Look, Ma! No Hands!

Look, Ma! No Hands!!
By Gino Galley

The issue I’m going to address here does not seem to be raised much in most Catholic discussions or periodicals. The reason, I’m guessing, is because the matter seems so minor, and even normal, to a large majority of Catholics in the U.S.A. that most of them do not even realize it is an issue at all!

It is a widespread practice (which somehow crept in) in the United States by which, during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass, everyone in the congregation would hold hands together. Ever since I started to attend Mass regularly (I am a convert to the Faith) I have seen this practice done regularly at my local parishes. Since everybody was doing it, I thought it was part of the liturgy, and so I innocently took part in it. I continued this liturgical feat for a couple of years more until, one day, I was listening to EWTN radio and heard Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a well-respected Jesuit priest and preacher for the Faith, speak on one of his talk shows; in it, he said that he said that he believed that holding hands during the Lord’s prayer is an illicit act in the Mass!

“What in Pete’s world is he saying?” I exclaimed to myself, “What’s so wrong about holding hands?” I did not understand, and so I went on the internet to research this claim using major (and authorized) Roman Catholic evangelization organizations such as Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com) and EWTN (www.ewtn.com). To my surprise, I found that the practice of holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer is indeed wrong; not in the action by itself, but in the fact that it is NOT part of the liturgy. That is, nowhere in the Roman Missal does it command or even mention such a gesture (compared to other gestures such as bowing during the Creed or making the sign of the cross for the gospels).

Though the Vatican has not addressed the issue directly, she has nonetheless used language that discourages holding hands in a document call the Notitiae, the official publication of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship.

“The prolonged holding of hands [during the Lord’s prayer] is itself a sign of communion rather than of peace. Further, it is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on personal initiative; it is not in the rubrics.” (Notitiae 11 [1975] 226, DOL 1502, no. R29).

Furthermore, canon law prohibits any changes or additions to the liturgy:
“The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments; therefore, no one on personal authority may add, remove, or change anything in them.” (CIC 846, para. 1).
Once again, the Vatican currently has only used words that discourage the practice; she has not yet issued any official decision whether it is approved or prohibited (compared to something like liturgical dancing, which she directly declared forbidden).

Personally, I believe since it is only a matter of custom (which is changeable) rather than of doctrine (which can never change) the Church can approve it if She sees it fit. But until then, and with due respect to those who do practice it, I choose to prayerfully keep my hands folded during the Our Father in obedience to the rubrics of the liturgy of the Mass. The liturgy which “no one on personal authority may add, remove, or change anything in them”.

One thought on “Look, Ma! No Hands!

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