Confessions of an Our Father Hand-Holder

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Sharon Rayner

Editor’s note: Today, we welcome a new contributor and friend to our CatholicMom.com family. Sharon Rayner is a wife and mom who blogs at In Joyful Hope. Please join me in warmly welcoming Sharon here at the blog. LMH

Confessions of an Our Father Hand-Holder

Daughter #1, then 7, in a very quiet, but firm voice:  “Mama, I hate Father X.”

Me, not so quiet:  “WHAT?!”

Daughter #1, still soflty:  “I hate Father X.”

Now, Daughter #1, while both compassionate and generally sweet, is extremely rules-based.  For example, the only information I was ever able to extract from her on a daily basis during her kindergarten year was what my husband and I eventually dubbed “The Yellow Light Report.”  Every night, upon asking her about the generalities of her day, we were informed of that day’s five-year-old transgressors, sometimes complete with details of their misdeeds.  So this situation was serious—using the word “hate” followed by the name of a person, not to mention a priest, is a major offense, and she knows it.

When I recovered enough to ask the nature of her complaint against Father X, she indicated that he is unfair (oh, how she loves that word!) because he no longer allows hand-holding during the Our Father at Mass.  Now, of course, it is allowed, but discouraged by many.  I must admit, with sorrow and regret, that the true source of her vexation was me.  For quite some time I was influenced enough by peer pressure that I stopped holding the hands of my children during the Our Father.  Here’s why.

With an admittedly faulty memory, I do remember a homily that addressed this practice a number of years ago.  The priest told the congregation that, while the Church does not formally forbid the hand-holding or outstretched arms, it is a relatively recent addition to the liturgy and does not occur in other parts of the world.  I considered stopping then, but decided that if it’s allowed, there was really no reason to change a practice that my children enjoyed.

Fast-forward about a year.  While I was sitting in a bible study break-out group at my parish, the topic came up.  The prevailing attitude in the room was one of abhorrence.  A few of us did not understand the strong negative emotion and inquired as to the nature of the objections to the practice.  The only explanation offered to my recollection was the following:  “Protestants attending the Mass might mistake the hand-holding for the Communion.”  Really?  That’s it?  I should decline my three-year-old’s hand because a hypothetical Protestant might be confused?

Feeling emboldened by the weakness of that argument, I ventured forward with a brief comment in a small voice:  “I think the Church allows it.”  I was immediately peppered with assertions that I was incorrect.  Again, quite diminutively, I said that I remember a homily by Father X during which he said that the Church does allow it.  I was met with indignation and a chorus of “Father X would never say that!  Father X hates hand-holding!”  Once more, very weakly now, I asserted “I do remember it.  It was in a homily some time ago.”  Countered my comrades, “Well, I missed that one!  Are you saying that there’s a papal dispensation?!”  Now, I’m not a confrontational person.  By this point there was a lot of angst in the room, so I only shrugged my shoulders.  The parting shot of our fearless group leader was “I’m going to look that up!”

I’m not sure if she ever did because I never went back, but I did look it up, and here is what I found on the USCCB website:

“Orans or Open Hand Prayer Posture

Many Catholics are in the habit of holding their hands in the “Orans” posture during the Lord’s prayer along with the celebrant. Some do this on their own as a private devotional posture while some congregations make it a general practice for their communities.

Is this practice permissible under the current rubrics, either as a private practice not something adopted by a particular parish [or]as a communal gesture?

No position is prescribed in the present Sacramentary for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer.” (boldface mine)

Now, while some die-hard anti-hand-holders will likely decry this lack of a firm opinion as a failure of moral courage on the part of the USCCB, I think the bishops punted because it’s simply not a big deal.  I continued to accept my husband’s and daughters’outstretched hands.

Fast-forward to last year.  In a conversation about the Mass with a new friend whom I admire and respect, she declared with a look of disgust on her face that holding hands during the Our Father is about as “lukewarm” as a Catholic can get.  Not wanting to go there again, I moved the conversation in another direction.

The very next Friday, through happenstance, I found my daughters and myself in the pew with my new friend and her children.  I had invited them to our parish, and I was happy to be there with them until we stood for the Our Father.  Panic seized me as I knew I was about to be convicted, with one offense, of being a lukewarm Catholic.  I didn’t immediately take my daughter’s hand, and as my five-year-old reached for the five-year-old hand of her classmate, I saw the other mom make eye contact with her daughter and her shake her head no.

It saddens me to admit that after that experience, and having heard many people whom I genuinely respect denounce the practice, I stopped accepting my children’s hands during the Our Father.  I didn’t tell them they couldn’t hold hands, and they continued to do so.  For a time, I separated myself from my family while we prayed in the words that Jesus gave us—until August 7, 2011.

Here is an excerpt from that Sunday’s gospel, Matthew 14:

“25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.”  (boldface mine)

As I reflected on that gospel, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times Jesus might have taken the hands of His mother or the disciples in prayer.  I thought of other instances in the bible in which the touching of hands played a central role, notably Exodus 17:12 and Luke 8: 43 – 48.  I went to BibleGateway.com and found 138 instances of the word “touch” in the bible.  I’ve not since declined my daughters’ hands.

I understand and am very grateful that no one may add or delete anything to or from the Mass, but the topic of gestures during the Our Father has been specifically addressed by the USCCB.  As a governing body, the bishops posted a comment on the issue directly on their website, and they did not forbid it.  If they later reconsider and declare it objectionable, my family and I will comply out of obedience, no questions asked.

I’m still unclear on why it is so problematic for my family of four to quietly hold hands during the Our Father or for others to quietly lift their hands toward Heaven.  As our Church is under constant attack from the outside regarding issues of major doctrinal significance, I’m hoping this issue will fade to the background.

Copyright 2012 Sharon Rayner

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About Author

Sharon Rayner is a Catholic wife and mother who has become increasingly aware of a call to evangelize using the new media. Her passions are Catholic education, raising daughters to embrace purity and virtue, and sharing with other Catholic women the journey through subfertility that has led to adoption as a means to expand her family. Every day she thanks God for her recently converted Catholic husband of 22 years, her two school-aged girls, her adopted two-year-old son, and her three miscarried children in heaven. She writes at Joyful Hope, http://psalm28v7.blogspot.com.

12 Comments

  1. Claudia ~ Newbury Park on

    When I am with family, I hold hands, as a symbol of our family. I don’t with strangers, because we don’t have the same bond. Also from a personal standpoint, I have fibromyalgia and it just hurts to hold my arms up. Thanks for writing this piece – Sarah Reinhard sent me. :-)

  2. Welcome to CatholicMom, Sharon.

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about, regarding holding hands during the Our Father (or at any other time) with your family. Quite honestly, there’s nothing in the rubrics to prohibit you from doing so. My husband and I hold each other’s hand and sit arm-in-arm throughout the Mass and kiss each other’s cheeks for the Sign of Peace (and I’m sure our kids, when they’re old enough, will find this horribly gross). But there’s nothing wrong with that.

    There’s also nothing in the rubrics to encourage this, and it’s probably not a good idea to pressure others to hold your hand, and certainly the priest should not be saying “Let’s all hold hands during the Our Father,” as that’s not anywhere in the book. But if you want to do it with your kids, what’s stopping you?

    Just a note, though, the USCCB faq you quote, with regard to the orans posture, only helps your argument insofar as the last sentence, which indicates there is no common proscribed position. The orans posture is that in which the individual holds both hands out, elbows bent, palms out and slightly upward (palms toward God, iow); it has nothing to do with placing those hands in other people’s hands.

  3. I’ve heard a handful of priests pose the following: If a stranger walked into Mass and witnessed hand-holding only during the Our Father, one might think that was the most important part of Mass. Why not hold hands throughout the entire Eucharistic prayer – the high point of Mass?

    I’m not agreeing/disagreeing, just a thought to throw out there for added discussion.

  4. I personally prefer to clasp my hands in prayer, head bowed, and pray the Our Father the same way I pray throughout the rest of the Mass. I’m an introvert. But our bishop hasn’t prescribed any particular custom, and holding hands is the usual practice in my parish. Two of my kids like it, two prefer not to, or not to hold their siblings’ hands anyway. So what we end up with is a weird mishmash, in which the non-holders attempt to ignore the holders, except for me, who will hold the hand of any child who offers one, but I don’t go seeking it out. I’m sure the Our-Father Shuffle makes onlookers cringe, but hey, what are they doing looking at us when they should be praying?

    But as much as it would be tempting to make strong arguments for or against, ultimately at this time it’s a diocese-by-diocese decision. Good opportunity to practice not worrying about the little things.

  5. Great article. So honest.
    I hold out my hands – if someone wants to grab them, fine. If not, fine.
    Too much ado about nothing in my opinion. Holding hands is about family and community and love. Does that not belong at church?? Do we not have more important issues to worry about?
    Thanks Sharon.

  6. Thank-you or this article. I have struggled with this very issue. We go to English Mass, but my husband is from Mexico. He prefers the English Mass. Recently, he stopped holding his kids’ hands because they didn’t do that in México where he went to church. Side note, he is incredibly anti-social, strange since we have 6 kids. Anyway, a few weeks ago a little old “white” lady told him at the Kiss of Peace” that she would be praying for him. She took his refusal to hold her hand as something else. I will say, her praying for him is not a bad thing, we can all use more prayers. Its been very weird. I think I will go back to holding whoever outstretches their hand. It is a small thing and doing this could distract others less. Thank-you for writing this article. God bless!

  7. Sharon, since it is meaningful to you and your family to hold hands, no one should object. What I object to is being expected to join hands with others. The very act of praying the Our Father as a community is the only sign of unity that is needed. I find that another hand holding mine, and then at the end, giving it a little farewell squeeze,. is hugely distracting, making it difficult for me to mindfully pray the words of the Our Father.(call it sensory issues, but I’m not alone in this, and I’m not especially introverted.) So while it’s fine if families and close friends like to do this, I object to situations where it has become the expected, default position for the whole parish, and those of us who demur are looked upon as anti-social.
    Also, there is something else which I rarely hear expressed but it always strikes me. The official, approved time in the mass where it is right and fitting and meaningful to clasp my neighbor’s hand is for the Sign of Peace. It seems that if the whole church has already been holding hands for the duration of the Our Father, it somehow detracts from the significance of the Sign of Peace. It makes the clasping of hand at the Sign of Peace kind of anti-climactic: been there, done that. I wonder if anyone else out there has ever felt this way about it.

    • I agree with you on all points. I too find holding hands with strangers to be distracting, but it’s also distracting to have to worry that others will be offended if I don’t take their hands. Similarly, in my case, it is distracting to worry if the Smith family behind me (and/or Father X) now disapproves of our family. It’s hard to win on this issue, hence my frustration with so much focus on it. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Oh, boo. Lame. Sorry, but I hold hands with my husband and my children we we attend Mass together. We do it as a sense of unity (can’t think of a better word right now), I guess, during the Our Father. I see MANY families in out parish do the same. I have not heard anything about it being “looked down upon” or “discouraged” or anything. And, sorry (again), but if Protestants think that is part of Communion, then – once again – they are wrong about the Church. I have actually never heard that being an issue. And, friends of our that have gone with us (non-Catholic) find the hand-holding during prayer a beautiful thing. And it is.

  9. I assure you that no Protestant is thinking that holding hands while saying the Lord’s Prayer is “communion.” Even the most conservative, fundamentalist protestants recognize a cup and bread as communion, though certainly not in the same form or meaning as Catholics. In fact, the conservative protestants I know (and knew as a protestant) approached their symbolic communion with more reverence and introspection regarding their sins than the Catholics we’ve met since converting several years ago… but that’s another conversation, isn’t it?

  10. Christine Hebert on

    I don’t like hand holding during the Our Father. To me it is annoying as it, IMO, is laity copying the posture of the Priest. I am not a priest and during prayer I assume a prayerfully position of hands folded and head bowed. I also frequently close my eyes so as to concentrate on the prayer and not on other people and whatever they may be doing. I find it particularly offensive when people forcefully grab my hand (this has happened to me at a Cursillo Mass). My prayer attitude is mine and I should not be forced into an attitude that I do not find particularly prayerful. To be honest I find turning my back on the consecrated Eucharist during the “sign of peace” to be disturbing and distracting as well. I feel like I am being disrespectful to Our Lord if I am turning every which way and shaking hands. I am grateful if no is seated behind me and expecting me to turn my back on the Lord. It is my understanding that the “sign of peace” is not a part of the TLM and was added to the Novus Ordo Mass. Having never been to a TLM, I cannot say for sure.

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