Lex orandi, lex credendi.
Should people hold hands while praying the Our Father at Mass? The short answer is no.
As a traditionally-minded Catholic, the hand-holding thing does get under my skin, but it's not a matter I focus on with any regularity. Just don't do it, period; I don't give it much more consideration beyond that - usually. Then again, maybe that's because I see it so often.
What brought this to mind for me recently, though, was Dave Armstrong's blog on Patheos. He sums up the best reason why one shouldn't join hands with their neighbour with a very clear and simple observation:
It’s against the rubrics, folks, which in English means that the Church does not permit it. Makes me wonder, then, why so many priests do. Either they don’t know the rubrics or don’t care about them, or think they are wrong at this point and ignore them.
Admittedly, I've been guilty of holding hands during the Our Father in the past. Doing this, when I was coming back to the Church, made me feel as though I was sharing something special with those closest to me. Learning more about the Mass, however, led me to discover that I could share the beauty of the Eucharistic Celebration - in a much deeper way - by keeping my hands to myself.
Education is key
How much does the "hand-holder" know about what they're doing, that's the question, and Armstrong marks that distinction in his blog. "I try to take pains to distinguish between simply not knowing vs. 'knowing and deliberately disobeying,'" he writes. "Vast difference ... The former is largely the fault of the Church: failure to properly teach and catechize her children; the latter is the fault of the individual. 'To whom much is given, much is required.'"
My own participation in the act was influenced by a lack of knowledge. Gaining a greater understanding, over time, that the Mass is the highest prayer we have, helped me to appreciate what I was taking part in. Education about the faith also inspired me to be a better Catholic, which is also something Armstrong touches on:
If we claim to be obedient Catholics, we’ll want to follow the rubrics. If we want to go our own way, we’ll say and think, “what does the Church know? If I wanna do x, y, z, I’m gonna do it. To Hades with what the Church says! It’s none of its business how I live my life.” Etc., etc. ad nauseam, ad infinitum ... The rubrics exist for a reason: for our guidance.
Well said. So, does the Church teach anything about what we should do with our hands during Mass?
If you visit the Vatican website, or do a little Googling, you'll find a Church document entitled "On Certain Questions Regarding the Collagoration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest." There's a lot in there, but here's the part we're concerned with:
6 § 2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 are to be eradicated. In Eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the Eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to "quasi preside" at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity. (Emphasis added.)
Again, a nice, simple explanation of the matter.
I'd examine the matter further, but Armstrong already does a great job of that in his blog, even pointing to an excellent article by Jimmy Akin on hand holding and the rubrics. Armstrong has another informative piece that I suggest as mandatory reading on this topic.