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Let's keep our hands to ourselves.

IN WHAT ONE MIGHT CALL THE "OLDEN days," but still in this aging century, it seemed to be something that only Protestants did. I usually encountered it at the movies where I could watch it happening on the silver screen, appreciate the intention, and still stay blessedly uninvolved--holding hands to pray, I mean.

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.


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.

Chris McAfee

Oak Creek, Wis.

Singing and focusing on the altar and not having our heads buried in the missal.

Father Harold Kurtenbach

Pleasanton, Nebr.

Holding your hands--palms open, arms slightly raised--in the gesture priests use in imitation of Jesus.

Name withheld

Rochester, N.Y.

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.

Yardley, Pa.

Proper dress and quiet reverence in respect for the Mass and others who are there.

Name withheld

Harper Woods, Mich.

Spontaneous acts of kindness--smiling is an easy one.

Father Paul Pouliot

Somersworth, N.H.

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.

Lillian Squillace

La Quinta, Calif.

A handshake can symbolize community at the sign of peace; making eye contact with people is also important.

Mary Jo Vondercrone

Hatfield, Pa.

Being at Mass and actively participating.

Father John H. Shiverski

Negaunee, Mich.

Standing until everyone has received Eucharist as a sign of hospitality and community.

Donna Acquaviva

Gerrardstown, W.Va.

Saying prayers together out loud.

Name withheld

Fairport, N.Y.

Holding hands to signify that we are all family when participating in our eucharistic celebration.

Robert Whitfield

Derwood, Md.

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."

Linda Scott

Carlsbad, Calif.

Holding hands is staged and contrived "community" theology.

Father R. A. Renaud

Holyoke, Mass.

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

Cicero, Ill.

It is not a prayer posture for me--I hold hands to play games. I pray with folded hands.

Eileen Nowicki

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.

Chris Murano

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.

Frances Bertoldi

Florence, Wis.

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.

Carol Zaniewski

Colchester, Conn.

It doesn't improve my relationship with my neighbor, and it's a great way to transmit germs.

Name withheld

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.

Akron, Ohio

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.

Name withheld

Bennington, Vt.

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.

Name withheld

Oconomowoc, Wis.

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.

Name withheld

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.

Name withheld

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."

Mary Arnes

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.

Laura Poole

Loxahatchee, Fla.

With all the important issues the Catholic Church has to deal with, this seems like nitpicking.

Rita Bottei

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

Wilmette, Ill.

Okay, let's hold hands--then let's all wash our hands. Where should we put that into Mass?

Peter J. Witker

Toledo, Ohio

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

Bloomer, Wis.

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.

Name withheld

Union, N.J.

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.

Joe Bennett

Bangor, Me.

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.

Kieran Keenan

Winter Haven, Fla.

Holding hands would not be a health hazard if people with colds would stay home.

Doris Rono

Sartell, Minn.

A related pet peeve of mine is the priest who shakes dozens of hands at the sign of peace and then distributes Communion.

Gerald Bauer

Tulsa, Okla.

Holding hands during the Lord's Prayer as a sign of our oneness makes the sign of peace redundant.

Margaret Vath

Wyomissing, Pa.

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.

Jeanne Manzer

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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Article Details
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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
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Feb 1, 1997
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