Holding Hands at Mass During the “Our Father”

Hand-Holding2

(2-19-14)

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[originally a short post on Facebook, followed by a huge discussion: 334 comments; the Facebook thread also includes a sub-discussion on clapping for musicians — or anyone else — at Mass. I have collected my comments from the discussion]

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[see also my very popular in-depth article on this topic (7497 shares): Posture During the “Our Father” Over Against the Rubrics]

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It’s against the rubrics, folks, which in English means that the Church does not permit it. Makes me wonder, then, why so many priests do. Either they don’t know the rubrics or don’t care about them, or think they are wrong at this point and ignore them. Not sure which one of the three is the worst . . .

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The same is also true of raising hands up. The altar servers are not supposed to do that. In a parish that understands and observes the rubrics (a 50-cent word for “liturgical rules”), you’ll notice that they don’t do so; neither should the congregation. We’re all learning all the time; no shame in that. The thing is, what we do with what we learn and come to know. If one wants freedom to do whatever they like, the Catholic Church is an odd place for them to be.

I think if there is such a thing as rubrics and guidelines for liturgy, they should be enforced. But that’s just me. It can’t hurt to spread the word as much as we can. The more folks understand this, the less they’ll do it, and it’ll be a non-issue. Education is power! Jimmy Akin’s books on the Mass explain all the rules very well. He argues that lack of mentioning something in the rubrics is essentially the same as not allowing what is not mentioned. He gives all the documentation. Here are links to all three of them (one / two / three). And here is a 2006 article of his about hand-holding at Mass.

Sometimes I’m the “bad guy” for simply sharing what the rubrics say, but so be it. It’s part of being an apologist (we’re like umpires: can never please everyone).

The priests should enforce these things! Why they very often don’t is one of those odd things in life that I can’t comprehend. Perhaps one or more of the priests among my friends here can comment on that.

If someone is offended by not holding their hand, we should take them aside after Mass, and nicely explain to them that we do what we do because it  is what the Church requires. That should put an end to any misunderstanding, but we all know that some folks can be very stubborn and find it difficult to be corrected at all.

The Church has rules that are to be followed, that it deems to be best, just like many other organizations do in various ways. People can choose to follow them or not. The obedient Catholic is supposed to follow what the Church teaches. But many priests are not informing their congregations of what the rules are, nor are they learned in catechism, far too often. So we have situations where people just “go with the flow.”

Someone said, “I’ve even heard Fr. Mitch on EWTN saying that although it’s an unapproved posture, ‘there are bigger fish to fry’. ” Yes there are, but that’s no reason for not observing this rule. I love Fr. Pacwa, but that is the mentality of “don’t make waves; don’t ruffle any feathers.” Again, the rule is there for a reason, and so should be followed or else modified. Whatever the Church rule is, I’m gonna follow it. If people think that is a lack of love, this has no basis. I’m as friendly as anyone, but I do what the Church requires me to do.

I’m not “dying on any hill” here; I’m explaining what the Church teaching is, as I’ve done hundreds of times on many topics. Why would I want to ignore that in one instance, simply because the teaching is widely violated? That has no bearing on what I try to teach. Contraception is widely violated, too. It doesn’t follow that the priest and bishop and professor and apologist therefore stop teaching that it is wrong and impermissible. Sometimes we gotta teach the unpopular thing, and we shouldn’t merely teach what is popular, as that would be sophistry and mere crowd-pleasing. I agree that it’s not a hugely important matter in the scheme of things. But is there a place for the apologist to discuss it and point out what the rubrics say? To the latter I say firmly, yes!

Bishops do wrong stuff, too, at times (I know it’s a huge shock to hear that, but . . .). If a bishop is holding hands during the Our Father (while celebrating Mass), he violated the rubrics. He, too, is subject to their authority (would be my argument). For example, a bishop can’t consecrate with Pepsi and non-wheat bread. It wouldn’t be valid, and it is not, regardless of his high office.

Someone said, “the Bishops can set the record straight, the pastors can inform the parishioners and the problem will be solved.” Yes they could, but they don’t, and that is the problem. This shouldn’t even be an issue at all. It should be understood what the proper posture is, and complied with. When it’s allowed, people think it is either required or optional: no problem! And so it continues on.

It’s weird that almost everyone who has commented here and in posts of the 22 shares, agrees that it is against the rubrics, and don’t do it / like it. Then why is it so common, I wonder? It seems to be common based on numerous reports / complaints in this thread and others about it. Most parishes I’ve been to besides our own seem to have it among most of the people or a sizable portion, if not a majority.

It’s not for us to judge what the Church has determined to be the best course, and in this instance, she tells us to refrain from such gestures during the Our Father. Whether we fully understand why that is, is irrelevant.

If we claim to be obedient Catholics, we’ll want to follow the rubrics. If we want to go our own way, we’ll say and think, “what does the Church know? If I wanna do x, y, z, I’m gonna do it. To Hades with what the Church says! It’s none of its business how I live my life.” Etc., etc. ad nauseam, ad infinitum . . . The rubrics exist for a reason: for our guidance.

As far as I know, I haven’t judged hearts in this thread. Most people who do these things are likely perfectly sincere, and have a pious intention. If I didn’t state that above, it is my opinion, and I should have made that clear (but I do now, in any event). I have sought only to point out that it is against the rubrics in the Roman / Latin Rite, and that rubrics have a purpose, and ought to be taught and followed. But judging hearts and intentions? No! I don’t want to do that at all and think it is wrong to do so. One can point out what a law is without being legalistic or lacking in charity. Those are two different things. The former is good, the latter bad.

Subjectively, it may be (usually is) fine; well-intentioned, pious. But the Church (via the rubrics) doesn’t allow it. Thus, whether we understand the fine points of the reasoning or not, we should be inclined to follow her guidance.

I try to take pains to distinguish between simply not knowing vs. “knowing and deliberately disobeying.” Vast difference . . . The former is largely the fault of the Church: failure to properly teach and catechize her children; the latter is the fault of the individual. “To whom much is given, much is required.”

The “togetherness / community” aspect of the Mass has been emphasized in the last 50 years, so, as with all else, that has been distorted at times and has led to things (however well-intentioned) that violate the rubrics. But as I understand it, that’s where it basically came from. If priests liked that, then they did nothing to discourage it: either thinking that it was a minor issue (though against the rubrics), or not knowing what canon law states about it in the first place.

The “whys” of that are best left to liturgists and bishops to explain. I agree that holding hands wouldn’t necessarily “detract,” yet the rule is there for some reason. It has simply become a custom. People are sheep. That’s all we need to explain that. People see others doing something, and they assume that is what should be done, and copy it.

I don’t know why bishops and priests don’t instruct about this, other than that they prefer not to make waves and like to be liked (which is true of all of us), so they tolerate it. Even if it were legitimate for the bishop to tell folks to raise hands, it wouldn’t follow that the normative rubrics are null and void all other times. It would simply be a special case or exception.

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Photo credit: photo by “Anna_Sunny” (3-28-15) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

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