Hands Off Hands Together

handsMy facebook feed included a link to Deacon Greg’s mild takedown on holding hands at Mass. Another link was cited, with some limp-wristed reasoning:

The practice of holding hands while praying the Our Father comes from the Protestant world. The reason is that Protestants do not have the Real Presence of Christ; that is to say, they do not have real and valid sacramental Communion that joins them among themselves and with God. Therefore, they turn to the gesture of holding hands as a moment of communion in community prayer.

Actually, I thought it originated in the charismatic movement. Like Roman Catholics, I don’t think any non-Catholic missal includes a rubrical directive to hold hands. My sense would be that a lot of Christians find hand-to-hand communion a positive worship expression. Including many Catholics.

I also think the cited priest would have a hard time demonstrating that non-sacramental Churches do not experience a real presence of Christ in any number of ways. I doubt they need to join hands for that moment. Though doubtless, some experience it then. Including some Catholics.

Greg’s conclusion:

Is it really necessary? No. Is it disruptive and distracting? Sometimes. It also puts you in the uncomfortable position of feeling compelled to engage in a kind of social intimacy, holding hands, even if you don’t want to. Is the Mass better off without it? Yeah, I think so. It might be helpful if Rome said as much.

Um, no. Hands off hands together would be my motto. People I know who feel strongly about the practice will not be compelled to link fingers and palms. Neither will they be dissuaded from doing it by a word from on high, be it a pastor, bishop, pope, or the CDWDS.

I think I’ve blogged on this more than once. It’s not a practice I would implement in a parish I served that didn’t do it. I wouldn’t bother with naysaying it in a community that did. Better to focus on other issues. Hospitality. Preaching. Music. Leave the hands alone, I say.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Hands Off Hands Together

  1. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    In someways the practice of holding hands during the Our Father strikes me as possibly cultural and generational. Similarly with the practice of adopting the “orans” posture at certain points. The possible origins in the Charismatic Renewal movement not to be overlooked. Though much decried by some, since Vatican II both individuals and communities have been exploring gestures and postures used during private prayer and the celebration of the liturgy. The GIRM etc takes one stance, a stance still strongly influenced by European/Western tradition, and though there is a strong arguement for uniformity of gesture and posture, not all find the shift easy when they move from one cultural context to another.
    Here in Japan every Spring and Fall I see new faces in the “ex-pat” community I celebrate the Eucharist with. Some of the “new faces” are exchange students coming to study in the various exchange programs offered at the almost half a dozen universities in our neighborhood – I wouldn’t presume to count the different nationalities, most Asian but also from Africa and Latin America. Then there are those who work for Toyota in their plants all across the world, or those, mostly from the US, who are involved in defense industry joint ventures with Japanese companies. Not forgetting those who have come to try their luck in the English language teaching market – very demanding time-wise, but profitable if you are interested in seeing the world before settling down. Finally there are those who’ve made Japan their home – some are comfortable attending the Eucharist in Japanese, but there are those who prefer to worship in English. It is a very diverse community so there is a wide variety of experience and custom found among them.
    So while we stay close to the rubrics, and to the norms specific to Japan, flexibility is the name of the game. If asked why we do things differently I explain, and if the opportunity presents itself, on a one to one basis, I’ll mention that we do things differently, and some individuals will keep to what they are comfortable with. My concern is that all feel welcome. Thankfully the Bishops I’ve worked under, and through participation in annual gatherings of Diocesan Liturgical Directors, I am aware that a similar “policy” – nothing on paper – is fairly widespread. For now it works well enough. And the last thing we need are directives from even higher up, though I have seen something in English, in their wisdom…….

  2. Melody says:

    I am a cradle Catholic. I usually don’t hold hands except with family But that little quoted dig about holding hands for the Our Father being “Protestant” I found kind of offensive. (The quote, not Todd’s post). As if we wouldn’t want anything to do with something the Protestants do. FWIW I think it is probably correct that it came from the charismatic movement, which straddles denominational lines.

  3. Liam says:

    I first encountered it during my college years in Virginia, where my Catholic friends (Catholics being a small minority in central Virginia at the time) were used to it when worshipping with their Protestant friends. Then I saw some Charismatic influence in the Northeast. It’s much less common now than it was a generation ago. In my current parish of choice, our pastor has relented from hectoring the congregation to join hands (he used to wait until aisles got covered, as it were…). (But now he’s taken to changing how he says the Our Father. He makes it audible – at times it has come across as somewhat petulant. Itchy itchy itchy.)

    • Todd says:

      The situation in your current parish of choice is unfortunate. We had a semi-retired priest in my parish of a few incarnations ago who tried to get people to say the Lord’s Prayer super-slowly. Nice thought, but totally ineffective, as long practice erupted to outpace the “prayerful” way, with decidedly un-prayerful effect.

      Priests have a lot of control over the element that impacts pace and prayerfulness the most: the homily, pauses after Communion, the homily, and before the orations. That will get the job done. They can do well to stick by those.

      I also find the Northeast to be the most behind-the-times in American Catholicism. 25 years in the Midwest I saw very, very little of forced hand-holding and a lot of freedom to decline.

      • Liam says:

        I attribute the regional subculture to the dominance of Irish-American prelates and pastors who for generations expected and received docility from most of their flocks in liturgical matters. We had far fewer Catholics from France or Germany or Poland where lay Catholics developed preferences for higher forms of liturgy and clearly expressed those preferences.

        The docility and avoidance has a powerful inertia. My pastor is uber-progressive and very popular (I am concerned about what happens after he leaves), but were I to question his itchiness with ritual, he’d say it was my issue not his and he would base his praxis on reasons (and rationalizations) that are dispositive in his mind (I have a basis for that given what I’ve gleaned from others’ experience of engaging him). I have zero involvement in ministry here (after being in 3 successive communities that blew up and staying too long in them helping with post-crisis healing, I have no energy at this point in my life for getting involved), so I keep my mouth shut and simply avoid liturgies (like the first Sunday in each month, when infant baptisms are celebrated during Mass) where he’s most inclined to be ritually itchy. He’s a good priest, and loves his flock, and the music director and ministry are far better than most elsewhere in the area, so it’s a matter of making do. I will give him major points for preparing his proclaiming of the RM3 collects and orations far better than many of his peers (so long as he resists a temptation to make them more authentic or meaningful). He’s the kind of priest who meanders and repeats his homiletic material (and uses way way too much first person, and is trigger-happy about trying to explain away any Gospel miracle apparently in order to seem down with, as it were, what he assumes is skepticism among his listeners) and his response to be called out on it is to joke about it almost weekly rather than do something about it (in my mind, when you frequently receive a valid criticism and your way of dealing with it is to joke about it in order to get tacit permission to indulge it, that’s worse).

      • Liam says:

        PS: Just to be transparent about what I just offered above – I am clearly admitting my own reasons (and rationalizations) for avoidance of engaging this priest, so I too am part of the problem of which I whine. I am restless in that situation, trying to be open to fruitful avenues of becoming part of a solution, however small and ungratifying to the ego, but also accepting that I may be called for a while to linger in a restless episode of this kind to wean myself off the need for consolation and gratification.

      • Todd says:

        Hmm. Your pastor actually sounds very conservative to me.

      • Liam says:

        I can assure you, he’s not. I know what you mean, but I don’t agree that this behavior (and clericalism generally) is automatically “conservative”; that’s too convenient. I’ve seen it before on our progressive side of things, (too) many times over.

  4. Liam says:

    PS; It should be noted that the preconciliar Missal didn’t prescribe or proscribe postures/gestures for the congregation – it did for servers, who in some sense acted as proxy for congregants.

  5. Chris Sullivan says:

    “Protestants do not have the real prescience”.

    I doubt that. I once queried Rome on that and they were unable to give me anything authoritative.

    God feed who a God feeds.

    Many blessings

  6. Pingback: When Cozy Trumps Courage | Catholic Sensibility

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