CUM LAVAT MANUS / Washing of hands
Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam; ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.
[Give strength to my hands, Lord, to wipe away all stain, so that I may be able to serve Thee in purity of mind and body.]
Comment: This prayer is not asking the Lord for strength that we priests might wipe away any stain! The intent of the syntax here is that it is the Lord, in giving strength, Himself wipes away all stain, which action of the Lord is what enables the priest to serve the Lord in purity of mind and body.
Of ourselves, in all our sin and impurity of intention or any other kind of stain of sin, we are utterly unworthy to offer the Most Holy Sacrifice in Persona Christi, in the Person of Christ. He is all holy, all good.
This prayer is a confession of sin, offered with running water. This should immediately bring one’s baptism to mind, which should bring to mind what baptism is all about, and what the Lord’s own baptism was about.
Our baptism is much like the baptism of John. The baptism of John was unto the remission of sin. People went down under the waters confessing their sins, telling God that they deserved death for having enslaved each other in sin, deserved death by drowning more than the horsemen and charioteers of Pharaoh deserved death in the Red Sea at the Exodus for having enslaved the children of Abraham in physical labor. Such humble repentance would be met with the grace of the Lord, who called them to this repentance.
Our own baptisms were a sacrament. They proclaim the same as John’s baptism, but call on the grace of the Lord Jesus, of the Most Holy Trinity directly.
When Jesus submitted to the baptism of John, he wasn’t saying that He was a sinner, that He perceived Himself as a sinner, that He wanted to be perceived as a sinner, that He just did this because everyone else was doing this (the reason for the Pharisees and scribes to be baptised, only to be condemned by John).
Rather, Jesus went down into the waters to say to His heavenly Father that He wanted to be treated as the worst sinner ever, the one who enslaved all in sin, from the beginning of time to the end, though He was innocent. Jesus was begging His Father that He might take on the death we deserve because of sin, thus having the vicarious right in all justice to have mercy on us from the cross: Father, forgive them!
This is what the priest reminds himself of during this prayer. What a great way to prepare for the offering of the Sacred Mysteries. The Lord’s grace makes us, who are otherwise bad and evil, worthy to act in His Person, saying: Hoc est enim Corpus meum… Hic est eneim Calix Sanguinis mei…
Padre Pio’s vision comes to mind. As he was exiting the sacrisity and entering the sanctuary to offer Holy Mass, the Lord showed him all the priests who at that moment were offering Holy Mass and were unworthy to do so. He turned white as a ghost and stopped dead in his tracks. Would that we would have the purity of soul, the agility of soul, to see such as what our Lord Himself saw from the cross in drawing us to Himself. Would that we bishops and priests would help each other, prayer for each other, in all our horrific fragility, so that we might know the majestic gift that we’ve been given with our ordination!