April 18, 2007

Holding hands really adds nothing to the Mass

Fellowship/communion among believers
their individual, personal, one-on-one devotion to Christ.

Lack of personal, one-on-one devotion to Christ
lack of fellowship/communion among believers.

However . . .
fellowship/communion among believers
personal devotion to Christ.

All of the above applies also to holding hands at Mass.


Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

Symbols can be important. Symbolic acts can be important.

I consider holding hands while reciting the Lord's Prayer to be an important symbolic act of how we will be praising God in communion with each other in heaven.

Holding hands does not signify we are actually in communion, but it can give a believer an opportunity to glimpse what the ultimate communion might be like.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Among the things I find objectionable about handholding at Mass is that people end up practicing it and expecting others to practice it while failing to offer the bows that the Missal requires of them.
See my post (same date):
LITURGICAL DANCE: the kind that the Vatican WANTS you to do

I've had a priest snicker at me for observing the required bows and for not holding hands.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Jeron said...

I started bowing during the Profession of Faith where we say "by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the virgin Mary, and became man" just in the last 2 years. I don't know why exactly. I just started doing it because I've always noticed the "(optional bow)" instructions in the margin of the missalette and decided I'd start doing it. I used to hold hands during the Our Father and my parents & some nieces/nephews still do, but I no longer do. I'm no longer comfortable with that symbol. What am I trying to say? I don't know exactly, except that it's odd how much meaning that simple bow infuses in my heart during the Mass, and how seemingly false it seems to me to hold hands with someone I don't know standing next to me. I still feel guilty when a stranger offers me their hand during the Our Father and I take their hand when not wanting to. I'm starting to clasp my hands together at my breast during the Our Father to now discourage hand grabbers.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Kasia said...

I generally avoid holding hands at Mass. I did make an exception Saturday, when my friend and I went to Mass together and she automatically reached out for my hand during the Lord's Prayer.

However, at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday I was insistently tapped on the shoulder (as I was intently praying the Lord's Prayer, head bowed and hands folded) by a man standing next to me. When he had secured my attention, he pointed meaningfully toward the woman nearest me who was holding out her hand (she was in the last pew and I was standing by the back wall). I just stared at him and then resumed my original posture. (He took her hand.)

My question for Fr. Stephanos, then, is this: is the handholding actually standard, or is it one of those things where either holding hands OR bowing one's head and folding one's hands is acceptable position? I gather from your comments that it's optional (otherwise you would do it yourself) - am I right?

6:37 AM  
Blogger mgibson said...

Oh boy Fr., you've hit upon one of my pet peeves. WHY must people insist on doing ANYTHING but simply praying the Our Father together in unity with their brethern at Holy Mass without "enhancements"? Though, the one that really gets me is the hand holders, because in refusing to hold their own hand the question is whose hands they are going to reach for! You can't win with most hand holders, even if they argue time and again that they are not trying to force anyone else to be like them - those are usually the same ones in my experience that has a clear expectation that everyone does what they do and hurt expression when you politely say no thank you (Expressions: "what? why not? don't you like my hands? what did I do to you? I feel rejected!").
So I amd others simply end up praying the Our Father everytime with your eyes tightly shut and your hands tightly folded. "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"!

I know some pastors are encouraging the hand holders because they'd rather have them than the ones who try to imitate the priestly orans gesture, but... Honestly. Can we not just have some good catechesis on WHY we pray the Our Father at Mass and what the liturgical meaning of it is? Perhaps then people would really consider what to do rather than just following their feel-good evangelical neighbors out of a yearning to not be "left out" or "left behind".

Flame-proof gear... on and ready! :)

7:08 AM  
Blogger RobK said...

Kasia has a good illustration of the difficulty of NOT holding hands. If I refuses an offered hand, it can create a situation where others are offended or I become distracted by my "protest." I agree that I would rather not hold hands, but I also don't want to make the Our Father with Christ present a time for "making a statement." What should someone in the pew do?

7:23 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

the bow during the Creed is not optional. It is required. If anyone, including a "missalette," tells you it is optional, that is false. The bow is required. Plus, on Christmas and on the Annunciation, that bow is to be replaced by a genuflection.

the handholding is something that just got started on its own. The Church never called for it.

In my parish (I'm not the pastor, just the assistant), most people hold hands.

What I find most rude is when someone is conducting himself correctly during the liturgy is treated as "wrong" by others who want to impose something that is mistaken into the liturgy.

When I first got to this parish, the altar servers used to hold hands with the priests. I got that changed in the following way.
Up until the end of the "Through him, with him, in him...," all the people and the servers are kneeling. Then they stand for the "Our Father." The servers used to stand up and walk across the sanctuary to stand next to the priest and hold his hands. I pointed out that when the servers stand up they should just stay where they alread are instead of move around the sanctuary. That ended the handholding with the priest.

There is another problem with the handholding when it comes to the priest. The Missal tells him exactly what to do with his hands.

+ At the beginning of "Our Father" he is to raise his hands extended.
+ During the prayer that he says aloud right at the end of the "Our Father" he is to keep his hands extended.
+ At the end of that prayer he is to lower his hands and join his hands together (i.e., palm to palm in front of his breast) while the people say, "For the kingdom, the power and the glory..."; the odd thing at his point is that the handholders raise their hands up into the air, exactly in the opposite direction that the priest is required to move his hands.
+ Then the priest is to raise and extend his hands for the next prayer; the odd thing there is that at the point the handholders now let go and lower their hands (again moving in the opposite direction that the priest is required to do).

So if "handholders" take the priest's hands during all of that, they end up "forcing" him to move his hands in exactly the opposite direction that the Church tells him.

When a man presents himself as a candidate at priestly ordination, the bishop asks him in the presence of the faithful to affirm publicly that he will celebrate the liturgy as the Church hands it down. As a result of that, a priest who does otherwise during the liturgy ... that priest's word is no good.

Furthermore, the Church tells a priest that, except for those instances where the directives give him some option, the priest is to leave out nothing and to add nothing.

At my monastery, our Sunday Mass has standing-room only. We have never told the people not to hold hands. However, they see how prayerful our liturgy is, and they just never started the practice.

One thing that does happen at our abbey is that we do ask the people to remain silent inside the church both before and after Mass.

The handholding goes "hand-in-hand" with people seeing the church as a place to socialize horizontally, and forgetting that it is God's house and that God is the one with whom we are to "talk" ... that his house is, in his words, "a house of prayer."

7:40 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...


It is unfortunate that this handholding ever got started. Now people who know what is appropriate and required in the liturgy are put in the position of being treated as if THEY are the ideologues and in the wrong.

The handholding issue is parallel to issues of morality in our culture, or even within the Church. Those who know what is moral and wish to live that way are told that THEY are "unChristian" in THEIR attitudes towards others.

I'm going to "Bible thump" as follows.

Jesus taught us to call HIS Father OUR Father. So, when we pray the "Our Father" we are turning to the Father together with Jesus. Should we hold the hands of Jesus as we pray it? Well ... when Mary Magdalene discovered the risen Jesus, she wanted to hold onto him (his feet), but he said, "Don't" - because I must ascend to MY Father YOUR Father.

In turning to his Father, the risen Lord Jesus tells us not to hold onto him (Jesus).

So, RobK, as you say: "What should someone in the pew do?"

First of all, accept that others will think what they want to think. People who hold hands are not bad. They are simply not aware of the thorough spirit (and thorough letter) of the liturgy. (I call attention to the letter because we are not Gnostic heretics for whom only the "spirit" has value and the "letters of the flesh" are ultimately and literally evil.)

It might help if during the entire liturgy from beginning to end you keep your hands in the traditional gesture: your two palms gently open and touching each other, and held lightly in front of your heart.

Yes, you might get "persecuted" for it during the Our Father. You are not the one who is trying to make a statement.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Jeron said...

Wow! I didn't know the bowing was optional. I've only noticed that I and a handful of others bow during the Profession of Faith. I know one of our priests bows, but not sure about the other two (that I can recall at the moment). And I never knew about the genuflection requirement at Christmas and the Feast of the Annunciation, either, and I consider my upbringing to have been fairly orthodox despite Vatican II. My parents are from the old school, but they obviously aren't aware of this either. Thanks for the info!

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen Father! Very succinctly put. Tom G.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember at the funeral of one of my wife's Aunts, folding my hands during the "Our Father" when this yenta on my right started to grab my hand "to continue the circle". As much as I tried to wriggle free, she wouldn't let go. I'm sure the good Lord & fathers of the Church didn't have this in mind for the prayer.

-Bill Hoog

11:15 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Bill Hoog,
I might have turned to her and said gently and distinctly:

Please . . .
stop . . .
physically . . .
assaulting . . .

We have numerous Catholics from many cultures here in San Diego:

Just for those cultures I mentioned, deliberately touching a woman who is not your relative is immoral.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just to make it clear, SHE grabbed my hand! ;^})
I got the impression I would have had to say that pretty loud for her to get the message. At least one can always "offer it up" when you're in that situation.

Bill Hoog

11:55 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Bill, I was clear on that.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Xavier Martel said...

Overtly coughing or sneezing into your hands generally prevents the overagressive handholders, but places you at some discomfiture during the exchange of peace.

I find the "folded hands, downcast & closed eyes" to be generally effective in preventing communitarian assaults. Keeping a firm grip on the pew in front works occasionally.

At my parent's parish, the pastor addressed the issue in a homily, asking the parishioners to be respectful of those who did not wish to hold hands. This seemed a little backward to me - shouldn't he have been asking the non-handholders to be tolerant of the agressive hand grabbing mafia?

Finally, I sympathize with others who have commented about the lack of respect for the GIRM. I am never so much of a pharisee as when I see people genuflecting to the empty tabernacle on Good Friday, or, worse, genuflecting to nothing in the ever more prevalent churches without an identifiable tabernacle. But most difficult of all is the refusal of my brethren to recognize that the church is a sacred place, and silence is normally to be observed. The uproar and din that arises as soon as the recessional is ended is astounding. Oh well, all things to be filed away as "there but for the grace of God..." and as opportunities to turn the other cheek. Faithful attendance to the rubrics is the best possible evangelization...

(although if I am any more extravagent in striking my breast during the confiteor, then I'm going to drive my crucifix into my sternum and my fellow parishioners will be convinced I have some sort of stigmata)

3:45 PM  
Blogger Kasia said...

I knew about the genuflection because they announced it before Midnight Mass at my parish (presumably because they knew a lot of people wouldn't know). I only found out about the bowing via blogs though.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Kasia said...

Fr. Stephanos, do you think it would be overkill for me to purchase a copy of the GIRM so I can find out what exactly I'm supposed to do when?

3:52 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Get a PDF copy of the G.I.R.M. for free at

4:25 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

You said, "As a result of that, a priest who does otherwise during the liturgy ..." And , "that priest's word is no good."
I am interested in what the end of that sentence was and could you site a source for the sencond part please.
I'm interested because I'm in the middle of a corespondence w/ my Bishop concerning liturgical abuse right now.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Dim Bulb said...

Holding hands strikes me as a lame-stream protestant device better left alone.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Anita Moore said...

Yessss! I hate being forced to hold hands with strangers! I also hate being grabbed and groped by strangers during the sign of peace (though, happily, some of these will refuse to make the sign of peace with you if you won't hand-hold during the Our Father).

I absolutely adore hugs and other warm gestures -- with people with whom I am on those terms. Affection is the result of a relationship based on warmth and respect, not the producer of it.

Our faith does not require us needlessly to set aside good and reasonable social norms, one of which is that strangers keep their hands to themselves.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

You are quoting a sentence that comes from my head, so there's no other source:
"As a result of that, a priest who does otherwise during the liturgy ... that priest's word is no good."

A more correct form of that would be:
"As a result of that, any who priest who does otherwise during the liturgy is a priest whose word is no good."

I was referring to a public statement that a candidate for the priesthood makes during the rite of Ordination of a Priest. Before the actual moment of ordination, the candidate stands up publicly in front of the bishop. The bishop asks him aloud:
"Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ's people?"

The candidate is to answer aloud, "I am."

That is why I said that a priest who does not do what the Church tells him to do in the liturgy is a priest whose word is no good.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Mary Beth said...

I have a question Father...what about people who hold out their hands during the Our Father...I'm certain this did not occur often when I was a child but I see it more and more. It seems to be a popular alternative to both hand holding and folded hands. I've never understood people in pews attempting to mimic the hand gestures of the priest. But then again, one of the priests I know excuses me of being too orthodox and overly judgmental of parishes who do things differently...

8:44 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Mary Beth:

You are referring to the "Orans" gesture. "Orans" is a Latin word that means "someone who is praying."

Ancient Christian mosaics and frescoes sometimes depict symbolically the Church as a woman standing and praying in that posture. "Ecclesia Orans"--The Church Praying.

Over the centuries that gesture fell out of use among the general population, but the Missal continue to describe its use by priests.

In some places, bishops are discussing the possibiity of having people pray that way during the Our Father rather than holding each others' hands.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Augusta said...

Prior to attending the Latin Mass, I was confused as to why some parishes held hands during the Our Father (and I'm a convert!) Upon asking about this, it was explained to me that the Our Father is a "vertical prayer", meaning between you and God...it has nothing to do with community. I feel that the idea of "community" has completely over-shadowed any other form of personal worship in the Church.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...


It is a prayer directed "vertically" to the Father.

However, it does have "horizontal" elements, but these have been overemphasized.

Notice that our Lord did not teach us to pray, "My Father who art in heaven."

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The structure of the Mass is the structure of the Covenant sacrifice laid out at Mount Sinai. Click HERE for my explanation of that.

At the Last Supper, and as quoted at every Mass, the first affirmation that Jesus makes concerning what he intends his Eucharist to be is: "the new and everlasting COVENANT."

We have lost sight of "covenant" regarding the Eucharist. We have preserved a sense of sacrifice-- but not in the context of covenant. (How often does ANYONE call the Eucharist, "The Covenant"? We call it by several other names.)

Worst of all, the "meal" approach to the Eucharist is overemphasized. Yes, Jesus instituted the Eucharist at a meal setting. However, he "pushed" it in the direction of Covenant.
"This is my body ... my blood ... the new and everlasting covenant...."

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters has commented on the priest's Orans position during the Our Father that may be the cause of all this confusion.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't find where in the GIRM the faithful are instructed to bow?

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where in the GIRM is the instruction on when we are to bow?

11:27 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

G.I.R.M., paragraph 275.
I posted that information under my blog-article, "LITURGICAL DANCE: The Kind that the Vatican WANTS You to Do"

7:36 AM  
Blogger Laura The Crazy Mama said...

In our parish, not only do a big bunch of people do all of the hand holding, hand raising thingy you've been talking about, but what's the deal with the raising of the hands when saying, "and also with you" like people are giving Father a gift...then there's the same gesture when they say, "we lift them up to the Lord" but they shove the air up that time instead of out toward the priest. I'm just waiting to see what they come up with for "it is right to give Him thanks and praise"? It's become like some sort of strange "hey! let's play simon says!" with Father.

11:08 PM  

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