Ed Peters Has An Interesting Idea

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgy

Y’know how people in many parishes can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves during the Our Father?

In many parishes they get grabby and, though in American culture holding hands with another person is a gesture of intimacy (sweethearts do it, spouses do it, parents and children do it, complete strangers do not do it), suddenly the person next to you wants to engage in the gesture with you, a complete stranger.

In my own case, I solve this problem by clasping my hands in front of me and closing my eyes. 99.99% of the time that takes care of the issue, though I did once experience an elderly woman using her fingers to pluck at my elbow in an attempt to pierce through my obviously meditative attitude and get me to Conform to the handholding she wanted to inflict on me.

Needless to say, a lot of folks find this (unauthorized) grabbiness disturbing, and there has been perplexity at the episcopal level concerning what to do about it.

In come some helpful liturgists, who have suggested that instead of holding hands, people imitate the priest, who happens to be in the orans position at this moment, with his hands outstretched in prayer.

This has the advantage of not automatically inflicting hand-to-hand contact on the people next to one in the pew, though in an especially crowded pew it is not a sure recipe for avoiding all bodily contact. (One may experience a whack to the face, or at least the uncomfortable experience of becoming visually acquainted with the back of a stranger’s hand better than you know your own.)

One detects in the liturgists’ suggestion a further motive besides avoiding excessive touchy-feeliness (particularly since liturgists have themselves been excessively touchy-feely in recent years). Could it be . . . a desire to get the laity to imitate the priest and thus further blur the lines between the two?

"Oh, surely not!" you’re saying. "Liturgical planners have been scrupulous since the reform of the liturgy about making sure the roles of priest and laity are at all times clearly distinguished. Just ask them! They’ll tell you!"

However that may be, the Holy See has been concerned about the laity unduly aping the priest at Mass, and in the 1997 Instruction on Collaboration, an unprecedented conjunction of Vatican dicasteries wrote:

6 § 2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 [i.e., "In the celebration of the Eucharist, deacons and lay persons are not permitted to say the prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, nor to perform the actions which are proper to the celebrating priest."] are to be eradicated. In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to "quasi preside" at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity.

This instruction, incidentally, was approved by John Paul II in forma specifica, meaning that the pope invested it with his own authority and is binding on us with the pope’s authority and not merely the authority of the authoring congregations.

Now, what gestures are proper to the priest celebrant? The orans gesture when praying on behalf of the people is certainly one of them. The priest celebrant and no others (not even concelebrating priests) are directed to make this gesture in the rubrics.

In some places, some laity may spread their arms whenever the priest spreads his in a kind of "Back atcha!" motion. I’ve even seen some do a phenomenal pantomime of tossing an invisible ball to the priest by swooping their palms close together and then spreading them apart as they assume the orans posture. But this is clearly apart from the rubrics.

If the orans posture is one proper to the priest celebrant in the liturgy then the laity should not be imitating it.

But Ed Peters raises an interesting question:

SHOULD EVEN THE PRIEST CELEBRANT HIMSELF BE MAKING THIS GESTURE DURING THE OUR FATHER?

The rubrics at present call for him to do so, so he should do so until the rubrics are changed, but given the underlying logic of the rubrics and the way the saying of the Our Father has developed in Mass, Ed raises an interesting question as to whether the rubrics might oughta be changed.

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{ 32 comments }

Paul June 12, 2005 at 3:46 am

This would be solved if the priest celebrated the Mass with his back towards the congregation… :) But who knows, maybe some congregants would try to catch his “behind-the-back” pass!

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum June 12, 2005 at 4:32 am

Do we know of a time at which the celebrant did not use the orans position during the Our Father. If I recall correctly, the rubrics of the traditional Mass, which certainly haven’t changed on this point since 1570, also call for the priest to put his hands in this position during the Our Father (though with his index finger and thumb on each hand joined to prevent any crumbs of the Blessed Sacrament from falling off). Admittedly, the orans posture in the old Mass is a bit different — there’s a limitation on how far apart the priest can hold his hands.

JerryJ June 12, 2005 at 5:12 am

I don’t see how parish members holding hands during the Our Father is a ‘problem’ that needs to be solved at all. The person is not a ‘complete stranger’ but your brother (or sister) in Christ that was probably raised in a parish where holding hands during the Our Father was the norm. Just hold their hand, as its obviously important enough for them to ‘get grabby’ and I don’t see how you are handling the ‘problem’ of making *them* feel repudiated during prayer.
(No I’m not a ‘grabby’ person during the Our Father, but I gladly hold hands if someone feels its important enough to grab my hand)

Ellen June 12, 2005 at 5:43 am

Jerry, I know and appreciate that the person standing next to me is my brother in Christ, but dangnabit, I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO HOLD HIS HAND!!!
Why must I have to accomdate the handholders? Why can’t they accomodate me? As it is, I sit near a pillar, and fold my hands at the Our Father. I am not unfriendly at all, but I don’t want to hold hands at Mass – it’s as simple as that.

M.Z. Forrest June 12, 2005 at 7:02 am

JerryJ,
The insistence of some that they don’t want to hold hands is not anti-social. Many including myself find that this practice distracts the Church’s and our focus from praying to the Father. If we were having a prayer service, I would be more inclined to do so, but the Sacrifice of the Mass is occurring.

Paul June 12, 2005 at 8:29 am

Jerry, I see the “holding hands” with people not my family to be a doorway for the obscurity of the Catholic faith. We should be praying our theology with our bodies…
We are not united to each other by holding hands, but by grace. It’s completely possible to be holding hands with someone in the state of mortal sin and not know it. Are you united with him? Not by grace. The Catechism says that person is “in the Church’s bosom in body but not in heart.”
In some Protestant circles who preach “once-saved-always-saved”, holding hands is a moot issue since everyone is (supposedly) in grace, but we don’t hold (pun intended) onto that.
God is “our father” and the congregants are “our brothers” when we are in a state of grace. Let’s save this public profession of sanctity for the Communion Line, not this prayer. It’s much more important to be united in grace, than pretend we are all united through holding hands.

kimberley June 12, 2005 at 9:37 am

I hate the hand holding and folks who want to deliver a holy kiss during the sign of peace are even worse. I’ve probably offended some people but I refuse to hold hand with anyone who isn’t my husband or a blood relative.

t. chan June 12, 2005 at 10:22 am

iirc, the orans posture is the oldest and used to be proper to both priest and laity (as is seen in the Eastern liturgies); the folded hands gesture was the result of the influence of the Germans on the Roman liturgy

The Curt Jester June 12, 2005 at 11:45 am

Oran’s you glad?

Via Ignatius Insight is canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peter’s article at Catholic Exchange titled "Another Look at the Orans…

The Curt Jester June 12, 2005 at 11:46 am

Oran’s you glad?

Via Ignatius Insight is canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peter’s article at Catholic Exchange titled "Another Look at the Orans Issue."…

Peter Kredite June 12, 2005 at 1:25 pm

JerryJ,
The insistence of some that they don’t want to hold hands is not anti-social. Many including myself find that this practice distracts the Church’s and our focus from praying to the Father. If we were having a prayer service, I would be more inclined to do so, but the Sacrifice of the Mass is occurring.

Ray from Minn June 12, 2005 at 2:51 pm

Isn’t it wonderful that after Vatican II we have so much wonderful participation of the laity in the affairs of the Church?
Now we’re just like the Protestants. But rather than having 33,000 denominations, the American Church appears to have 33,000,000 liturgists, each with their own liturgy.
For every one of you who tells me that “hand holding” is wrong, I can find an equal number that will tell me that “hand holding” is good.
If you don’t like to do it, don’t do it. If you get stigmatized as being uncooperative, “offer it up.”
It’s amazing how much time is spent debating this issue when the word “sin” hasn’t been pronounced in front of the congregations in most parishes since 1965.
If the 33,000,000 liturgists want a valuable chore, they should become instructors in youth and adult education programs to teach the faith to those who haven’t seen a catechism since they were twelve years old.

Francis DS June 12, 2005 at 2:51 pm

I haven’t tried it myself, but I suspect if you noticeably and audibly ‘sneezed’ into your hands just before I try to grab you, I might be inclined to lose all the hand-grabbing zeal I have.

kimberley June 12, 2005 at 5:18 pm

I’ve tried the loud sneezing trick into my hadn and it works. 99% of the time I’ve tried it the person next to me refrain from grabbing me. Yawning into your hand works well too.

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum June 12, 2005 at 5:38 pm

I haven’t tried it myself, but I suspect if you noticeably and audibly ‘sneezed’ into your hands just before I try to grab you, I might be inclined to lose all the hand-grabbing zeal I have.
It doesn’t seem to work for the Pax (Sign of Peace). I’ve seen folks get offended because I won’t shake hands if I have a cold.

Kevin Miller June 12, 2005 at 5:46 pm

Regarding the use of the orans gesture by the laity – I don’t do it. And I suspect that some who do it are motivated by clericalism. But I don’t know that they all are, and I’m not sure that from the fact that it’s prescribed for the priest, one can conclude that it’s “proper” to the priest as distinguished from the lay faithful – as, say, the canon is.

Francis DS June 12, 2005 at 6:52 pm

>It doesn’t seem to work for the Pax (Sign of >Peace). I’ve
Speaking of which, what *IS* the (a?) sign of peace? Where I go to church it’s just a nod and a whisper “peace be with you”. Some hold up the V-sign when greeting those from across the aisle (and it’s a pet peeve of mine – this is the hippie ‘peace, man ‘ symbol).
Some family member kiss, a few shake hands.

Lauda Jerusalem Dominum June 13, 2005 at 5:44 am

Speaking of which, what *IS* the (a?) sign of peace? Where I go to church it’s just a nod and a whisper “peace be with you”. Some hold up the V-sign when greeting those from across the aisle (and it’s a pet peeve of mine – this is the hippie ‘peace, man ‘ symbol).
In my area it is customary to shake hands and perhaps exchange a kiss with a family member. In the old Rite it is an embrace but it is only shared between clerics and then only at a solemn Mass.

Jon June 13, 2005 at 6:36 am

I don’t particularly like hand-holding. I dislike the touchy-feely attitudes that seem to be behind its promotion, and I’ve been to a couple of masses in the mid-west where people shuffled around for several minutes so they could hold hands across aisles and even, once, around the entire church. Very distracting, very maddening.
But most people just do it because they think they’re supposed to and for us to deliberately shrug them off would, I think, be somewhat uncharitable. I adopt the Akin approach usually, but if the person next to me puts their hand up I grab ahold. It’s just not worth causing them to wonder why I’m not cooperating with everybody else (since everybody else pretty much does hold hands) the whole time they’re trying to pray the Our Father.

Ron Rolling June 13, 2005 at 8:06 am

Dr. Peters’ article make a lot of sense. There is a need to continue to make the line between the ministerial priesthood and the “royal priesthood” of the laity sharp and clear. It is also one of those liturgical abuses springing from that lack of distinction. And what’s wrong with obedience to the GIRM?

rjl June 13, 2005 at 8:19 am

Now, what gestures are proper to the priest celebrant? The orans gesture when praying on behalf of the people is certainly one of them. The priest celebrant and no others (not even concelebrating priests) are directed to make this gesture in the rubrics.
Paragraphs 219-236 of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal spell out when concelebrating priests pray “With hands extended” (i.e., in the ‘orans’ position). Paragraph 237 deals with the Our Father: 237. Then the principal celebrant, with hands joined, says the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Then, with hands extended, he says the prayer itself together with the other concelebrants, who also pray with hands extended and with the people. (Note the “…who also pray with hands extended…”

Chris-2-4 June 13, 2005 at 8:29 am

What if the altar servers come and join hands with the Priest and Deacon in the sanctuary?
Jerry: The person is not a ‘complete stranger’ but your brother (or sister) in Christ
Well, then why not hold hands for the entire mass? Or at least during the creed or prayers of the faithful or the Kyrie?
What possible basis is there for holding hands at this particular moment and not others?
Why don’t people who don’t like to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer just reach out to their neighbor during the Kyrie and try to grab their hand. Maybe then the hand grabbers would realize that they’re really just aping a new custom rather than expressing some sense of brother(sister)hood in Christ.

Chris-2-4 June 13, 2005 at 8:35 am

Oh and by the way. Although I am “okay” with holding hands (since I’m usually with my family anyway) what’s with the more annoying habit of raising the hands way up during that last part? The Doxology I think it’s called. (For the Kingdom, The Power…)
I think that gesture also disproves to an extent the claim that it’s ONLY about exhibiting a brother(sister)hood in Christ attitude.

Peter June 13, 2005 at 8:55 am

This topic always strikes me as one of those that cause religious wars among Catholics.
Personally, my family holds hands, and if people around us want to (or not), that’s fine with me. I’m not going to lose sleep over it. There’s room in the Church for all of us.

Tom Smith June 13, 2005 at 9:49 am

My problem with handholding is that it’s simply too horizontal during a prayer that’s supposed to be almost perfectly vertical. Holding hands overemphasizes the aspect of the community coming together, at the expense of the fact that we are engaging in divine worship, and at this moment, prayer directly to God.
A good way to defuse any handholder is by going with the folded hands in the prayer position. I call it the “altar server position,” but whatever.
As to the history of the Orans position during the Our Father, in the Byzantine Rite, the priest(s) do it, which tells of its ancientness. Also, in the Coptic Orthodox Church, the entire congregation makes the Orans gesture, which also attests to its ancientness.

Tim J. June 13, 2005 at 10:08 am

I find that if I keep my hands to myself, with my eyes closed that most people won’t force the issue, though some will go further than others. I think most people in the pews have no idea why they hold hands, they just do. They don’t see it as a big deal.
What bothers me about the handholding is that it seems to be one of many elements in a general attempt to put more emphasis on the “community” or the “gathering” or whatever, and less emphasis on the Blessed Sacrament. There is a strain of liturgical modernism, I think, that views the continued focus on the Body and Blood to be quaint and somewhat superstitious.

Chris-2-4 June 13, 2005 at 11:30 am

There is a strain of liturgical modernism, I think, that views the continued focus on the Body and Blood to be quaint and somewhat superstitious.
That is a concise description of what I see happening among far too many these days.

Kheldar June 13, 2005 at 12:34 pm

I’ve found that holding my wiggly 2-year-old (almost 3) while saying the Our Father usually works well. It’s also a good opportunity for him to hear and learn the prayer (which he does amazingly well at. He’s just not quite to the point of reciting it with a group.).
Of course, this only works if you have a 2-year-old. Lucky for me, #2 is 16 months, and #3 is due in September, so I’ll have 2-year-olds for a few years.
On those (rare) occasions when I don’t have my children with me, I do what has been mentioned here…fold my hands together and close my eyes.
Personally, I’d feel like I was being dishonest if I faked a sneeze so as to not “have to” hold hands with my neighbor.

Jason June 13, 2005 at 7:36 pm

Ok, I’ve ‘grown up’ holding hands at the Our Father, so it’s normal for me. I’ve heard many people claim that it’s liturgically correct to not hold hands. However, I have never heard anyone present a coherent and solid argument for WHY it’s correct.
Pointing to this or that chapter/verse of the rubrics would be a good start, but I would really like to hear the theology behind it.
In this article, I see a LOT of people saying (in effect) “I don’t like it” or “I like it”, neither of which are good arguments. I’ve also seen a few people claim that it’s in the rubrics not too, but they’re not pointing me to where I can read that myself.
The reasons that I offer to hold hands (but never, ever would I force someone… I just open my hands towards them) is that it’s the ‘Our’ Father.
OUR Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give US this day OUR daily bread, and forgive US OUR tresspasses, as WE forgive those who tresspass against US. And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from evil.
This prayer is very ‘community’ minded. Someone higher up mentioned the ‘Kyrie’, and asked why not hold hands then? Because the ‘Kyrie’ only implies the ‘forgive us’.
For the record, I’ve been looking for an inteligent argument for the non-hand-holding side for a long time, and I haven’t found one. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist… I’ve had to search for years to find good answers to some of my questions…

Fr. S. June 13, 2005 at 11:29 pm

A GOSPEL CONTEXT FOR NOT HOLDING HANDS
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us the “OUR Father” in the context of teaching us to go to our room and shut the door behind us to pray to “OUR Father” in secret. The paradox is that we pray this prayer at Mass–in a public space together with other persons. I would say the point is not so much the location where we say this prayer, but the fact that it is a PRAYER addressed to GOD (vertically) not to my NEIGHBOR AT HAND. Jesus taught it in the context of a very personal, private, intimate, solitary relationship of each person with God–despite the fact that the prayer is to OUR Father.
A LITURGICAL CONTEXT FOR NOT HOLDING HANDS
The rubrics do not tell anyone to NOT hold hands. The only thing the rubrics spell out about hands during the Our Father at Mass is that the priest is to extend his hands (in the customary way). Nothing about the laity one way or the other.
However, the Our Father occurs at Mass in that “section” called the “Communion Rite.” Thus, the Our Father is a preparation for us to go individually–one by one–to EACH receive OUR Lord. The time for “possible” hand contact with our neighbors is clearly spelled out in the liturgy: the Sign of Peace that comes AFTER the Our Father. I specify “possible” hand contact because the rubrics do not call for hand holding or handshaking. A bow to your neighbor with no physical contact can be a sign of peace. In some cultures touching is entirely unacceptable except with your blood relatives.
In a certain sense, it is best to give our hearts (and hands) to Our Father FIRST and only AFTERWARDS to our brothers and sisters. God comes first and the neighbor second–and Jesus says so in Mark 12:28-31.
====
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the FIRST of all?” Jesus answered, “The FIRST is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind, and with ALL your strength.’ The SECOND is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
====
I added emphasis by capitalizing the words FIRST, ALL and SECOND.
So, liturgically, God FIRST (Our Father prayed without holding hands) and neighbor SECOND (Sign of Peace–not necessarily through physical contact).
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR HANDS AS A LAYPERSON
The “orans” hand position for prayer (what you see the priest do during the Our Father) is a gesture that laity have used in the Church since antiquity. Some of the most ancient depictions of the “orans” gesture are an image of a woman symbolically representing the Church (“Mother Church” since “ecclesia” is feminine in Greek) with her hands in the “orans” position.
Two gestures WITHIN the liturgy that belong to the ordained: (1) the “epiclesis” gesture whereby the priest holds out his hands with palms open and facing down over the bread and wine; (2) the Sign of the Cross made towards the people in blessing.
The epiclesis gesture signifies the calling down of the Holy Spirit. It is the “laying on of hands” gesture that comes to us from the apostles/bishops.
The Sign of the Cross at Mass is made by both the priest and the laity. However, the laity make the Sign of the Cross by touching themselves. The laity do not–during the Mass–make the Sign of the Cross “away from themselves” the way the priest does when he is blessing the people.

AnotherCoward June 14, 2005 at 6:34 am

I’m so surprised to hear seemingly scandal brewing about… hand holding. HAND HOLDING!!!
I came into the Church 4 years ago, and I thought the hand holding during the Our Father was a beautiful sign of Community explicitly joining together to go to God in prayer. As a Protestant, I understood very much going to church and not touching anyone… or not talking with anyone… or not getting to know my neighbors name… and prayer all about being “communal” in my individual self…
The Mass is completely different though. It is a community event as there has ever been a community event. It is a time of gathering when people should get to know each other, to not be fearful or disdainful or withdrawn from each other, and to participate with each other as we come not just as individuals but also as one Body to the Lord.
So when a parish joins hands to say one prayer, the prayer Jesus gave us, the prayer called the Our Father, the prayer we’re saying not in public but in the gathering of the faithful… why get your panties in a wad? You can hold someone elses hands and still pray straight to God. You may ask then, why bother holding hands at all? It’s (1) a sign of the community (2) going to God as one. You’re not praying to your neighbor but with your neighbor with an outward sign of the one Body we believe we are. It’s the outward sign of what is about to happen inwardly when we each receive our Lord. It’s not going to make God think less of you that you’re holding hands or who you’re holding hands with or even that your neigbors’ girly/sweaty/clamy/strong grip has caught a little bit of your attention.
Is it about God or Community at the expense of the other? No. It’s perhaps the most visual sign of the Community acting as one Body in the worship of God (which I think provides *gasp* a good witness to strangers – like the former Charismatic/Presby me). All the I,I,I,me,me,me I hear in the “I don’t wanna hold hands” crowd makes me suspect that this is about a love of self and not a love of neighbor.

david s June 21, 2005 at 5:37 am

No selfishness. The long time practicing Catholics KNOW what they’re talking about. Everything we do in the Mass has a meaning. To me, holding hands during the Our Father implies we are “one” at a particular time, but not “one” at any other time.
The GIRM says nothing about snapping one’s finger to the beat of the Our Father, so I guess if people want to do that, it’s OK. Before you think I’m making this up to be a pain, I have seen people say the Our Father standing up with arms straight up, and swaying from left to right (kinda like doing the wave). I guess that’s fine, since the GIRM doesn’t address this specifically right? :)
Some of us long time Catholics, sense what the problem is- people are acting for themselves to become liturgists and take it upon themselves to be the authority on how to interpret things. That line of thought got us into quite a bit of trouble a few centuries ago- and could water down the Mass to a point where everyone thinks it’s just a meeting at some point.
David
Slidell LA

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