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This has been circulating on Aleteia, an explanation from the Rev. Henry Vargas Holguin that was first published last year:
The practice of holding hands while praying the Our Father comes from the Protestant world. The reason is that Protestants do not have the Real Presence of Christ; that is to say, they do not have real and valid sacramental Communion that joins them among themselves and with God. Therefore, they turn to the gesture of holding hands as a moment of communion in community prayer. During the Mass, we have two important moments: the Consecration and Communion. There – during the Mass – is where we find our unity; that is where we join ourselves to Christ and in Christ, through the common priesthood of the faithful. Holding hands is obviously a distraction from that. We as Catholics are united by receiving Holy Communion, not by holding hands. There is nothing in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that indicates that we should hold hands. During the Mass, every gesture is regulated by the Church and its rubrics. This is why there are particular moments during the Mass when we kneel, parts when we stand, parts where we sit, etc. – and nowhere in the rubrics does it say that we have to hold hands when we pray the Our Father. Therefore, we should avoid this practice during the celebration of Mass. Now, if someone wants to do it, let them do it (as an exception) with someone they know very well, without forcing anyone to do it, without making anyone uncomfortable and without trying to convert this practice into a liturgical norm for everyone. We have to remember that not everyone wants to hold the hand of the person next to them, and trying to impose it on them creates a moment of discomfort to the detriment of prayer, piety and recollection.
That’s just for starters. Then there’s the whole issue of the “Raise Your Hands” or “orans” posture. Read on for more.
Now, holding hands with strangers isn’t really my thing. But I remember an experience I had some months back, when I served as a visiting deacon in a parish out of state. I was in the sanctuary alongside the celebrant when the time came to pray The Lord’s Prayer. Every single person in the church—and there must have been several hundred gathered at that Mass—held hands. Every one. People reached across the aisle to clasp the hand of someone else; all the altar servers held hands, and all the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and the next thing I knew, I felt the priest grabbing my left hand. I figured “When in Rome,” and decided to just go with the flow and reach out for the hand of one of the EMHCs. And there we stood, an unbroken chain.
Is it really necessary? No. Is it disruptive and distracting? Sometimes. It also puts you in the uncomfortable position of feeling compelled to engage in a kind of social intimacy, holding hands, even if you don’t want to. Is the Mass better off without it? Yeah, I think so.
It might be helpful if Rome said as much.