Lead us Not Into Community, But Deliver Us From Hand-Holding

Bishop of Covington, Roger J. Foys issued some directives on the proper postures at mass. Here’s a doozy.

Special note should also be made concerning the gesture for the Our Father. Only the priest is given the instruction to “extend” his hands. Neither the deacon nor the lay faithful are instructed to do this. No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal; nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed.

Here we go…

My first thought is that this is silly. Who does it hurt if some people wish to hold hands during the Our Father (or at any other time for that matter)? For the record, my wife and I hold hands throughout mass for the most part. We are praying together as a married couple and uniting not only our marriage but our prayers to God. I give her hand a little squeeze when at the prayer of the faithful we pause for our own personal needs because I want her to know that I’m praying for her at that moment. A Bishop would have to pry her hand out of my cold dead one before I stop doing that. Has it helped our marriage? You bet. Does it makes us want to pray together more often? Bingo. Is it a sign of our married love for others? Some people tell us it is and others admittedly, think we’re a bit much.

That said, I also think that nobody should be compelled to hold hands either. I know I see medical students holding hands at mass during the Our Father and other students who don’t do it. No harm, no foul. Look at the picture I selected, some are holding hands and others are extending theirs.

Simply put, we’re all different. Some folks have a more private spirituality and others are more communal. Some would say that corporate prayer should maintain some uniformity–where we all do the same thing. I can see the point, but only to a point. Should we all pray for the exact same thing each week? Sure. But again, only to a point.

To repeat a strain from yesterday, isn’t there more that Bishops and all of us for that matter should be worried about? If we’re going to alienate a group of people how about the atheists? How about companies that embezzle? How about war mongers?

I’d also like to see how the Bishop in question plans to enforce this. Perhaps a mild electric shock is given every time someone touches someone else in Covington?

I get that some people don’t want to hold hands during the Our Father. Some are germ phobic. Some don’t want to notice how clammy, cold or warm another’s hands are during the prayer because it distracts them. But some also have a prayer life enriched by it.

We should encourage freedom in prayer. If that means praying with one’s hands extended, or holding the hand of someone else who is willing then there’s no harm done. If that means we close our eyes and keep our hands at our sides, then again, no harm is done.

It’s not like someone decided to breakdance to “One Bread, One Body.”

With all due, respect…get over it, Bishop. You can’t force people to pray in the way YOU’D prefer them to.

And if I’m ever in Covington, I hope you come and say hi. You’ll find me at mass holding my wife’s hand.

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17 Comments

  1. No holding hands, no picking of noses, no coughing, no slouching, no dozing off, everyone must wear formal clothes, shine their shoes, no sneezing, no children crying (no children please) and most importantly, no smiling or laughing!!!! I mean it now!!!!!

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  2. I’ve had some good conversations about this, especially as we went around our diocese giving workshops on the revised translation.

    As I understand it from people smarter and more knowledgeable than me, holding hands is foreign to the Roman tradition of prayer. It crept into parishes in the 1960s/70s from Pentecostals and the Charismatic movement; it has no real antecedent before then. The traditional position for prayer in the Roman tradition is the “orans” position (hands extended), as the priest does during the Collect, much of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, etc.

    In the 1990s, while translating the second edition of the Roman Missal, the US bishops prepared a statement that parishes where holding hands was already occurring shouldn’t be required to stop, but that it shouldn’t be introduced anywhere. The orans position was recommended as an alternative position during the Lord’s Prayer. When the English translation of the second edition of the Roman Missal was shelved (due to the promulgation of the third edition) that statement got shelved with it.

    I don’t have any strong feelings one way or another; I grew up in a parish where people held hands, but it’s not my practice now. But the history of it is interesting.

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    1. Thanks Jonathan! But this Bishop even says that the “orans” position is wrong too. My point is the same as the Bishop’s essentially. We don’t need to “promote” it but we don’t need to restrict it either.

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  3. When I first encountered hand-holding at Mass many years ago, it made me uncomfortable. And, I knew it was not a technical part of the rubrics.

    But, over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate holding hands at the Our Father. It brings us closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ during the prayer that Christ himself taught us to pray. It reinforces that the person on our right and the person on our left are real human beings — beating hearts, rough hands and all.

    “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Maybe holding hands is the “on earth” part.

    There’s something important about touch. It’s why we shake hands when we greet each other. It says something about respect and welcome. Seems like these are all good things to happen at Church.

    You know, for some people, the shaking of hands at the Kiss of Peace and holding hands at the Our Father may be the only human touch that they get all week. I’m thinking of the old, the lonely, the stranger. There might not be anyone in their lives who hugs them — ever.

    The holding of hands is also a great equalizer. At my parish in Manhattan in New York City, it wouldn’t be uncommon at Mass for the very poor to be sitting next to the very rich. We’ve got hedge fund managers and homeless. Holding hands during the “Our Father” and the Kiss of Peace brings them together.

    With due respect to the bishop and the rubrics of the Roman Missal, I don’t think this passes the “WWJD” test.

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  4. I think I have the same reaction to this as you did, Mike. With everything going on in the world, why would the Bishop even choose to address this? Especially now, as people are having the familiar replaced by the unfamiliar. Why would he want to have this be the moment to stop a prayer posture that is being used by those in the pews? I appreciated the historical perspective the Jonathan provided – but all I could think of was “but we’re not in Rome.” The postures of prayer change from community to community, and from nation to nation. Next they will be asking us not to sign our head, lips, and heart prior to the Gospel, because I understand that was orignally only for the priest as well.

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  5. While I can appreciate the comments here and this blog opinion, this is not the Bishop telling the faithful this because HE thinks its not the right thing to do. He’s REMINDING people what the RUBRICS of the actual Liturgical Law of the Roman Catholic Church found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Redemptionis Sacramentum.

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    1. Patricia—I can understand that too…but didn’t Jesus say that was also what the Pharisees did? They were all so concerned about the rules and the rituals but forgot about having a heart for people?

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  6. As for me, I will pray with all of my heart and mind, and if that means uplifting my hands — conciously and, sometimes, unconciously — or holding the hands of those I cherish (or not) — so be it.
    I don’t see anything in the rubrics that say NOT to do it!
    As for break dancing, IMO we could use a little more of St. Brigit at our liturgies!

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  7. and then there’s my co-worker who’s daughter asked why people held their hands like that… and he said — those are the catholics waiting for rain.

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  8. At our parish everyone holds hands, even crossing the aisles, so we are all connected. Our pastor once said that facing the congregation, seeing the connected hands lifted at the end, became for him a symbol of our parish. We pray together, and lift each other up, in so many ways. The Pharisees need to let some things be!

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  9. I live in Covington. If you visit here, “I wanna hold your hand.” – the one on the other side of your wife of course.

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  10. I think it’s interesting that anyone can read “No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful” as “The lay faithful are proscribed from making any gesture”. Essentially, he has admitted that the Rite does not require OR prohibit any specific gesture. When translators throw in a few words in the name of “dynamic equivalence”, they are slammed for not being literal enough. Sounds like this bishop needs to learn a thing or two about reading literally. Ditto for all those who say that it is a gesture of the priest’s “leadership”, “intercession”, or whatever, with no evidence save a circular assumption.

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  11. It’s sad that some bishops try to suck the livin’ joy out of the Catholic faith. I like the respect people show to those who do not want to shake hands at the handshake of peace (a time of reconciliation). Mutual respect is a mark of Jesus’ love. This “purging” of Catholicism of influences beyond Rome is ridiculous. Here’s the real point of the season we now celebrate. Listen up, bishop.

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  12. In holding hands at the Our Father I always recall that in the primitive church only the baptized were allowed to pray this prayer, that only they had become daughters and sons of the Father of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament and could call upon God as Abba, Father. Catechumens left the liturgical assembly prior to this prayer and only prayed it otherwise after Baptism.

    Holding hands marks us as family, not in an elitist way, but in a way which accents adoption and equality. That includes a certain freedom from clericalism. Further, now that we are using “I believe” rather than “We believe” it is especially nice to underscore the commonality of our faith and solidarity in prayer.

    Finally, since when does not prescribed mean proscribed? For that matter who defines reaching out to one’s brothers and sisters in solidarity as an act of extending one’s hands in the way a priest does according to the rubrics?? As others have remarked, if formal equivalence is the way texts are to be translated, perhaps Bishops should take care to embrace these literal translations themselves.

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