Recently, several people have asked me about the question of holding hands during the Our Father at Mass. Some have complained that people won’t hold their hands, and others have complained that people expect to hold their hands. What is the right answer?
As we all know, there are many gestures the Church asks us to do at Mass in order to enhance our worship and to maintain consistency in our communal prayer. We kneel for the eucharistic prayer, we strike our breast during the confiteor, we bow our heads at the incarnation in the Creed, etc. These are all gestures that are noted in the rubrics (directions for saying/celebrating Mass.)
Given that the church is so careful about naming the gestures that are necessary in our celebration of Mass, it is important to note that nowhere does the church mention anything about holding hands during the Our Father. The practice was introduced into the Mass by popular practice, but not by the authority of the Church. Thus it is not the normal practice of Mass. As such, it should never be expected of or imposed on the people either by the priest or by the people in the pews.
Sometimes it is argued that holding hands is a sign of unity among the people. However, the sign of unity of the people at Mass is Jesus Himself, specifically the Eucharist, not holding hands. Insisting on hand holding can be perceived as a forced or contrived unity and intimacy that can interfere with authentic Christian worship.
Is it wrong then, to hold hands during the Our Father? The Holy See has never addressed the issue, and certainly no one would begrudge a family holding hands together. Nevertheless, it should never be an expected that the person next to us holds our hand while we pray. The best practice is to focus on the coming intimacy with God we are about to encounter in receiving Christ in the Eucharist at communion time.