Thank you to Devoted for sending me this…
May 23, 2004, 04:50 PM
President, Catholic Answers
Join Date: April 1, 2004
Location: San Diego
Re: Holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer
In America, we shake hands with one another at the sign of peace. In Japan parishioners bow to one another. In other countries there may be other conventions.
At the sign of peace we’re saying “I’m at peace with you” or “I feel reconciled to you.” We convey that through words (“The peace of Christ be with you”) and through an action that is friendly but not intimate or intrusive (since most of those around us likely will be strangers).
This act of demonstrating reconciliation is undermined by holding hands at the Our Father. That prayer comes immediately before the sign of peace. In those parishes where people hold hands during that prayer, they are engaging in an action that is much more intimate than a handshake.
If we hold hands during the Our Father, it undercuts the significance of the following act, since holding hands trumps shaking hands. The sign of peace withers. A prescribed part of the liturgy (the sign of peace) loses much of its significance (much of its “sign value”) when parishioners hold hands at the Our Father.
(It’s good to say “I love you” to your spouse, but if you say that to everyone you meet on the street, your spouse will feel your words have been devalued.)
Another point: In our culture, hand-holding is approved of when adults hold the hands of young children, when boyfriend and girlfriend hold hands, and when married couples hold hands (though this commonly stops a few weeks after the honeymoon ).
We do not hold hands with strangers to whom we are introduced. We shake hands instead. Holding hands in such a situation would be perceived as too intimate. And in some cases, holding hands even suggests something unsavory, as when we see two men holding hands as they walk down the sidewalk.
Can anyone think of any situation, other than at the Our Father during Mass, in which people commonly hold hands with strangers? I can’t, and I think there is a reason: Hand holding is a sign of a certain intimacy. It’s not something we take lightly.
To hold hands with strangers at Mass strikes me as artificial, and it has become a detriment to a proper appreciation of the liturgy. Yes, it is easy enough to avoid, but I think it remains a problem. It is one kind of problem for those who don’t wish to hold hands, and it is another kind of problem (the problem of not understanding the role of signs in the Mass) for those who like the practice.