Hey, Father! What is the proper hand gesture when praying the Our Father during Mass?

What is the proper hand gesture when praying the Our Father during Mass? Some people fold their hands, some are in orans position (hands outstretched sideways, palms up), and some hold hands with others.

– Diann from Jasper County

As you said in your question, praying the Our Father at Mass is a time when there is not uniformity among all Catholics in the pews. Because we are beings made up of both body and soul, our bodily gestures and postures during Mass are important for helping us enter more fully into the prayer of the Mass. For example, it is helpful to stand during the reading of the Gospel so that we can be more fully attentive to this high point of the Liturgy of the Word. Likewise, it is good to kneel during the Consecration to open our hearts to greater reverence to Jesus’ Eucharistic Presence.

The rubrics of the Mass are laid out in a document entitled the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, commonly abbreviated as the GIRM (pronounced like “germ”). The proper hand gesture for priests during the Our Father is clearly laid out, but not for the laity. Paragraph 237 says, “Then the principal celebrant, with hands joined, says the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Next, with hands extended, he says the Lord’s Prayer itself together with the other concelebrants, who also pray with hands extended, and together with the people” (The Roman Missal, New Jersey: Catholic Bok Publishing Corp., 2011).

The priest frequently prays with hands extended during Mass, especially when he is directing prayer to God on behalf of the people. In his role as the priestly intercessor for the worshipping assembly, the priest gathers the prayers of the people and presents them to God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This gesture of having one’s hands extended is a particularly priestly gesture during the liturgy.

Praying with one’s hands extended in personal prayer can be a beautiful expression of intercession, praise, and worship of God. However, during the liturgy, this gesture has traditionally been reserved to the ministerial priesthood. From what I understand in the rubrics, it seems to be implied that while priests pray the Our Father with their hands extended, deacons and the laity continue to pray with their hands folded. The GIRM gives instructions on what should be done, not on what should not be done. The GIRM does not forbid certain practices, but this does not mean that they are allowed.

Some families have the tradition of holding hands while praying the Our Father at Mass. This does not seem to be a distraction for them, but in some cases holding hands can become a distraction. I have seen grade school classes forced to hold hands during the Our Father, including holding hands with the people across the aisle, which involves a lot of people moving and making noise. This practice distracts from prayer, and it seems to forget that Jesus Christ himself is present on the altar at this moment during Mass. Some families hold hands when they pray at the dinner table, but for many people, holding hands even with siblings and parents can be an uncomfortable experience. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, and the way to finding true unity among the Church is to find it in Jesus. Any practice that distracts from the Eucharist during Mass is to be discouraged.

As a priest, I do not envision myself instructing families to stop peacefully holding hands during the Our Father. We have bigger battles to fight, and I honestly don’t think it’s a big deal. However, if a children’s Mass gets derailed by forced handholding, I would absolutely ask them to keep their hands folded and focus on praying to Jesus.

So, here is my advice: one should not pray the Our Father with hands extended in the orans position like a priest. Holding hands with one’s family or friends is not envisioned by the rubrics of the Mass, but neither is it something that needs to be corrected.

The Church does nothing more important than celebrate the Mass, so it is important for us to discuss issues like this even though they may seem unimportant to some people. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian faith and God is pleased by our loving and reverent worship of Him.

Father Dominic Vahling is parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and co-chaplain at Sacred Heart Griffin High School