Living in the Two Hearts

My Spiritual Insights and Musings

Holding Hands at the Our Father…NO…Why?

The process for introducing any new rite or gesture into the liturgy in a stable or even binding manner is already contemplated in liturgical law. This process entails a two-thirds majority vote in the bishops’ conference and the go-ahead from the Holy See before any change may take effect.

Thus, if neither the bishops’ conference nor the Holy See has seen fit to prescribe any posture for the recitation of the Our Father, it hardly behooves any lesser authority to impose a novel gesture not required by liturgical law and expect the faithful to follow their decrees.

While there are no directions as to the posture of the faithful, the rubrics clearly direct the priest and any concelebrants to pray the Our Father with hands extended — so they at least should not hold hands.

One could argue that holding hands expresses the family union of the Church. But our singing or reciting the prayer in unison already expresses this element.

The act of holding hands usually emphasizes group or personal unity from the human or physical point of view and is thus more typical of the spontaneity of small groups. Hence it does not always transfer well into the context of larger gatherings where some people feel uncomfortable and a bit imposed upon when doing so.

The use of this practice during the Our Father could detract and distract from the prayer’s God-directed sense of adoration and petition, as explained in Nos. 2777-2865 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in favor of a more horizontal and merely human meaning.

For all of these reasons, no one should have any qualms about not participating in this gesture if disinclined to do so. They will be simply following the universal customs of the Church, and should not be accused of being a cause of disharmony.

A different case is the practice in which some people adopt the “orantes” posture during the Our Father, praying like the priest, with hands extended.

*In some countries, Italy, for example, the Holy See has granted the bishops’ request to allow anyone who wishes to adopt this posture during the Our Father. Usually about a third to one-half of the assembled faithful choose to do so.*

Despite appearances, this gesture is not, strictly speaking, a case of the laity trying to usurp priestly functions.

The Our Father is the prayer of the entire assembly and not a priestly or presidential prayer. In fact, it is perhaps the only case when the rubrics direct the priest to pray with arms extended in a prayer that he does not say alone or only with other priests. Therefore, in the case of the Our Father, the orantes posture expresses the prayer directed to God by his children.

The U.S. bishops’ conference debated a proposal by some bishops to allow the use of the orantes posture while discussing the “American Adaptations to the General Instruction to the Roman Missal” last year. Some bishops even argued that it was the best way of ridding the country of holding hands. The proposal failed to garner the required two-thirds majority of votes, however, and was dropped from the agenda.

Courtesy of: ROME, NOV. 18, 2003 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.


Can a congregation hold hands anyway, even if it is extraneous? While no one can find fault if a husband and wife, or a family want spontaneously to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, the priest does not have the right to introduce, mandate, or impose it. The Code of Canon Law (1983) does mandate: “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” (Canon 826.1). (Note that this Canon repeated a previous mandate found in both Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963) and the Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, No. 45 (1967), which was issued to address certain abuses arising in the liturgy after the council.) Therefore, a priest who introduces, mandates, or imposes the holding of hands during the Lord’s Prayer is violating the norms set by the Church.

The Church also reminds the priest, who is the guardian of the sacraments and who acts in persona Christi in offering the Mass: “The priest should realize that by imposing his own personal restoration of sacred rites he is offending the rights of the faithful and is introducing individualism and idiosyncracy into celebrations which belong to the whole Church” (Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 1 (1970)). A person in the pew should not feel obliged or coerced to hold hands with someone else during the Lord’s Prayer, yet congregational “peer pressure” could easily lead to such feelings. One can only imagine how intimidated a person must feel by the rest of the congregation if he does not desire to hold hands, whether because of personal preference or because of another reason such as arthritis.

Granted, the holding of hands during the Lord’s Prayer seems to have become almost a tradition in some parishes throughout the country. Nevertheless, we must remember that this gesture is not prescribed, it is an innovation to the Mass, and in its goal to build unity and sensitivity, it can be alienating and insensitive to individuals.

Courtesy of : Holding Hands During the Lord’s Prayer by Fr. William Saunders,

Return to Post

%d bloggers like this: