Holding Hands at Mass

by Steve Ray on November 28, 2018

My wife Janet and I always cringe at a new parish when it comes time for the Our Father. We quickly bow our heads and close our eyes; I clutch my hands close to my chest (and she does the same) and we start to pray — hoping some aggressive hand-holder doesn’t reach over and insist on tearing my hands apart so I can warmly hold theirs during the prayer.

Once, I even had a nun nudge me, see my hesitation  and them smiling reach out and  taunt me — “Pleeeease?”  I conceded out of love and duty and afterwards she smiled knowingly and say, “Thaaaank you!”

Karl Keating has a few things to say about hand-holding at Mass which I produce here for others who close their eyes and clutch their hands close to their chests.


Mass_holding_hands[In a recent] issue of the “Adoremus Bulletin” it says this in response to a query from a priest in the Bronx:

“No gesture for the people during the Lord’s Prayer is mentioned in the official documents. The late liturgist Fr. Robert Hovda promoted holding hands during this prayer, a practice he said originated in Alcoholics Anonymous. Some ‘charismatic’ groups took up the practice.”

My long-time sense had been that hand-holding at the Our Father was an intrusion from charismaticism, but I had not been aware of the possible connection with AA. If this is the real origin of the practice, it makes it doubly odd: first, because hand-holding intrudes a false air of chumminess into the Mass (and undercuts the immediately-following sign of peace), and second, because modifications to liturgical rites ought to arise organically and not be borrowed from secular self-help groups.

Periodically, on “Catholic Answers Live” I am asked about hand-holding during Mass and explain that it is contrary to the rubrics. Usually I get follow-up e-mails from people who say, “But it’s my favorite part of the Mass” or “We hold hands as a family, and it makes us feel closer.”

About the latter I think, “It’s good to feel close as a family, but you can hold hands at home or at the mall. The Mass has a formal structure that should be respected. That means you forgo certain things that you might do on the outside.”

About the former comment I think, “If this is the high point of the Mass for you, you need to take Remedial Mass 101. The Mass is not a social event. It is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, and it is the loftiest form of prayer. It should be attended with appropriate solemnity.”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

john turner November 3, 2007 at 7:18 PM

As a member of AA for 33 years I can attest to the fact that hand holding at Mass did not come from AA. Prior to the establishment of “re-habs” AA members never held hands. This was a custom that started in re-habs and filtered into AA meetings. In recent years, many, many AA groups have done away with hand holding during the recital of The Our Father. In keeping with tradition six of our Twelve Traditions, “An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.” ie; to help the suffering alcoholic. We do not endorse re-habs, ergo, the same applies to their custom of hand holding. Too bad the Church doesn’t clarify or uphold its own traditions. This custom at Mass was most likely brought in by charismatic groups.
PS; I do not hold hands at Mass!

Ron November 28, 2018 at 8:32 AM

I was led back to the church through AA. The spiritual relativism that goes on in there squeezed me away and the absolute disdain for any mention of Christ kept me out. AA is a program that uses Catholic spiritual practices and calls them their own. It’s a self perpetuating cult and any resemblance to them is scary! The founder of AA had a very good friend (sponsor) by the name of Fr. Ed Dowling. He never converted because he loved his new organization more than Christ. Bad stuff! If you don’t transcend through a 12 step program into the church, you’re way off base because 12 step programs are the space filled by a void of the church. They’ll just never tell you that and they’ll shun you for saying so. ?

June Swift November 28, 2018 at 11:10 AM

We had a bishop institute it in our diocese in the mid 90’s. I have never liked it and I have always had other opportunities to hold the hands of my family. Over the years it has caused many uncomfortable situations that should not be a part of the liturgy and can be the cause of a near occasion of sin. That bishop also instituted TM,yoga and enneagrams. Though I did not participate in any of those activities, I felt the need to obey the directive of the bishop.Then I found that it was not called for in liturgical norms, so I felt comfortable with avoiding it as much as possible. So, in the interest of charity, I would go along if it might seem like a rebuff to my neighbor. Now I am doing what you do, Steve, It is much better for me and I have never been reprimanded by a priest for not holding hands. You are doing great work for the Lord, may He continue to bless you richly!

Francis Kang November 28, 2018 at 3:43 PM

I say nothing like sharing a moment of togetherness with fellow Christians like holding hands during “Our Father” (see not “my” Father!). Having said that, I also respect others who prefer to remain very private. Last time that I visited a small local “rural” church here, I was very touched when a young lady stranger extended her hand to me. That was me when I was younger, more idealistic and took the gospel in its simplest form! These days, I will admit that I only normally hold hands with my spouse and family member. But I’m so delighted when I see my (now adult and married) children passing on this tradition by holding hands with their own children now.

Tom Govern November 29, 2018 at 10:26 PM

I know that many very devote people do not like the hand holding. However, I think that you can do with the flow. I have no problem is someone reaches out to me.

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