Over at Father Z’s blog I saw this post which I think all should take to heart. The Mass is our most important prayer, and liturgical abuses by the clergy… and by the laity should be rooted out. I suggest reading Fr. Z’s post, D. Covington: Bp. Foys issues liturgical decrees – No joy for “hand holders”.
Every week at Mass I cringe. I cringe because I know something that is not part of Mass is going to interrupt my worship of God. A moment that is not necessary and that has never been supported. This moment would be hand holding during the Our Father.
I came into the Church at St. Michael’s in Pensacola, Florida. St. Michael’s is one of the oldest parishes in America and is a fairly traditional parish. While I was a member at St. Michael’s, people did not hold hands nor raise them in any distracting way. This all changed when I went to college, where most people were doing it. This led to confusion on my part and I began to wonder if I was participating in Mass correctly or not. So I began holding hands with my neighbor, and I cringe to say it…I even held my hands up at different times during certain prayers. I was lucky though and found out this is an abuse by the laity and is not a correct form of liturgical gestures. The following quote is taken from Father Z’s blog and is from His Excellency Roger J. Foys, Bishop of Covington.
c. Special note should also be made concerning the gesture for the Our Father. Only the priest is given the instruction to “extend” his hands. Neither the deacon nor the lay faithful are instructed to do this. No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal; nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed.
Even though hand holding is not part of the Mass and I have never witnessed clergy encouraging the act, I have also never heard them discourage it. Which has led to some weird practices among the laity. On occasion I have seen the laity leave their pews and join with people across the aisle. The strangest hand holding moment I have seen would have to be the “snake chain”. This is where the laity in the pews, in front of and behind me, connected. The most intrusive moment for me was when a lady stuck her hand out and expected me to hold hers as well. When I did not reciprocate my hand she held my shoulder. I charitably did not shrug it off and I shook her hand during the sign of peace.
Our liturgy is the most important prayer in our Church and the source of our Catholic identity and is not a time for improvisations.