Let's keep our hands to ourselves.
Now, however, at least once a month I jump involuntarily when I feel some stranger suddenly trying, uninvited, to separate my prayerfully clasped fingers or dig my hand out of my coat pocket as the Lord's Prayer begins at Mass. This can happen even without having some well-meaning presiding priest announce from the altar, "Let us all join hands with our neighbors as we pray in the words of Our Lord."
Well, I for one don't like it, and I am far from being alone with this attitude--shocking as it may seem to other lambs in the fold. Once I even heard a priest remark during a homily that he had a big problem with holding hands during the Lord's Prayer when he first encountered it during a retreat. Amen, Father.
I have nothing against holding hands to pray if you want. It is being forced into it that's bothersome. It is certainly a sweet and beautiful sight to observe a young family holding hands during the Our Father. Holding hands during a long-ago Easter Morning Mass at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. was lovely and heartening and can still turn me misty-eyed in remembrance.
I must confess, there was a bit of romance involved in that situation, but having a woman already holding a crumpled tissue decide we should hold it together to pray is something else. That is not leavening or strengthening or unifying. Instead it is downright unsancrifying, and in two days I had one humdinger of a cold.
Some folks need more personal space in their daily lives than others do, and I belong to that breed of spiritual snobs. I simply want the freedom to decide when holding hands in church is right for me when it will be a grace and not an aggravation.
A few years ago at a parish mission, I was in the center of the pew when the priest conducting Mass decided that holding hands would be in order for the next prayer. In the spirit of the occasion, although reluctant, I went along with his instructions to reach out to a neighbor. A friend and I clasped hands at a normal pew-high level. That was okay, if we had to. However the young man who seized my hand on the other side wasn't satisfied with such ordinary compliance. He and his compatriots evidently wanted to play Touch the Steeple. Their hands were raised to hallelujah heights, and he was determined to pull my hand roof-ward.
He did not glance sideways to get any benefit of the grimace I was directing at him. He didn't say, "Please, wouldn't you like to use the Morris Dance stance" or "Maybe we can touch the hem of heaven together if we try." He just hung on tightly and discourteously and applied ongoing upward pressure.
I looked straight ahead toward the altar, sending grateful silent paeans of praise to the music as I held Hallelujah Harry's palm firmly down to pew level.
That's a petty attitude that does not bespeak openness and acceptance. And it isn't worthy of a grown-up Catholic who is slow in acceding to an overabundance of liturgical innovation. But shouldn't church be a comfortable place for the more reserved children of the Lord as well as the overzealous, gregarious parishioners?
Hand-holding and hugging ought to be mutually spontaneous, or it just shouldn't happen.
RELATED ARTICLE: FEEDBACK
Each month, advance copies of Sounding Board are mailed to a representative sample of U.S. Catholic subscribers. Their answers to questions about Sounding Board and a balanced selection of their comments about the article as a whole appear in Feedback.
The best gestures to symbolize community in our prayers at Mass are:
Having greeters, readers, and presiders welcoming and talking to people before Mass.
Oak Creek, Wis.
Singing and focusing on the altar and not having our heads buried in the missal.
Father Harold Kurtenbach
Holding your hands--palms open, arms slightly raised--in the gesture priests use in imitation of Jesus.
Sitting reasonably close to each other and the celebrant at Mass rather than scattered all over a church.
Julia C. Longin, G.N.S.H.
Proper dress and quiet reverence in respect for the Mass and others who are there.
Harper Woods, Mich.
Spontaneous acts of kindness--smiling is an easy one.
Father Paul Pouliot
Moving into a circle so that all can be seen and see what is happening during the consecration.
Susan M. Preece
Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Know the prayers you are saying; do not just recite words.
La Quinta, Calif.
A handshake can symbolize community at the sign of peace; making eye contact with people is also important.
Mary Jo Vondercrone
Being at Mass and actively participating.
Father John H. Shiverski
Standing until everyone has received Eucharist as a sign of hospitality and community.
Saying prayers together out loud.
Holding hands to signify that we are all family when participating in our eucharistic celebration.
I like/dislike holding hands during the Lord's Prayer because:
The wording of the prayer indicates that we need to pray together: it is "our father," not "my father."
Holding hands is staged and contrived "community" theology.
Father R. A. Renaud
Holding hands is a moment in the liturgy when we can be physically joined. Symbolically we are not only joined with each other, but with Christians all over the world.
Father Henry V. Willenborg
It is not a prayer posture for me--I hold hands to play games. I pray with folded hands.
South Amboy, N.J.
I like holding hands because I belong to a multicultural parish and there is a sense of spirituality when people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds can join together to praise our Lord.
East Meadow, N.Y.
I find myself so conscious of the stranger's hand that I can't concentrate on the meaning of the words.
Holding hands helps me feel like I belong to a congregation. It is a sign of welcome when someone I don't know reaches out to hold my hand.
It doesn't improve my relationship with my neighbor, and it's a great way to transmit germs.
North Abington, Mass.
It symbolizes a sense of awareness of the person who is worshiping next to me. Touch is a sign of caring, loving, and activating the beautiful words of the Our Father.
Sister Susanne Gill, H.M.
I've seen so many use a Kleenex, and then all I can think of is: I'm going to have to hold that person's hand.
Holding hands during the Lord's Prayer gives me a chance to silently lift that person up to the Lord.
Lorraine N. Byrne
North Haven, Conn.
It seems insincere and as if we are being ordered to adopt a fake gesture.
Homesick for my previous parish where hand-holding was common, I nearly died of loneliness when I went to a new parish where we each stood alone muttering the Our Father.
St. Charles, Ill.
If I'm at Mass with my family, it's okay to hold hands because everyone is comfortable. Otherwise, it's a deterrent for preparing for the Eucharist.
West Allis, Wis.
I like holding hands because it gives me a feeling of being a part of the celebration and expresses the feeling of "where two or three are gathered in my name."
St. Louis, Mo.
Holding hands is not a requirement. It is a friendly gesture to symbolize community. No one is going to ban you from coming to church or receiving Communion because you choose not to hold hands.
With all the important issues the Catholic Church has to deal with, this seems like nitpicking.
South Bend, Ind.
If Catholics cannot come together over simple gestures, how will they ever be able to come together over thorny issues?
Donald C. Van Dyke
Okay, let's hold hands--then let's all wash our hands. Where should we put that into Mass?
Peter J. Witker
Praying with outstretched arms is as old as Moses. He had to be assisted in holding up his arms for the glory of God and victory for the Israelites to be shown.
Father Thomas Langer
When we gather as the Body of Christ for liturgical prayer, privacy is not the dominant attitude, rather communal expression becomes significant. Saying that one needs private space at Eucharistic celebration is like sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with an empty plate.
People gather after Mass with friends, but who welcomes the stranger? The one-on-one must occur in the pews.
Anthony A. Merlo
Rochester Hills, Mich.
It is paramount that for some joining hands is uncomfortable. They should not be made to feel any less a part of the community because of it.
We still have a long way to go to realize the ideal of community at Mass, but what a great improvement over the pre-Vactican II community.
Martin W. Donnelly
Walnut Creek, Calif.
Parish education should include various rituals of Eucharistic celebration, including the part of the Lord's Prayer where some parishes hold hands. People should also be informed that it is okay not to participate.
Winter Haven, Fla.
Holding hands would not be a health hazard if people with colds would stay home.
A related pet peeve of mine is the priest who shakes dozens of hands at the sign of peace and then distributes Communion.
Holding hands during the Lord's Prayer as a sign of our oneness makes the sign of peace redundant.
The priests in our diocese said some changes in the liturgy are coming. During the Our Father, instead of holding hands, the congregation will be encouraged to stand with their hands raised in the traditional Jewish way.
Rock Springs, Wyo.
At Mass, I feel pressure to hold hands with a neighbor during the Lord's Prayer, 28% agree, 64% disagree, 8% other
I welcome hand-holding at Mass, 55% agree, 36% disagree, 9% other
Holding hands in church is a health hazard, 31% agree, 61% disagree, 8% other
I feel comfortable holding hands during the Lord's Prayer only when the entire congregation does the same, 28% agree, 63% disagree, 9% other
Those who refuse to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer are spiritual snobs, 2% agree, 92% disagree, 6% other
Holding hands during the Lord's Prayer is a disruption to my preparation for receiving Communion, 17% agree, 81% disagree, 2% other
I've grabbed someone's hand to pray even when I could tell they felt uncomfortable, 13% agree, 82% disagree, 5% other
It is appropriate to tell the person next to you at Mass that you would prefer not to hold hands to pray, 62% agree, 24% disagree, 14% other
All comments used in Feedback must be signed, but we will withhold names on request. We regret that space limitations force us to condense letters and that many cannot be used at all. We try to reflect major opinion trends accurately. Our thanks to all who wrote.--The Editors)
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|Title Annotation:||a survey about what worshipers feel about holding hands during service in a Catholic church|
|Author:||Carberry, Mary Margaret|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1997|
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