Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Holding Hands During the "Our Father"

Q - I have a question! Is it wrong to hold hands during mass when we say the Our Father, after the host has been consencrated to the body and blood of Jesus? Someone told me the U.S. Bishops do not want us to do this. Is that true? Just curious!

A - No, that is not true. The US Bishops have not said anything about the issue one way or the other nor has the Vatican for that matter. Although there is quite a bit of differing opinion on the matter, there is no authoritative law about whether we should or should not do.

Now, does that mean it is the best thing to do? That is up for debate and it is a debate which really is a distraction in many ways - but I digress. Suffice it to say that there is nothing intrinsically "wrong" with holding hands. While it isn't proscribed in the rubrics that we hold hands, it also doesn't say we cannot.

WARNING - PERSONAL OPINION ON THE HORIZON - I would prefer not to hold hands and it isn't because it isn't in "the rules" that we can. It is a theological argument that Pope Benedict XVI made in his book, Spirit of the Liturgy. The point of holding hands is a sign of community and communion. Since this is the case, it is a misplaced sign, because we aren't truly in communion until we have exchanged the sign of peace. this is why Communion happens after the Sign of Peace, because it is the sign of communion par excellence.

Now, my opinion certainly isn't authoritative and I do find myself holding hands, especially with my children. I also do not think anyone is going to have to answer for their "hand-holding opinion" when they reach the gates of Heaven. So, I would rest comfortably doing whatever you would like to do.

I advise that we not get too distracted by little things such as this in Mass. It takes away our true growth in holiness. I myself was once what I call a "liturgical cop". After talking to my spiritual director about how to straighten out the liturgy in one parish, he looked me in the eyes and said "I think that you should worry about your own holiness and not this". That straightened me out and helped me to hang up my badge.

Are there times we should speak up? Yes. Do I believe this is a war that we need to fight? No. I hope that helps. If you want further clarification or if it still bothers you, then ask to talk to your pastor about it. But, do so in a non-accusatory way.


Anonymous said...

First of all I agree with you, I don't think it should be done either. I think that the argument that nothing has been said one way or the other, is a very weak one, as the rubrics do not say one way or the other that we shouldn't stand on our heads during the sermon, but luckily most people refrain from that. I could almost swear that, at least a couple of years ago, I saw something in the Diocesan liturgical manual (or was it an addendum to the GIRM?) that gave a very specific directive on what was to be done during the Our Father. I warn you, I'm paraphrasing from memory, but I'm pretty sure that it said something to the effect of we aren't supposed to hold hands, but rather assume the orans position (which I don't understand why the laity would do that either). I saw it in the cabinet in front of Lucy's desk.

bullschuck said...

From what I've Googled in the last five minutes, there's not anything in the GIRM to says "hold hands" or "don't hold hands" or "assume the orans posture." There was something in the ICEL Sacramentary of '99 that said "let's make orans permissible," and there was much debate over allowing the congregation to assume a position that's been reserved for the priest for quite a while. That Sacramentary was thrown out (rejected by the Vatican) about five years ago. All that said, you need to have a very specific, very powerful, very easily explainable and understandable reason to change this custom. It's that ingrained, it's that important to a large majority of the faithful. And a great big "thank you," to Marcel for pointing out that all of my discussion above is nothing but a colossal waste of time in comparison to things that I could have done to foster holiness in my life or the lives of folks around me, or to participate in works of mercy, or to spend time working my way through a challenging passage of Sacred Scripture.
At the heart of the Liturgical Cop is the notion that somehow, the Mass will be more beautiful to God when we all perform our functions in a certain, prescribed way. But my question is this, Can the most beautiful choir singing Gregorian Chant, a perfectly attendant and participative congregation obeying every jot and tittle of someone's vision of the GIRM really offer anything more to the Father than the Eucharist? Do we really expect to make the Perfect Sacrifice more perfect? I'm not saying that we shouldn't try, or that we should be having one of those legendary Pizza and Coke Masses, I'm just saying, what are we really trying to accomplish here?

Gilbert said...

I think holding hands at this point, especially the way it's done at St. Mary's (filling in the center aisle), can be distracting. When the "Our Father" is over and the "Sign of Peace" begins some people might be a nice walk away from their original spot, trying to shake hands or hug everyone on their way back.

Many times the Agnus Dei has started and people are still making the sign of peace. The theological/liturgical reasons for ceasing this practice are one thing, but the logistical issues are another. The whole thing is just kind of awkward I think.

Ed said...

Here is a link to one of the better responses I've read on the subject. Personally, I think there are good reasons why hand holding should not be done. At the same time, it's not a battle I see as worth fighting. There are more important things that we all need to focus on.

Geoff said...

I didn't realize that this had been blogged upon here. I'm very glad to hear a calm discussion of this, as I've seen it rabidly debated on both sides.

As another recovering liturgical cop, I thank you for your words about trying for better personally holiness, Marcel. I believe I have improved over the course of my college education, fortunately.

Regarding the holding of hands, I, too prefer not to. I decided this because of liturgical scruples (perhaps "over-"scruples) but I continue to abstain because like others, I consider the physical actions and locomotion of milling about to take my attention away from addressing a prayer to "Our Father".

Early on, my only sorrow about it was that while it helps me to pray, I couldn't help but worry that now and again it might make a good-intentioned soul feel slighted, however, I haven't really received any sour looks over it. It's probably important that people can tell that your subsequent sign of peace is genuine and you aren't shunning them or something! haha

I must compliment the hand-holding practice as it is practiced at St. Mary's, however, because it is the only place I've encountered in all of Texas where people wait for the priest to finish the prayer before ambling back toward their seats. I consider this evidence that the prayer is being actively prayed (in the Vatican II-"active participation" sense of the word) by St. Mary's in an institutional manner, which I think is a good thing.

In most parishes, if you pay attention, the hold holding breaks early...if you're not sure what I'm talking about you'll notice it the next time you go to Mass now that I've mentioned it, however, going off of what Marcel said, looking for this to occur would not be conducive to active participation in the actual prayer! :^) In placed where it is practiced in that, I would opine that the moving about should be addressed.

webmaster said...

I have to diverge a little bit...I grew up holding hands (at St. Mary's, natch) and the tradition holds in my family. I actually think that holding hands is not only appropriate, but a symbol of the unity of the people in worship to God. After all, we are praying to "OUR Father", not "MY Father", right?

Geoff said...

Ah, but the Nicene Creed is currently (incorrectly) translated in English to start with "we believe", why doesn't anyone hold hands during it or any other part of the mass where we say "we" or "our"?