Q. Most of the parishioners at our current parish hold hands during the Our Father and then raise their hands when saying, “The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.” At our previous parish, a priest had said that this was not to be done and that only the priest should raise his hands. Is there a correct method on this, or does it depend on the parish and the local priest’s preference? (Davenport, Iowa)
A. With respect to the recitation of the Our Father during Mass, the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal speaks only to the gesture of the priest, not the congregation.
After introducing the prayer “with hands joined,” says the general instruction in No. 152, the priest then pronounces the Our Father “with hands extended.” Since the guidelines are silent as to what the laity does during the prayer, some may argue that the priest can invite the congregation to join hands as a sign of their communion in faith.
But I would disagree. My experience tells me that some people feel a certain uneasiness about holding hands, so I don’t think the priest has a right to introduce the practice when the liturgical guidelines do not call for it.
Late in 2011, following the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington, Ky., made things quite clear for the people of his diocese. In a decree that he issued clarifying the gestures and postures at Mass, Bishop Foys said of the recitation of the Our Father:
“Only the priest is given the instruction to ‘extend’ his hands. … No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal, nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal; therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed.”
The practice of the congregation’s holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer was evidently an accretion that crept into some Catholic liturgies during the 1970s.
Many commentators believe it had its origin in Protestant worship. In 1975, commenting on the practice, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship did not forbid the holding of hands but said “it is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on personal initiative; it is not in the rubrics.”
The wisest course would seem to be this: If members of the congregation decide to hold hands during the Our Father, they should be permitted to, but the priest should not suggest it.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.
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