He Said It--On Holding Hands

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Mark at Minute Particulars has summed up what I've always thought about holding hands during the Our Father. And while it may not be in the rubrics, I am quick to point out that frequent confession was not always the practice either and a groundswell of popular opinion moved it into the realm of the blessing that it is.

Too often we cut ourselves off. The very gestures we use in prayer tend to indicate a closed circle, an isolated fortress, a Man alone Before God. I like the connectivity of holding hands, and even if I hold no other hands, I must be connected to the family I love, my lifeline and my tangible, visible, constant, gift from God. But holding a stranger's hand is good as well--perhaps even better because it indicates a willingness to unite our fates, to both go willingly where the Lord leads, and to some extent to help one another. The gesture forces us to break the closed circle of our prayer and to momentarily step into community.

Now, I'm not for forcing this on anyone who is not so inclined. But I have to say that I am always favorably impressed with the congregation, if not necessarily the liturgy in the place where I see this done. I enter into the gesture willingly because it is only in each other that we receive the tangible sign of God's love.

However, not all are comfortable with this, and each must have the freedom of his or her conscience. It is not up to me to impose rules, and I do try to obey those imposed by the Bishops. However, this one always overcomes any qualms. Sometimes it is necessary to express what is in the heart and move forward with it--perhaps the Bishops might perceive what is being silently spoken there and recognize both its worth and its necessity. Perhaps not. But I suppose one of the advantages of not being raised Catholic is I don't have the burden of the past to deal with. I can go with my heart.

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Some are not comfortable with holding hands during the Our Father, but I've often thought that we *should be* comfortable with this. We are supposed to be a community, and members of a community ought to be comfortable with each other, in my opinion. If we're not comfortable with this, then are we really a community of believers? Or are we a collection of individuals who come to Mass each week at the same time & same place?

It has always seemed to me that the notion of community is a core aspect of Catholicism. Of course, individual prayer is also very central to the practice of the faith. As is often the case - it's not either/or, it's both/and...

Dear Steve,

Some good points in your comment. On the question of whether we "should" be comfortable holding hands, I think the word "should" has two levels. There is the judgmental "should" as in commandment, and the way I believe you are employing it, meaning "if there were a proper understanding of what we were about this would be a natural result. " We have to be very careful with our "shoulds" because such language tends to be alienating. But your perspective I think is solidly grounded. One of our basic problems is that society has crumbled in many places to the point that we no longer live in communities but in aggregates. That is people live clustered together but there is very little of a community life uniting them--simply living on the same street isn't enough.

But I understand that this simply gesture comes with a tremendous amount of baggage and loads of resentment, so I try not to press the point too much. I simply associate myself with those who believe that it is a gesture with integrity, purpose, and meaning--not simply an arbitrary changing of the rules designed to discomfit and mark boundaries.

But then, I like to think that when I hold my hands out, if no one takes them, Jesus is there holding my hand and connecting me to my brothers and sisters. Okay--I know it's so 1960s.



I don't mind it, though I do think that the gesture should be attended with special courtesy when done with strangers. (And so it usually is done.) Certainly it's a bit easier to take than if, say, we Americans were asked to actually kiss each other for a kiss of peace. It was pretty lame when American Catholicism began it, but it's been absorbed into popular devotion and made to be not lame anymore.

Also, although I understand those who find it distracting to suddenly start holding hands, it doesn't need to be. If you have a good interior prayer thing going, then moving from your seat to your knees to your feet enhances it instead of breaking it -- and the same thing goes with holding hands during the "Our Father", or even having them do the raising hands higher during the "Thine is the kingdom" bit or squeezing hands before letting them go. It's ritualized; you know the script; it all gets sucked into prayer.

(And btw, the silent unanimity of congregations on the unwritten stuff they do during the "Our Father" tickles me immensely. We just love to think of extra stuff to do, don't we? In another twenty years, the new Mass will be positively encrusted with little pious congregational gestures and mental ejaculations and such like. You just wait and see.)

Speaking as a relative newbie to churchgoing (about 16 months now) I always liked the hand-holding. In our culture touch, especially from strangers, is so often assumed to be sexual and/or aggressive. It's a nice reminder that it doesn't have to be like that.

Although I understand your sentiments, I can't say I share them. The USCCB frowns on holding hands during the Our Father because it anticipates the communion that is made possible only through Jesus--who is yet to be called down from Heaven in the consecration. This is why, for instance, the exchange of peace is appropriate when it is--it comes after the consecration, demonstrating that Christ alone initiates communion, and all true communion finds its source in Him. Holding hands before the consecration in a sense declares that communion is possible without Christ (although no one who holds hands actually thinks this, I'm sure). As you know, the Sacred Liturgy is rich with profound and ancient symbolism; there is a reason for every gesture and every word. Holding hands has never been in the rubrics, but was rather a spontaneous move on the part of the laity to introduce our understanding of community. Despite these good intentions, it's more important to me to focus on Jesus, who is after all the focus of the Mass.

In addition, holding hands to me obscures the primary purpose of the Our Father, which is a personal prayer directed to our Eternal Father.

But, as always, people are free to disagree, and the bishops have not condemned the holding of hands--thus it remains possible to continue to do so.


I would refer you to this link for a fuller explanation.

I guess the community versus individual prayer distinction is a non-issue for me. I accept the both/and of it, because we stand before God as nations and as individuals. I guess that my position on the matter of the handholding comes down to the following. I have been turned off by aggressive hand grabbers, confused by raising hands at the doxology (the wave anyone?), and mortified (probably irreparably) by my experiences at my geographical parish where I no longer attend mass.

The Our Father would go down like this:

The whole of those present would hold hands in a concentric (or more accurately spiral) chain across isles, through the choir space, and through the sanctuary space to pray the “Our Mother and Father”. I’m quite sure that the reference to mother wasn’t anything to do with Mary…even if that were even appropriate in this prayer.

This whole procedure reminded me of experiments that my 6th grade class did with Van de Graaff generators. If the hand holding chain were broken, then the light bulb in the hand of the person at the end would not glow. This analogous impression of mine was further strengthened by the sub-current of belief at this parish that it was the assembled who worked a certain kind of magick during the mass.

It bothers me a great deal more when the priest and congregation fool around with the text of the Sacred Liturgy--e.g., introducing gender-neutral titles for God. This is an example of outright disobedience on the part of the priest, because the GIRM makes clear that no one, no one has the authority to change the officially approved text of the Sacred Liturgy. Sadly, certain priests think they know better than the Papal Magisterium and are more interested in pacifying the laity than in exercising obedience--which is a far more powerful witness for their office than anything else they could do.


Dear Christine,

Part of my point above is that frequent reception of communion/confession was at one time frowned upon. I almost entirely disagree with the arguments proposed about the symbolism because as we enter the church we are One Body in this One Lord. He doesn't just fashion that at the moment of consecration but it is supposed to be the lived reality of our lives. If so, hand-holding has a meaning that better represents what we are to the world. So I respectfully disagree and am very careful to follow the usage of the Church at which I am in attendance. (Hence my lack of patience with those who say everyone should have a vote in how things are conducted in their individual parishes -- resulting in utter chaos I see at most Liturgies today--head-bobbing, hand-waving, genuflecting (or not).

Romans advises us to yield in charity to our stronger or weaker brothers and I do that. But I state for the record, I like the meaning and intent of the handholding whether I do it or not.




If only it were as simplistic as inclusive language or not mechanically dotting the Is and crossing Ts in the GIRM. The fact is that this parish (I was to learn) consciously went beyond the pale. This was no longer a Catholic Mass, it was Goddess Magick, and unfortunately handholding (benign in itself) was central to their ritual.

I understand your point. The arguments concerning the symbolism of hand-holding before consecration, as well as the primary focus of the Our Father, are not my own--they are the USCCB's, as well as the Congregation for Divine Worship's arguments.

Dear Christine,

My only point was not to assault the arguments you advance, but simply to say that equally cogent arguments can be made in any number of other ways. Thus, if it is not expressly forbidden, it is de facto permitted if not recommended. There must be some reason for this variation. My thought is that perhaps the arguments that prop this up are subject to greater nuance and reasonable doubt that those that dictate other portions of the GIRM. Moreover, please note carefully, all I am stating is a preference, not right or wrong. To my mind they may be two different things. The liturgy often does not accommodate my preferences, I am obedient to the rules. That doesn't mean I abandon my preference or my thought about what I prefer. I think it's very important to keep the two quite separate. It is good to have preferences, it is better to be obedient to the local ordinary (or nearest representative of something remotely resembling Church teaching) no matter what my preferences. I do not argue that all should embrace my preference, merely that I believe strongly that there is a validity to it. However, what must be done is to conform to what is permissable without the rubrics at the local church What lacks charity is to insist on one's own way one way or another where there isn't solid reason.



Steven - I do try not to use 'should' just because of the connotations you note. But after a couple cups of coffee I suppose I got sloppy ;)

I used 'should' to say that as a true community we would naturally be comfortable reaching out to the person next to us, holding their hand as we pray. I think that feeling of comfort says that we are at ease both with our sense of community *and* with ourselves.

I wonder... if we say that we are not comfortable holding our neighbor's hand during the Lord's Prayer, then is that OK? I want to say that no, it's not OK. We're holding something back at that point, preserving some barrier between ourselves and our neighbors. That can't be good.

I absolutely agree. This is why I will hold hands occasionally myself as a matter of charity. As for personal preference, I could go either way--it has never bothered me to hold hands, neither has it bothered me not to join hands.

I do tend to think the USCCB's disapproval--though not official--carries some weight, at least with myself. It also gives me some pause if the CDW expressly repudiates handholding during the sign of peace (as some parishes used to do); this to me carries even more weight. But again--if our bishops have only expressed informal disapproval but not outright condemnation, and the priest ok's it, then of course the laity is free to hold hands. I don't think you and I disagree substantially on this point.

Keep up the good work on the blog.

don't grab at me during the Mass unless the building's on fire. thank you.

Mah, Mah now smockmomma! (suthren typingmay not be up to snuff, translate as my, my pls)

Seriously, in my parish, where we do hold hands during the Our Father, and I like it that way, fi someone for whatever reason does not incline to participate, I notice that anyone I have ever observed is very tactful about noticing this right away and not doing anything that might amount to pressing the person to join.
Okay, the OUR father is a private personal, prayer. I think it does have a communal dimension, otherwise it would be the MY father.
While I understand and respect the reservations of the USCCB, the Congregation for Divine Worship and all the other normal, everyday teaching authority of the Church, my take on this is much in line with Steve. We are one body in Christ at baptism,before during and after the consecration.
I see it as a way in which we express a shared community and approach the Father and the Eucharistic banquet as a people of God.
Obviously, I am not talking about chanting, weaving, goddess worship here, however.
I don't see this as a burning issue, myself. Lack of charity towards someone who feels differently about the matter than I do, would be.
One has to do with the heart of the gospel and one has to do with its (Oh, Lord, please grant that no one takes this the wrong way! Amen) window dressing.

i'm about as "touchy-feely" as a person can get, but i'd rather give you a big ol' hug at the sign of peace than have you yank my hands (yes, this has happened to me on two seperate occassions)up in the air during prayer. i'll wave my own hands and dance a Holy Ghost jig and sing, and yes even shout to the Lord like david himself, but not. during. Mass.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 20, 2004 8:06 AM.

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