Bishop of Covington: Stop holding hands!

So after all my drama about the new texts (still don't like them), I was going to take a break from writing about the liturgy.

And then a bishop goes and does something silly (thank you, PrayTell). Like order the daughters and sons of God not to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer at Mass because it's not in the third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). You can read the decree here.

First, I want to ask The Most Rev. Roger Joseph Foys, D.D., by the Grace of God and the Favor of the Apostolic See, Bishop of Covington: Are you completely out of your mind? What harm does this practice possibly do? And how would you like to be the poor pastor who has to enforce your stupid rule? And it is stupid.

Foys' argument is that, since no one can change the liturgy, and the book says only the priest extends his hands during the Lord's Prayer, no one else can do it. (And obviously the book says nothing about anything as profoundly human as holding hands.)

This is wrong for all kinds of reasons–one of which is the general canonical rule that what is not explicitly forbidden is permitted. There is nothing in the law that forbids people from holding hands or extending them as the priest does, so as long as they aren't hitting their neighbors or otherwise distracting them, I can't imagine the canon lawyer who would argue the bishop actually has the authority to prevent a baptized person from doing so in the liturgy, unless they were spinning around like Wonder Woman or something.

But beyond reading the law, Foys completely misses the pastoral dimension of the liturgy–as most rule-minded bishops do–and the people are telling all us liturgists something by holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. They see the Lord's Prayer as an expression of unity–"their" part of the prayer. Which should also tell us that they don't feel like the rest of the liturgy belongs to them (even though it does). So even if the Lord's Prayer isn't exactly the high point of the Liturgy of the Eucharist liturgically speaking, the people are telling us it is. Doesn't that count for something?

The most ancient Christian prayer posture is the "orans" position–hands extended–the priest assumes when he proclaims the "presidential prayers." And at one time, everyone in the assembly used it. But, like so much liturgy, it has been clericalized, so much so in fact that a bishop is insisting only the ordained make us of it during Sunday Mass. I'm for no holding hands during the Lord's Prayer, and instead all of us extend our hands when the priest does, since the same GIRM says that, as much as possible, the people and the priest should share the same posture. Any takers?

If not, then I think we can let God's people hold hands if they want to.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.