of human hands; organ, harpsichord, fortepiano and pianoforte which we call piano. Concert pianists do incredible feats with their hands. Their speed as they play the runs in Chopin, for example, is quite extraordinary, and the way they play big chords of Shostakovich with both hands simultaneously is amazing.

The pianist often has to move the thumb under the other fingers to play a sequence of notes. This requires considerable dexterity in the hands.

Good music has a spiritual dimension so the players are praising God with their hands even if they don’t realise it.

In sport, the skill the players have with their hands can win the game. In Australian Rules football, several players can leap high for a mark and the player with the highest leap and best timing grabs the ball with firm hands. His – or her – hands need to be very strong to ensure no one else can knock the ball out of their hands.

If we offer to help someone with a task we say, ‘I’ll give you a hand.’ The hand then is a symbol of friendly cooperation.

Our hands have been wonderfully designed by a loving creator.

The ability to do so much with our hands is due in part to the fact we can bring thumb and index finger together. This enables us to grasp objects which most animals are unable to do. If a lioness wants to move her cubs she picks them up with her teeth. Birds have to make do with their beaks, though some do amazing things their beaks. The Weaver bird can actually weave its nest with her beak.

Some early primates evolved so they could bring thumb and index finger together. We are very fortunate to have inherited this ability which enables us to do so many activities with our hands.

In the Eucharist we can thank God for the wonderful things we can do with our hands.

-— Fr Frank O’Dea SSS