Today while in Mass I got annoyed with the ‘hand holders’; those people who choose to hold each others hands during the Our Father and who at the end of the prayer raise up their hands a bit higher when the prayer ‘For the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory are yours”. Not only is it distracting to those who are preparing their souls to receive Christ, it is against the rubrics of the mass to do such nonsense. The Priest is the only one that is supposed to have his hands raised, as it is he who is in ‘Persona Christi’ and not us. I remember as a child when my family attended a Church in the Richmond Virginia Diocese, you may have heard horror stories of that Diocese, it is one that has been the cause of a few scandals throughout the years. Anyways, our Church was in Woodlawn, Va and our Priest was a hippie priest of the 70′s era, he wore gold earrings and had a pony tail (go figure). The masses were in such violation of liturgical abuses that my family finally left and we ended up attending a Catholic Church in Mt. Airy North Carolina which was an hour drive from our house each way. The straw that broke the camels back was a particular Sunday in which the parishioners tried to hold our hands during the Our Father. My grandparents and parents staunchly refused and some people in the mass got so upset at our refusal that after mass was over, they blocked our way when we tried to drive out of the parking lot and then chewed my family out for not being ‘Catholic’ and participating in ‘Unity’. The Priest then got into the furor and also got angry about us not holding hands as well. That was the last time we attended that Church and I haven’t been back in 25 yrs!
A few years ago while attending a mass while on vacation, a parishioner reached out in invitation to me at the beginning of the Our Father to hold their hand. I refused with a smile and continued my prayer. The person then reached out and grabbed my hand and as I pulled my hand away, they slapped my hand with their other hand and then gave me a very dirty look! I was flabbergasted and really ticked off, I think my blood pressure shot to about 240 when they did that and it ruined my reception of Holy Communion because the only thought I had on my mind after that was exacting revenge on the ‘hand holding’ terrorist sitting next to me that attacked me during mass! So where did this phenomena begin and what does the Church have to say about it?
Believe it or not, you might assume that ‘holding hands’ during the Our Father might have originated from the Charismatic movement in the 70′s and many people attribute it to that time period when wacky things were being introduced and forced on the laity. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are people who attribute the practice first beginning at Alcohol Anonymous meetings and then finding its way into the Church. The source for that opinion can be found here.
Fr. William Saunders who is a good Priest in the Diocese of Arlington, VA says:
In all of the liturgical documents for the universal Church or of those particular ones issued by the United States Bishops Conference, no where is the holding of hands during the Lord’s Prayer mandated. Frankly, this gesture arose among the various liturgical innovations in the aftermath of Vatican Council II. Perhaps the holding of hands was introduced with good intentions to highlight the unity of the congregation as they pray, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” Yet, if unity is the key, then should we not be holding hands throughout the entire Mass?
The unity that is sought really comes later and after a spiritual progression: First, we fall on our knees as the priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass: we recall not only our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection but also our need as individuals to offer ourselves to Him. Second, we pray in the words our Savior taught us, the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” even the person next to us in the pew. Third, we offer the Sign of Peace, a gesture found in the earliest Masses to show a genuine unity based on peace and forgiveness. Finally, we receive Holy Communion, which truly brings us into communion with our Lord and with each other. Looking at the logic of this spiritual progression to real unity, the holding of hands at the Our Father is extraneous.
What does the Church say on ‘holding hands’ during the Our Father or other prayers?
A question was submitted to Catholic Answers and James Akin had a good response regarding this topic:
It is true that praying with arms outstretched is one of the historic postures of prayer. However, this fact alone does not mean that it is to be used in any and all circumstances. Prostrating oneself on one’s face is also a historic posture of prayer, but neither the priest nor the laity are directed to assume this posture during a regular Mass. During a Mass where ordinations are taking place, the candidates for ordination are directed to prostrate themselves during the Litany of the Saints. However, if people were to assume this posture willy-nilly, in any Mass, the liturgy could be seriously impeded.
There are also symbolic problems associated with their doing so. No matter how the posture may or may not have been used in antiquity, today it is a priestly posture in the liturgy. This is repeatedly made clear in the Church’s liturgical documents. For example, the Ceremonial of Bishops notes: “Customarily in the Church a bishop or presbyter addresses prayers to God while standing with hands slightly raised and outstretched” (CB 104). Similarly, in the Book of Blessings, whenever there is a blessing which can be performed either by a member of the clergy or the laity, the rubrics invariably directs that “A minister who is a priest or deacon says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched; a lay minister says the prayer with hands joined” (BB 1999). Over and over again, the rubrics direct clergy to pray with hands outstretched and laity with hands joined.
Because of the special association praying with hands outstretched has with priestly office, some dissident elements in the Church have desired to get the laity into the habit of praying in this posture during Mass. This furthers the dissident agenda of continuing to blur the line between the laity and the clergy. Fortunately, the recent Instruction on Collaboration (Nov. 13, 1997) drew the line on this issue and specifically mandated that “Neither may . . . non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the . . . priest celebrant” (ICP, Practical Provisions 6 §2).
What does the USCCB have to say on this subject? I think their response is deafeningly clear:
Many Catholics are in the habit of holding their hands in the “Orans” posture during the Lord’s prayer along with the celebrant. Some do this on their own as a private devotional posture while some congregations make it a general practice for their communities. Is this practice permissible under the current rubrics, either as a private practice not something adopted by a particular parish as a communal gesture?
No position is prescribed in the present Sacramentary for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer.
What are you thoughts on this? Are you currently a hand holder or have you done so in the past and then stopped?