To hold hands or not during the Our Father: that is the question

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"To hold hands or not during the Our Father?" by Roxane Salonen (CatholicMom.com)

Via Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain

I can’t remember my exact age when it started, but sometime in my post-Vatican II childhood, a few things changed within the context of Mass and church practices.

I remember, for instance, when Confession transitioned into the face-to-face method. Well, at least that option was newly presented, though “behind the curtain” was still considered OK, too.

But at some point early on, maybe even before this time, we started holding hands during the Our Father prayer.

I don’t recall being put off by the practice, necessarily. Everyone else was doing it. Other changes were happening, too, so I guess I figured it was just the way things were now.

What I do recall is being shy as a little girl, and even the sign of peace that we extended to others after the Our Father made me a little uncomfortable. I felt especially uncomfortable shaking hands with our priest, despite the fact that he was a wonderful man. I started hiding or ducking his outstretched hand whenever we were close enough for him to reach us during this time in the Mass. Thankfully we didn’t sit in the front row often.

I mention this because it may help explain how I feel about the practice of holding hands at Mass now. Let me get this out of the way. I’m not a fan. I won’t say I hate it, because there have been times it seemed right, but more often than not, and more and more lately, I have become very uncomfortable with it. It seems to be growing more complex in my mind, and more off-putting, as time goes on.

Lest you think I’m a total curmudgeon, let me explain. I think it started, really, when our children were small. Until that I point I don’t recall feeling any consternation over it. It’s what I’d known. But as they grew a little, and started being a distraction in church — and sometimes “fighting” with each other in public — I started to really dislike that part of Mass. In fact, I began to dread it.

Every Mass, as the Lord’s Prayer drew near, the kids would begin causing a bit of a scene in an effort to avoid the “cooties” generated by their siblings. So, rather than focusing on the words to the prayer as we were meant to do during that time, I would be distracted by this little game of my kids being annoying with each other, and my rising stress at keeping them from being ridiculous.

Finally, one day, I just said, that’s it, and I quit the practice of reaching for my loved ones’ hands during the Our Father. And to be honest, I have come to really appreciate the change. I like the calm and the focus that happens when I am not having to deal with the distraction. I like not having to look around and see if someone is within reach or not during smaller Masses, for instance. I like the feeling of communing with God, even while my church community is surrounding me.

Over time, has more sense. Not only is the distraction gone, but the sign of peace comes soon thereafter, so we still have the opportunity to reach out and show love to our neighbor and demonstrate communion in this way. It’s just that the Our Father gives us a chance to really quiet ourselves in another beautiful and important way.

Just because I’ve gotten that settled within myself does not mean the stress has vanished. The bit of anxiety I feel now at this time at Mass happens due to the fact that some people hold hands and others do not. Especially since I have let go (literally) of the practice, I am reminded that others prefer it. Sometimes when there are large groups of people holding hands, and others not, it feels like the group of hand-holders is exclusive somehow, and the others “on the outside.” I feel in a way that we are, even if not purposefully, judging each other. I wonder if the hand-holders are thinking that I’m stuck up or too serious or not reaching out enough? I hope those who are not holding hands are not thinking ill of the others.

Someone recently challenged me on this, saying I shouldn’t care what others think, and just do what’s right. It’s not that I’m worried about doing what I believe to be right, but that we’re not all in sync, and I think unity in such things is important.

You see, even the pause that occurs in my wondering about this, by virtue of the fact that not everyone is in sync, seems problematic. The Church has not formally expressed whether hand-holding is wrong. You won’t go to hell if you hold someone’s hand during the Our Father. If this is something you grew up with and appreciate, you are not suddenly a horrible person. Nor are you horrible if you refrain from hand-holding.

But can we just choose one way and go with it all the way?

The process I went through happened over time, and there was nothing snobbish about my decision. It was a practical matter. I didn’t want the sibling silliness to continue, and once we stopped doing it, things did calm down and I loved the change. More and more, the words of the prayer began to be what my focus was, and the difference has enriched my soul.

But I still feel some tension over it, especially when, for example, I attend Mass with people who appreciate hand-holding. I know holding hands with my dad during the Our Father was very special to my mother, for example, especially since he’d been away from the church for over 35 years before his return, which was a miracle. I am sure it felt wonderful to her to hold his hand after his return, knowing what it meant for him to finally be with her in worship, after his long absence. So when I’ve kept my hands folded during the Our Father and she’s near, I do feel badly, wonder if she thinks perhaps that I am not being loving, or maybe it’s a reminder to her of how much she misses my dad. And then I feel badly.

But this is where my comfort level remains. I will hug my dear ones during the sign of peace. I’m not a cold soul. But during the Our Father, I really relish that chance to just focus on God, even as I am surrounded by loved ones and fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. Refraining from holding hands at this time doesn’t make me feel alone, at all. I feel very connected to others, wherever my hands happen to be.

I do wish, however, that we would come to a place of agreement on this practice, so that the lingering awkwardness that I, and others, have articulated and feel would disappear. I suspect the Church doesn’t want to cause discord, but I think the discord is already there. Just like with any family, there are ways of being that can be enhanced when we are moving in the same direction for the most part.

All of this came to the fore again this week while listening to our local Catholic radio station, and hearing a priest from our area discuss hand-holding during the Our Father, along with an article he wrote back in 2009 that received a lot of attention, both praise and scrutiny.

It’s a topic that touches more than the hands. It touches the heart, too. I don’t think either practice — holding hands or not — is wrong. But I do hope that someday we can decide on one way or another, so we can truly feel the union with God and one another that the Our Father was meant to foster.

When I broached the topic on Facebook recently, the opinions poured in, from old and new Catholics, and even some Protestants, which I appreciated. It showed the diversity of thought, and that we really care about how we live out our faith. It matters.

We are all siblings in the Body of Christ, working things out together, offering our thoughts and experiences, in the hopes of one day finding ourselves together in Heaven, side by side, maybe holding hands, or wings, or not. But together nonetheless.

Question: What is your opinion on hand-holding during the Our Father? Why?


Copyright 2017 Roxane Salonen

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About Author

Roxane B. Salonen, a wife and mother of five from Fargo, N.D., is an award-winning children’s author and freelance writer who also enjoys Catholic radio hosting and speaking. Roxane co-authored former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino’s memoir, Redeemed by Grace. Her work is featured on "Peace Garden Passage" at her website, roxanesalonen.com

37 Comments

  1. Great article. Lots of food for thought. I have had some of the same thoughts.

    I also recently stopped holding hands. My husband is a deacon and so he is on the altar and I sit in the pew alone. Some people want to hold hands and some do not. I do not want to embarrass them in any way, so I decided to stop holding hands altogether. Like you, I have come to like it that way, I still feel connected to everyone and there is no more awkwardness.

    The sign of peace is a good time to reach out to our neighbor. But some do not want to do that either! I do hold out my hand in case they wish to take it.

    Thank you!

    • Thank you Colleen! I appreciate knowing others have had a similar journey over this issue. I’m glad you feel at peace over how things have “settled.” I’m more at peace, too. (Repeating this since it ended up on the wrong spot when I tried commenting by phone last night.)

  2. Hey Roxane, I don’t like holding hands during the Our Father either. I enjoy my personal time with God during this time, it brings me a much needed feeling of peace. I also don’t like how most of the people in my parish are holding their hands up in imitation of the Priest during the Our Father, I belong to a Roman Catholic church not an evangelical type of church and I love the traditions of the Catholic church. I really don’t mean to stomp on anyones toes, it is just my own personal opinions.

  3. Wholeheartedly agree on the need for unity here. The Our Father has sadly become a time to showcase differences in the church when it should be a time of union of souls in praise and petition of our Heavenly Father.

  4. Roxane Salonen on

    Thank you Colleen! I appreciate knowing others have had a similar journey over this issue. I’m glad you feel at peace over how things have “settled.” I’m more at peace, too.

  5. When hand-holding started at my childhood parish circa 1980 or so, I strongly disliked it. I still do. It is not in the Church Rubrics and has never been approved of as a part of the gestures and positions (such as when to stand, when to kneel, when to strike the breast, etc.) of Holy Mass. And, BTW, neither has that bizarre pseudo-Orans hands thing with the arms up during the Our Father where people look like they’re at a Baptist Revival. Even worse is the weird tossing-something-at-the-altar gesture some people do when they say. “And with your spirit.”

    Someone twisting around to grab my hand is extremely distracting during Holy Mass. I really think there are so many Catholics who have simply forgotten what the Mass really is. It is not meant to be a worship service like Protestants have. Mass is where a miracle takes place. Yes, MIRACLE. As in, time to fall to your knees in awe and reverence. Not “get to know who’s who in the pew” time.

    I read the 2009 article in the embedded link above by Father Kunst. Our priest at that time must have agreed with him. He publicly announced before a Mass one Sunday that these strange behaviors need to stop because they are not approved as part of the Mass. He corrected another thing we were doing wrong. Apparently, after Communion, the cue to go from kneeling to sitting is when the Body of Christ is placed in the Tabernacle, NOT when the priest sits down. Talk about going against the grain trying to keep doing what Fr. told me so many years ago! I have to be careful not to get punched in the back by the kneeling folks behind me when I try to sit as Jesus goes in.

    People, we need to get these things straight! I totally agree with Roxane here. The beauty of our Faith and especially our Holy Mass is that it is Universal. In every country, every Catholic has the same set of beliefs, the same Catechism, the same Mass. We as Catholics should be able to walk into any Catholic church in the world at any given time and fit right in, knowing when to stand and when to kneel, etc. because we have a universal protocol: the Church Rubrics. I so wish more pastors would publicly tell their congregations what is the proper thing to do at Mass.

  6. I think you’re worrying too much about what other people think. Some people like holding hands, some people don’t. To each their own. I don’t think anyone is likely offended one way or the other.
    For me personally, I usually turn my hands upward during the prayer. If a neighbor wants to reach out, I’ll gladly reach back and hold hands with them. If not, I’m just as happy to keep to myself.

    • I agree with you, Andria. I can still concentrate on the words of the beautiful Our Father even if I am holding someone’s hand. My husband and I turn our hands and arms upward in a reverent manner. Seems like the churches I attend all raised their hands in praise and if someone is next to us, they usually grab our hands. I feel like we are praying/praising Our Lord together. “Where two or more are gathered….”

  7. Deanne M Corcoran on

    I relish hand holding with my family in church. I am the mother of a 12 yr old and three 9 1/2 yr olds… and we have ALWAYS held hands during the Our Father and hopefully always will. (We also do the kiss of peace as a family…) Our kids have never missed a mass from birth on… We also ALWAYS go to mass together, always. Its the one thing I insist on really. I get somewhat disheartened over different things happening in the church lately…. I truly wonder if Jesus would want us to waste precious time debating such things. First and foremost I believe Jesus wants us to JUST LOVE.

    • Deanne, yes, and I do understand that some people really like holding hands. We are definitely creatures of habit, and of our experiences. That’s why it didn’t bother me for years. But now that I’ve tried it the other way, it has brought peace to my heart, which sort of surprised me and caused me to think about the Our Father differently, in a good way. So, I just wanted to share about that transformation.

  8. Margaret Tillott on

    I don’t agree with it as it seems to make a big thing of focusing on the lord’s prayer which is the greatest prayer at the expense of ensuring reverence and focus at the consecration-the most important part of the mass.

  9. Thank you for sharing your insight. I too prefer to not hold hands during the Our Father. I agree that prayer is personal between myself and God, given my complete attention and commitment. I was raised in the Church in the NorthEast and now live in the South and struggle to blend into the more relaxed practices. Maybe someday I will be comfortable to raise my hands in prayer!!! Mass was in Latin when I was growing up in my faith so I am naturally comfortable with formality and ritual. The Mass has evolved very much over the past decades.
    God Bless

    • Cheryl, yes. I didn’t grow up with the Latin Mass but now am very curious about it. I think that maybe we threw out some of the baby while tossing out the bath water. Change is good, but did we go too far?

  10. I am an adult convert to Catholicism (2014 Easter Vigil) and the more I learn about how things were before Vatican II, the more I wish they had stayed that way. Personally, I dread the hand holding at the Our Father. Like you said, it is a distraction. And I don’t understand why we have to stand up at that point since the consecration has already occurred. We should be on our knees. I think it’s these kinds of things that have led so many Catholics to not even believe in the Real Presence anymore. And don’t got me started on announcements during the Mass. And the clapping. As someone who escaped Protestant “culture” after 40 years, I long for true reverence at Mass, not the watered down, touchy-feely, self-focused way so many parishes do thing these days.

    • Nicole, yes, those exterior things have become more problematic to me too. I appreciate your sharing from a former Protestant perspective. As I grow and learn more about my faith and its older traditions, I yearn more for those too. I just think maybe we went a little too far in our V2 changes. I do feel like I missed out on some important things growing up that would have helped me, for instance, understand the Real Presence more fully sooner. That was something I learned for the first time as an adult. It should not have been so. My appreciation for our Lord in the Eucharistic host grows more and more each passing day. So that has contributed to my feelings on this point, I think. It’s a different emphasis.

  11. Roxanne, I had the same experience as you with our kids. I was a hand-holder before children, then realized we could NOT have our 6 children hold hands during the Our Father, and now I find I can focus more intently on the Lord’s Prayer if I fold my hands and close my eyes. I once had a nice man stand next to me and try to hold my hand during the entire prayer! I didn’t realize he was there because I had my eyes closed.
    I agree with you that it would be simpler if we all did the same thing. Thank you for putting all this into words!

    • Boy I am so heartened to hear of someone with such a similar experience! It makes me feel glad that I took a risk and shared. I know not all will agree but you get it and my reasons for my interior change on this point. Thank you!

  12. I agree with you. It’s distracting and not part of the Mass as it is meant to be. I enjoyed it as a child but as I’ve grown older and more devout, allowing my faith to become my own, I don’t appreciate the practice. I have been told by numerous priests/religious that we should not hold hands. We are not meant to imitate the priest’s actions on the altar. We are the congregation and he is the priest. We have separate roles and ours is not in imitating his hand motions or saying the words of consecration out loud with him. I’ve found that many people do this (saying the words of the priest with him out loud during the consecration) and it is SO distracting. Those words are ones that we say in prayer in our hearts as a means of offering ourselves up WITH the bread and wine to God the Father in worship. The whole point of the Mass is to worship God and allow our hearts to be changed through that worship.

  13. Hello again dear Roxane. Thanks for this article. I think I’ve shared elsewhere that Archbishop Chaput (formerly of Denver) once mentioned this rather directly in a homily about faith practices. He gently but firmly suggested that our hands should be folded upward – just our hands as in speaking directly and personally with Our Father. At the time, I was very much into holding my hands upward in a sign of surrender — so it’s taken a bit, but I’ve mostly respected the direction of the AB and I now put my two hands together.

    Mildly related: As a deacon who has more than a dozen years on the altar and looking out at Mass attendees… I see all sorts of commotion during the ‘Sign of Peace,’ laughter, people leaving their pews and going all around shaking hands. Today, I even saw a woman doing ‘fist-bumps’ with those close to her. FIST BUMPS! Does this sound like or look like prayerful witness of ‘giving Christ’s peace’ to others?

    One of your earlier responders to this topic suggested that we might do well to go back to pre-Vatican II reverence and witness. In some ways – that person is right on.

    Blessings.

    • Roxane B. Salonen on

      Hi Deacon Tom!

      I really appreciate your wise perspective from all those angles. The fist bump does make one pause. Maybe we’ve gotten a little off track. Possibly innocently, but still…

      Again, in gratitude…

  14. As a preteen, we stopped going to Mass because my parents divorced and the priest at the time told my mom she wasn’t welcome to come anymore. This was the early 70’s. About 4 years later, I started attending again with my boyfriend, whom I eventually married.
    Imagine my surprise when someone reached for my hand during the Our Father! And then this other new practice ” the sign of peace”. I am a pretty shy person and these practices are still very uncomfortable for me. After speaking to my parish priest, he said that to not hold hands during the Our Father is perfectly acceptable. Since then, when time is close, I put my hands in prayer position so others will know that I choose not to hold hands. As far as the sign of peace, it’s still difficult for me, but I still offer it and pray that someday I will become comfortable with it.

    • Roxane B. Salonen on

      Oh my, what an unfortunate experience, but how beautiful that you found your way back home. That makes me so happy! It sounds like you’ve found peace in the more overt things some do at Mass, too. I’m glad. Peace be with you, by the way. 🙂

  15. When the most recent changes to the Mass came about, a few years back, we were told a out the changes and instructed that during the Our Father our hands should be folded in prayer. NOT holding the hands of the person next to us. NOT held upward, as in offering. Folded.
    I was happy to hear this because I never liked the hand holding.

    • Jill, it sounds like some pastors are paying attention to the rubrics. I know some still feel called to hold hands. I think it’s more out of habit and what they’ve always known, and I realize it might feel nice to some. I just come back to the Eucharist…which the Our Father precedes. Then again I have seen some parishes join families together to receive Eucharist as a family. And the Orthodox seem to be more of that mind from what I’ve observed.

  16. Teh Catholic church is as it says catholic and universal. I have been to the latin mass with my husband too many times and I have never liked it. He enjoys it. I now go the charismatic mass which is more to my taste but do not like the hand holding much during the Our father. However the Catholic church can hold many variations of its mass rites within it to suit most still mass going Catholics

    • Roxane B. Salonen on

      Hi Carmel, our faith is certainly diverse in many different ways, and thank God, universal! I guess that’s how most families are — not always the same but all family nevertheless. 🙂

  17. This woman has anxiety about holding hands…even with her children…that is sad. For me, the hand-holding is precious. It reigned my children in, calmed them, brought them back INTO attention, and banded us together for this wonderful prayer….still does. When a kind soul next to me that I don’t know offers her hand, we share a communion that even the short sign of peace does not rival. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

    • Connie, oh I love holding my kids’ hands, always have. I’m a very “hands on” huggy sort of person. This just feels like a sacred moment to me and hand-holding has seemed out of place as time as gone on. I’m sorry you’ve misunderstood my essay. But grateful we can talk about it, hopefully in a way that helps us understand one another better.

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