QUAERITUR: holding hands during the Our Father

From a reader:

I’ve recently had an “argument” over whether it’s licit to hold hands during the Our Father during Mass.
I’ve always been taught that this posture was not a part of the rubrics and should not be done.
I’ve also been to many-a-parish where the priest ASKS people to hold hands (then holds hands with the altar girls) during this time.

It is not illicit to hold hands during the Our Father, or at any other time during Mass, for that matter. I don’t have a problem with a couple holding hands or a mother holding her child’s hand during Mass.

What is illicit is for the priest or any other sacred minister to invite people to do this during Mass.  There is no direction for the priest et al. to give such a direction.  It is not to be done.

Furthermore, it is rude to try to impose this non-liturgical practice on anyone, whether they are amenable or not.

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  1. AndyKl says:

    *What is illicit is for the priest or any other sacred minister to invite people to do this during Mass. There is no direction for the priest et al. to give such a direction. It is not to be done.*

    Is there a place this is “officially” stated? My OF parish (groan) does this occasionally (a sister in the parish), and it’d be nice to have backup on this.

  2. Paula says:

    Makes me glad most of the people in my parish use the *orans* position during the Our Father.

  3. Tom Ryan says:

    The orans posture seems to be an example of priest envy on the part of the laity (which includes nuns)

  4. tzard says:

    It would seem to me proscribing the “orans” position on the laity is wrong for the same reason hand-holding is.

  5. Girgadis says:

    I keep my hands tightly clasped with my fingers pointed upright during the Our Father. This makes it virtually impossible for anyone to try and grab my hand and I think it is the appropriate posture to maintain anyway. I detest the sight of the laity holding their hands in the orans position so I don’t look around during the Our Father. How did that get started anyway?

  6. tzard says:

    Sorry, typo. should be “prescribe” or “invite people to” in the previous post.

  7. MargaretMN says:

    Our previous bishop wrote the parishes a few years ago saying no hand-holding. The way that it was explained was that it was just something that crept in, that the position of hand-holding was symbolic of unity which was inappropriate for the meaning of the prayer. Orans, even if some people think it’s not appropriate for laity was deemed acceptable for its expression or the more traditional folded hands. Even progressive parish I attended back then dropped the hand-holding.

  8. Papabile says:

    QUERY: In some places there is a current practice whereby those taking part in the Mass replace the giving of the sign of peace at the deacon’s (or priest’s) invitation by holding hands during the singing of the Lord’s Prayer. Is this acceptable?

    REPLY: The prolonged holding of hands is of itself a sign of communion rather than of peace. Further, it is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on personal initiative; it is not in the *rubrics. Nor is there any clear explanation of why the sign of peace at the invitation: “Let us offer each other the sign of peace” should be supplanted in order to bring a different gesture with less meaning into another part of the Mass: the sign of peace is filled with meaning, graciousness, and Christian inspiration. Any substitution for it must be repudiated:

    Notitiae 11 (1975) 226

  9. Frank H says:

    I have never heard anyone explain why the orans position appears to be appropriate during the Our Father exclusively.

    When the revised GIRM was presented at our parish a few years ago, the pastor took the opportunity to (successfully) squelch the hand holding, and described the orans position as an acceptable alternative.

    A few Sundays ago I noticed a woman assume the orans posture throughout Mass, which makes more sense to me that just during the Our Father. Personally, I’m a folded hands guy.

  10. stjoeky says:

    I find the gesture of holding hands during the Our Father to be quite objectionable. It is, historically, a Protestant gesture of unity. Since we have the True Presence as our point of unity as the Body of Christ, any additional sign of unity is not only unnecessary but insulting to our faith and indicates a lack of understanding of Catholicism.

    The orans gesture, on the other hand, is equally problematic because while the priest DOES use that gesture, the deacon is forbidden from assuming this posture by the rubrics. This would indicate that anyone ‘lower’ than the priest in status should refrain from using the posture assigned to him.

  11. apcasey says:

    I am a hands folded person at the Our Father, with the only exceptions being when I’m standing next to mom or grandma. Even when I was dating my girlfriend and I didn’t hold hands during the Our Father; she never grew up with the “custom.”

  12. LawrenceK says:

    The Orans posture is a priestly gesture. In Catholic theology, the word “priest” (hieros, sacerdos) is used in three ways: to refer to the High Priesthood that is held by Christ alone [Hebr. 3:1; Summa Theol III q. 22], to the Ordained Priesthood by which those men who have been properly ordained share in Christ’s Priesthood [ST III q. 82; CCC 1539-47], and to the Priesthood that all the Christifideles exercise [1 Pet 2:5; CCC 1268].

    So there is no reason that any member of the Catholic faithful can’t use the orans gesture when praying in their role as a sharer in the universal priesthood of the Christifideles.

    The question is whether the laity (or, for that matter, a deacon or a non-concelebrating priest or bishop) offer prayers during the mass in this role.

    My personal opinion is that it is inappropriate for the laity and non-celebrants to use the orans posture during the Eucharistic Prayer, since that is clearly the prayer of the priest. Catholic tradition has always held that the celebration of the Eucharist was given by Christ to his apostles and was passed on to their ordained successors. This is further confirmed by the fact that the Eucharistic Prayer is never prayed by the laity in any situation: even though it’s a wonderful prayer of praise, it would be highly irregular (or even worse) for a layperson to take a Eucharistic Prayer, with or without the words of consecration, and pray it as a daily private prayer, or anything of that sort.

    However, Christ gave the Our Father to all of his disciples. The Church has always encouraged all of the faithful to pray the Our Father, in the Mass, in the Divine Office, in quasi-liturgical settings (e.g., the Rosary) and in any kind of private devotions and personal prayers. And yet, for a Christian to directly address the Father is itself a priestly act. So I think there is nothing improper at all about a layperson using the orans posture when praying the Our Father in a private setting.

    The only question remaining, then, is whether it’s appropriate for laypeople to use the orans position during the Our Father during a Mass.

  13. moon1234 says:

    Holding hands, orans position, etc. are all innovations from the 60’s on. They were never practised by the laity before then without it being seen as scandelous. All this “movement” is an external sign only. To me it seems prideful as if uniting ones mind and soul with the priest is somehow not enough that external signs must be used.

  14. Ellen says:

    I either go to a monastary where they wouldn’t think of such a thing, or get there early enough so that I get the seat by the pillar. One day, I got tapped on the back by someone in the pew behind me when the Our Father began. I didn’t hold hands – I purely HATE to hold hands during the Our Father! However, I did give the sign of peace with a big smile when that came around.

    I am not unsociable, but I can’t begin to tell how much I hate hand holding at Mass.

  15. Tradster says:

    There’s a good article about the invalidity of the orans position during Mass at

    Following is an excerpt…

    Among the laity this practice began with the charismatic renewal. Used in private prayer it has worked its way into the Liturgy. It is a legitimate gesture to use when praying, as history shows, however, it is a private gesture when used in the Mass and in some cases conflicts with the system of signs which the rubrics are intended to protect. The Mass is not a private or merely human ceremony. The symbology of the actions, including such gestures, is definite and precise, and reflects the sacramental character of the Church’s prayer. As the Holy See has recently pointed out, confusion has entered the Church about the hierarchical nature of her worship, and this gesture certainly contributes to that confusion when it conflicts with the ordered sign language of the Mass.

  16. Holding hands at the Our Father is widespread in the Philippines. On occasion in the past I have invited people to do so but would never do so now. It can be a distraction, with people moving into the centre aisle to make a line right across the church, for example.
    I dislike the practice on aesthetic grounds. If I am concelebrating I try to keep my hands reasonably close to one another in the orans position but sometime find they are ‘grabbed’ by the priest(s) beside me. I just go along with it if it happens.

    I don’t consider it an ‘abuse’.

    A practice that is common in my native Ireland and that really irritates me is that of the people joining the priest in saying the prayer for peace before the Agnus Dei, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, you said . . .’. It makes me squirm. I sometimes say the prayer in Latin or in Irish so that the people won’t join in. We don’t have that particular ‘affliction’ here in the Philippines. Again, I don’t see it as an abuse but rather as a sentimental form of piosity.

  17. As with all illicit “innovations” added for whatever reason, the people must be educated to avoid abuses, albeit minor, of the rubrics. Unchecked errors grow and morph (i.e. hand-holding to orans posture) and like weeds, are harder to eliminate the longer they grow.

  18. Mike Morrow says:

    I am frequently compelled to attend new order services with elderly relatives. At each, I see an elderly priest request, outside any rubrical requirement, all his congregation (also predominantly elderly) to shuffle about and link hands across the pews and aisles for the Our Father and the “Sign O’Peace.”

    Most of these people were past their mid-thirties when all this nonsense was created out of thin air. They had many years exposure to the traditional liturgy, and thus were the people who had the knowledge to recognize and power to reject these innovations, leaving if necessary. Tough love…but Bug-nini’s destruction of the Church would have ceased had bishops, priests, and laity of that era exercised any level of courage, dedication, and integrity beyond bovine.

    Young people of that time (I was one) least wanted the changes. Young people of today are those most interested in the traditional liturgy when they are exposed to it. What happened with those in between, I can’t explain.

    Destruction has slowed, but hasn’t stopped. There are still many bishops and priests who encourage these superfluous, vulgar, distracting, disruptive, offensive, made-up, faux-pious theatrics in their services.

  19. I too do not like holding hands during any part of Mass. More Piero Marini and Bugnini-ism….Lets see how social we can get during Mass

  20. TJM says:

    Uber-liberal Archbishop Weakland wrote that holding hands during the Pater was “silly.” So even he had some standards. By the way, I told my pastor “I
    don’t hold mens’ hands.” He was not amused. Tom

  21. robtbrown says:

    A practice that is common in my native Ireland and that really irritates me is that of the people joining the priest in saying the prayer for peace before the Agnus Dei, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, you said . . .’. It makes me squirm. I sometimes say the prayer in Latin or in Irish so that the people won’t join in. We don’t have that particular ‘affliction’ here in the Philippines. Again, I don’t see it as an abuse but rather as a sentimental form of piosity.
    Comment by Fr Sean Coyle

    IMHO, sentimental piety is the foundation for every liturgical abuse.

  22. RichR says:

    In my mind, this would be the easiest innovation to eliminate. While there are some who do this out of devotion, many do it simply because everyone else is. Many people, also, don’t like holding clammy hands of strangers next to them and would love to have permission not to hold hands. They just don’t want to offend anyone.

    If a priest gives some simple catechesis before eliminating the practice, the vast majority would either understand and go along or be thankful and relieved.

  23. “Comment by AndyKl — 19 August 2009 @ 8:07 pm”

    The clarification provided by Papabile notwithstanding, the purpose of rubrics is to say what is done, not to say what is not done. That compelling the faithful to hold hands during the Our Father appears nowhere in the rubrics or the general instruction, is sufficient to confirm that it is not called for.

    The burden, then, is not on you to prove to the priest that it isn’t allowed, but upon him to prove that it is.

  24. thomas tucker says:

    Another thing that I see increasingly is parishioners raising their arms up to mimic the priest during
    the Sursum Corda. Add whenever the priest says “Peace be with you,” they also raise their arms with
    the response “And also with you.” The congregation is beginnning to look like a Jazzercise class during
    I think a lot of this is being propagated in Catholic schools where the teachers think it is cute for
    the kids to do these things during the school Mass.

  25. JPG says:

    I think the orans position on the part of the laity is a useless affectation ,the hand holding likewise. In the moments before the most intimate of Spiritual experiences a happy clappy moment is disjointed and jarring. I do not attend the the EF often but one only needs to compare the two forms to see that the ars celebrandi whereby one leaves, in a real sense, the communal and enters into the deeply personal ie the reception of one’s Lord and Saviour, Body and Blood , Soul and Divinity into one’s being as in the EF, ought to be the norm for the OF. The ridiculous notion that one ought not to kneel or that one cannot use Sanctus bells in the Mass represents a hermeneutic that needs to be swept away. It is disjointed , distracting often smaltzy and has done much to erode the faith of Catholics in the Real Presence and the Sacrificial nature of the Mass. I know in these postings I tend to rant about this but this cannot be overstated. I often wonder if by these often well intentioned but wreckless innovations ,those that promote them,
    are not playing with fire. Vatican II did not displace Trent. St Paul’s injunction to eat or drink unworthily the Body and Blood rings in my ears when I attend Masses with every catalogue of abuse.

  26. robtbrown says:

    Fr Sean Coyle,

    When I was in Rome, there was a Columban at the Convitto San Tommaso, where I lived. Fr Eamonn O’Brien, nice guy who was much influenced by Liberation Theology.

  27. JPG says:

    Incidentally , in other Western uses the orans is not so much used during the Canon as much as the priest making a Cross of himself with the arms outstretched. I think this is the case in the Sarum use(now defunct) and the Ambrosian Rite. One would think that it would be preposterous for the laity to adopt this position during the Canon in those individual rites. In the Roman rite likewise it would be preposterous for the laity to assume the position of the priest
    since it would imply that the Laity is acting in persona Christi. Sheer nonsense. It ought to be perhaps not so gently, banned. I am struck how even several years after Redemptionis Sacramentum one still finds blatent violations of its direction nameley nonprecious materials used, widespresd ad lib alterations in the text etc.
    I do not mean to be snarky but one wonders if a more specific directive would be in order such as revoking the indult for Communion in the hand? It would cause consternation among the liberals and a scramble for kneelers among the Parishes but such a bld and fast move may serve to some as the much needed “cold slap in the face”.
    Fairfield CT

  28. Amy MEV says:

    I am so sick of this ridiculous “discussion.” No where does it say that I cannot grab my husband’s *ss during Mass either. (My apologies for the crudeness; I just find it maddening that people continue to rely on the “it doesn’t say I cant do it” argument.) Follow Holy Mother Church’s instruction, and stop believing that little ol’ you has a better way to do things.


  29. joebkathy says:

    Keep it simple — bow your head, close your eyes, fold your hands and pray. Also, from what I’ve read on the internet, the Pope wants us all to kneel when receiving Communion. In addition, receive the Host on the tongue. This will take some courage, but who do we obey, the Pope or the Bishop?

  30. Tom Ryan says:


    I heard this story dismissed as “Spin” on Catholic Answers Live this week.

  31. Ef-lover says:

    Thankfully this is not done at my parish but the pastor at a neighboring parish does it he holds hands with the servers, deacon, reader and whoever
    is at the altar also the congergation holds hands

  32. Fr. Kelly says:

    stjoeky and LawrenceK give good accounts above indicating why the _orans_ posture is a priestly gesture.
    Indeed, it is particularly a gesture of offering and, in the Mass, is used when the priest is offering the sacrifice on behalf of the Church. (The Prayers, the Preface,The Canon, and the Our Father)It is for this reason, that _only_ the main celebrant (or the concelebrant who is speaking at various points in the Eucharistic prayer) uses this posture at Mass.
    Not the Deacon or anyone else. This why the hands are not extended at the _Dominus Vobiscum_ before the Gospel, even if it happens to be a priest who is reading the Gospel. It is a greeting proper to the deacon and so _orans_ is not used there.
    _a fortiori_ it is not to be used at Mass by others, if even the concelebrating priests and deacon are forbidden to use it.

    If you recall, when Moses was on the mountaintop interceding in the _orans_ position for the Israelite army fighting the Amalekites on the plain below, and his arms became too tired, Aaron and Hur did not take his place and hold their own arms up. Rather, they helped Moses to hold his arms up. The Lord selects who is to be His priest — it is not for us to insist on our own way.

    Further silliness occurs when, in response to “the Lord be with you” which the priest offers with oustretched arms, some of the people pull a quick _orans_ as they say “and also with you”
    From the altar, it is at least distracting, and in some cases, worse. Where quietly folded hands show a receptive attitude, this seems to say something to the effect of, “No thanks, Father, we have our own.”

    As for handholding at the Our Father, enough has been said above, but from the altar, it looks uncannily like the children’s game of Red Rover with the people in the pews lined up united over against the priest and servers at the altar. Unity? Rather it seems to create division.

    When it comes to the various postures of the laity, there is a certain freedom for the lay faithful, but remember that gestures actually mean something. They are not arbitrary, and it is not up to the individual to try to change them. We genuflect on the right knee, make the sign of the cross with our right hand, etc. and we fold our hands during the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion rite, The _orans_ is for the priest who is offering for us.

  33. jfk03 says:

    I posted this by mistake on another article. I meant to post it here:

    The orans posture is very ancient. The catacombs in Rome are full of art showing the faithful in the orans position. The posture is commonly used in the Eastern and Orthodox churches. Holding hands, however, is another issue; it is a sentimental practice of recent origen.

    The first thing one notices when entering an Orthodox church is the absence of pews. (Pews are as post-medieval innovation in the West.) The congregation STANDS during the entire Divine Liturgy; but the faithful bow from the waist during the anaphora, and prostrate themselves during the epiklesis. In most Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, the faithful stand in the orans position as the Our Father is sung.

    So I don’t think it is appropriate to condemn the use of the orans posture. It does not represent the faithful mimicing the priest; it is an ancient posture of worship going back to the apostolic era.

  34. Fr. Kelly says:

    jfk03 says:
    The orans posture is very ancient. The catacombs in Rome are full of art showing the faithful in the orans position. The posture is commonly used in the Eastern and Orthodox churches. Holding hands, however, is another issue; it is a sentimental practice of recent origen.

    So I don’t think it is appropriate to condemn the use of the orans posture.

    This seems to be true of the use of the _orans_ posture in the East. No criticism of it as a way of prayer was intended in any of these posts, so far as I can tell. The problem is that it is being injected into the Roman Rite as something which has become foreign to it. In the Eastern rites it may be true that the people stand for the Eucharistic prayer. In the West, however, we kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

    The point here is that the liturgy is not a thing to be modified at the whim of each individual. It falls to the Church (and particularly the Supreme Pontiff) to regulate it. In the West, the _orans_ posture has developed into a specifically priestly posture. What is more this is a development ratified by law in the rubrics that regulate the postures of the ministers at Mass. It is not up to the laity to try to force a change by bringing in elements from a parallel tradition or even from the roots of the Western tradition as though the intervening development has no value.

    The use of the _orans_ posture may have developed differently in the East (as have a number of other disciplines) but that does not diminsh the observed fact that, that in the West, it does indeed “represent the faithful mimicing the priest” in the vast majority of cases.

    This is _not_ a condemnation of the _orans_ posture of prayer. It is a statement that in the Western tradition of the Mass it has become reserved to the priest-celebrant and should not be presumed by the faithful at Mass. As someone said above, its use in private prayer is something else again, but the Mass is subject to the directives of the Church, and the GIRM makes it clear that this posture is reserved to the priest-celebrant.

  35. Kimberly says:

    Way to go Fr. Kelly – You probably taught me more in your posts then I’ve learned in a year in my parish.

  36. drea916 says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only who feels this way. When friends and family ask me why I don’t hold their hands, I tell them it’s not an AA meeting.

  37. Thank you, robtbrown, for your comments. Father Eamonn was one year behind me me in the seminary.

  38. I was just looking at examples of the proposed new English translation of the NO at the USCCB’s website here: http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/.

    The page is illustrated with a picture of a beautiful church filled with a large congregation all standing in the orans position.

    I remember research years ago that showed that the people depicted in the orans position in the Roman catacombs were all saints, or at least they had all shuffled off this mortal coil. The orans position was iconography to indicate this, not a snapshot of the congregation at worship.

    I remember when this all started in the 70s. You never saw it and then some couple comes back from a charismatic conference and the virus is introduced into the parish. I could tell you the name of the woman who started it at my parish 35 years ago.

  39. Rouxfus says:

    That picture of the congregation in the orans position, may be seen in a larger form here:


    The IHS on the ceiling appears to be upside down and backwards – any idea why that might be?

  40. Henry Edwards says:

    I could tell you the name of the woman who started it at my parish 35 years ago.

    In observing several decades of innovations I’ve learned that, if a new liturgical practice takes only one or two people to get it started in a parish, then it’s not good. The flip side is that if it is good — like Latin chant or proper posture during the Our Father — then sustaining it requires a super-majority.

  41. Is that Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral?

  42. AlexE says:

    Fr Kelly,

    Very well said and informative. I know a Fr Kelly, it be dandy if you turned out to be this Fr Kelly =). The Father Kelly, I speak of is an awesome priest.

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