Liturgy Series Part 11

The 'Our Father':
Appropriate gestures for prayer

December 18, 2002
Denver Catholic Register

As we stand after singing the "Amen" to the Eucharistic prayer, we come to the beginning of the Communion Rite. This part of Mass includes the "Our Father," the sign of peace, the breaking of the bread, reception of holy Communion and thanksgiving, and the prayer after Communion.

Toward the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays, "May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit. ... Make us grow in love." We were privileged to be present at the consecration when the bread and wine were changed into the body and blood of Christ. Now we ask to be made, ourselves, into the body of Christ. By baptism, we have already entered into that reality. However, through the example of Jesus' self-giving in love and the nourishment we are about to receive, we long to grow more deeply in communion with one another.

The celebrant invites us to pray the words of Jesus in the "Our Father." This is the prayer Jesus Himself taught us, and because of that, it's the model prayer for the Church. How should we pray it?

A lot has been said in popular writing about our gestures at this point of the Mass. Do we fold our hands, or hold them outstretched, or hold hands with those around us? Some people have surprisingly strong feelings about this issue. Our answer to this question needs to come from the Church's understanding of this moment in the Mass.

The priest stands with his arms outstretched as the prayer begins. The assembly should also stand. There are no options for gestures listed in the General Instruction for this part of the Mass. For many persons, folding their hands during the "Our Father" is the best way to express their prayer. For others, they may hold their hands outstretched. Still others hold hands.

None of these gestures is mandated or forbidden by the Church. So our guiding principles should be respect for the dignity of the Mass, and respect for the freedom of our fellow worshipers.

Some people feel that holding hands during the "Our Father" enhances a sense of community. This is perfectly appropriate — so long as it can be done with dignity and without the unseemly acrobatics that sometimes ensue.

For other people, holding hands is a kind of intimacy they reserve for family members. It makes them uncomfortable to hold hands during Mass, and they prefer not to do it. This is also perfectly appropriate. A parish may have several ways of praying the "Our Father," depending on the people who take part in a specific Mass. No one should feel coerced, and the beauty of the liturgy should always be observed.

We have seen before that the Mass is rich with symbols and signs. The beauty and centrality of the Eucharist, which our Lord entrusted to the Church for all times and all peoples, should always be evident in every celebration of the Mass. Thus, those involved in liturgical education should take special care not to allow their private preferences to influence their work.

The liturgy is the public worship of the whole Church, not merely the local community. And it is God's gift — through Jesus Christ and His Church — to all the faithful, who have a right to the truth and an obligation to ask for it.