Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Holding Hands at Mass

by Steve Ray on April 11, 2006

My wife Janet and I always cringe at a new parish when it comes time for the Our Father. We quickly bow our heads and close our eyes; I clutch my hands close to my chest (and she does the same) and we start to pray — hoping some aggressive hand-holder doesn't reach over and insist on tearing my hands apart so I can warmly hold theirs during the prayer.

Once, I even had a nun nudge me, see my hesitation  and them smiling reach out and  taunt me — "Pleeeease?"  I conceded out of love and duty and afterwards she smiled knowingly and say, "Thaaaank you!"

Karl Keating has a few things to say about hand-holding at Mass in his newest E-letter which I produce here for others who close their eyes and clutch their hands close to their chests.

ORIGINS OF HAND-HOLDING

The current issue of the "Adoremus Bulletin" says this in response to a query from a priest in the Bronx:

HoldingHands.jpg"No gesture for the people during the Lord's Prayer is mentioned in the official documents. The late liturgist Fr. Robert Hovda promoted holding hands during this prayer, a practice he said originated in Alcoholics Anonymous. Some 'charismatic' groups took up the practice."

My long-time sense had been that hand-holding at the Our Father was an intrusion from charismaticism, but I had not been aware of the possible connection with AA. If this is the real origin of the practice, it makes it doubly odd: first, because hand-holding intrudes a false air of chumminess into the Mass (and undercuts the immediately-following sign of peace), and second, because modifications to liturgical rites ought to arise organically and not be borrowed from secular self-help groups.

Periodically, on "Catholic Answers Live" I am asked about hand-holding during Mass and explain that it is contrary to the rubrics. Usually I get follow-up e-mails from people who say, "But it's my favorite part of the Mass" or "We hold hands as a family, and it makes us feel closer."

About the latter I think, "It's good to feel close as a family, but you can hold hands at home or at the mall. The Mass has a formal structure that should be respected. That means you forgo certain things that you might do on the outside."

About the former comment I think, "If this is the high point of the Mass for you, you need to take Remedial Mass 101. The Mass is not a social event. It is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, and it is the loftiest form of prayer. It should be attended with appropriate solemnity."

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