Saturday, December 03, 2011

Yes, Please Keep Your Cooties to Yourself

I hope Fr. Finigan does not mind my lifting this great picture which perfectly captures my sentiments on the subject of hand-holding during Mass.  In a word, I can't stand this practice.  It is one of the reasons I wear a veil at Mass: it sends the message -- pretty effectively -- that I am highly unlikely to welcome hand-holding.  If somebody does forcibly grab my hand, I just look that person the eye and tell him no, I do not hold hands. I don’t see where it is uncharitable not to submit to this importunity.  On the contrary, I ask where the charity is in allowing people to force themselves on others with impunity. If they don’t know better, then they need to learn; if they do know better, then they need to be reproved.

Fortunately, priests and even bishops are beginning to come to the aid of their shy, reserved, and introverted lambs and beat back the assault of touchy-feely-ness at Mass.  Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky is putting the kibosh on hand-holding during the Our Father on the grounds that it is not a legitimate part of the liturgy.  Naturally, this is creating an uproar among the poorly formed.  Those of us, however, who recoil with horror from unwarranted intrusions into our personal space wish blessings upon the good bishop and hope and pray for a great many more like him.

What the touchy-feely, group-therapy-oriented crowd don't seem to get is that touching such as hand-holding, hugging, etc. are products of real intimacy and not producers of it.  You can't create intimacy with another person by forcing that other person to accept an imposition.  As the great 20th-century Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand pointed out, there are steps to be gone through on the path to intimacy with another person — even God.  This truth is exemplified beautifully in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in the prayers at the foot of the altar, wherein the priest only approaches the altar of sacrifice by degrees, after putting himself on his guard against presumption and irreverence, and carefully preparing his soul by contrition for his sins.  The steps to intimacy are necessary; hand-holding with strangers and other foolish practices designed to bypass them violate the natural order.

In fact, I will go farther and submit that there is a sinister purpose behind these ice-breaking exercises, namely, the breaking down of necessary inhibitions, thereby making individuals vulnerable to manipulation.  Indeed, a great deal of what we have been seeing and hearing at Mass in recent decades must be characterized as manipulation: the secular music; the gimmicky props and vestments; the joke-laced homilies; the touchy-feely intrusions. 
In none of this stuff is there any food for the intellect or even the memory.  Take the stuff away and people scream that they are being deprived of that which brings them closer to God; but really, they have just been having their emotions massaged and manipulated.  After such soothing treatment, we are prepared to swallow anything served up to us, which is what we have been doing, to our detriment, for the last half-century.

So thank God for the shepherds who are doing something to divest Catholic worship of the worldly accretions and encrustations that have done so much damage to our faith and our Christian witness. 


  1. I have some suggestions that I can almost guarantee will make people want to stay away from you.
    1, Eat a cold can of baked beans with a bottle or two of beer as a midnight snack; if you go to evening Mass, have that for lunch.
    2, Smoke a big stinky cigar right before Mass.
    3, Work on your car's engine (the dirtier the better) right before Mass; leave the black grease all over your hands; rinsing hands lightly with gasoline is recommended.
    4, (Extreme) dress down -- waaaay down. Do not bathe or change clothes for a week. Look like a street person, or one who crawled out from under a bridge or out of a railroad boxcar. Use scent to match.

  2. Those are great, Bob! Made me laugh out loud.

    I have tried blowing my nose and holding onto a kleenex, but the touchy-feelies in my parish were no more deterred by that than a charging rhinoceros would be by a thorny hedge.

  3. Oh, my goodness. Well, then leave the snot on your fingers. Or let them see you picking your nose.

  4. Here's my thought on this - and I haven't seen it in either yours or Father Z's discussion of this topic. You mention intimacy. I think hand holding is aimed right at creating this "sense of intimacy" at the *wrong place in the Mass*! Approximately 5-10 minutes after the Pater Noster, is the most intimate experience any person will ever (or could ever) have, the reception of Our Lord and Savior "under our roof". Now *there* is intimacy - with Our Lord, and with His Body the Church.

    My belief is that hand-holding crept into Mass from Protestantism, where "being gathered in His name" is truly the most intimate approach they get to Our Lord. The Our Father might be the high point of their service. It might be that for Protestants, hand hold is really a very correct - maybe even necessary - gesture to highlight that intimacy.

    But at Holy Mass, where we have the fullness of Christ's Faith, our high point is quite different.

  5. And then there's the "sign of peace"...ugh.

    Great post, Anita! I agree completely.

  6. Bob, I had the actual used kleenex in my hand...still made no impression.

    Sean: it may well be that hand-holding is of Protestant provenance, perhaps via some goofy retreat program. I know it's been going on at least since I was in grade school (and we don't need to get into how long ago that was, though it is the blink of an eye in the life of the Church). You are right that it does detract from the true communion that already exists.

    Jay: I too wish we could get rid of the sign of peace, which is OPTIONAL in the Ordinary Form, and which invariably devolves into a cocktail party without the cocktails. I wish priests would exercise the option NOT to do it. However, I have had a priest tell me that when priests do exercise it, the people tend to go ahead and do it anyway.

  7. Softening up the faithful by breaking down their inhibitions with the goal (or at least, result) of making the faithful susceptible to all sorts of odd ideas. This is very perspicacious of you, Anita. I'd never thought about that nefarious aspect of hand-holding, but it sure rings true!

  8. Hand holding belies a false sense of unity among participants at Mass. Our unity is created by our being admitted into the mystical body of Christ through the Lord's actions, not our own. He prays that all be one in Him. The "V" and goalie signs are also inappropriate at Mass. Notice that those who wave, joke or laugh at the Sign of Peace almost never strike their breasts at the Confiteor.

  9. Fortunately, my home parish in Ohio doesn't go in for the hand holding, yet.
    Unfortunately, my vacation parish I go to in Arizona goes for it whole hog. I have given up holding my hands in the orans posture and now clasp them tightly in front of me with my eyes closed and head buried deep within my chest. However, that doesn't deter the determined hand holder.
    Even isolating myself in the farthest reaches of the pew as little to no effect. The hand holder hunter has gone as far as two rows away to nab that elusive mitt of mine.
    Thanks for bringing this up.
    Now, if only I could have a silent moment during communion instead of the choir belting out a song, I'd be a happy communicant.

  10. We have a priest at our parish that makes us cross the isles to hold hands so that the whole church is holding hands. Where did that come from? I really hate that practice but hate to disobey a priest. I always thought men holding hands with other men they didn't even know was very silly. Who started that?

  11. They say the hand-holding came from Marriage Encounter. I'm not in a position to weigh in on that theory. Wherever it came from, it took root at Mass (hopefully a very shallow root) and then just got more ridiculous from there.