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Q&A: Holding Hands and Receiving Communion - 12th October 2014
Q1. When did Rome give permission for people to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, something that they do at a parish I sometimes visit?
A. Holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer is not mentioned in the liturgy documents but that does not mean that it is not allowed. A lot of things we do without question at Mass are not set down in the book.
For example, the General Instruction and rubrics of the Missal make no mention of a collection being taken up after communion, something which happens regularly in many parishes without causing angst.
The reason usually given for holding hands during the Our Father is that it creates a sense of unity and community, but this is best expressed by walking together to the table and sharing the one bread and one cup at communion.
There are several reasons for questioning the practice.
Singling the Lord’s Prayer out by using this gesture gives it undue emphasis when there are arguably more important prayers in the celebration of Mass.
Holding hands with strangers in public is not part of Australian culture and obliging people to do so by introducing it into the liturgy can be counterproductive. A friend who attends a parish where people hold hands for the Lord’s Prayer commented that she often finds herself thinking more about what she is doing and how she is feeling rather than the words she is praying.
Holding hands has never been an accepted gesture for public prayer. A more appropriate alternative might be to encourage people to adopt the orans stance, with arms raised and palms turned upwards, as practised in some parishes and permitted in the revised Italian Missal.
Holding hands is really only effective as a gesture if the church is packed and everyone present can easily reach their neighbours without having to stretch over pews and move across aisles.
While holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer should not be introduced where it is not currently practised, pastoral sensitivity is required if a change is made to what is a genuine and long-standing aspect of people’s prayer in some places.
Q. I attended Mass twice in my parish last Sunday morning because I was speaking about the work of the local St Vincent de Paul conference. A friend told me that I could not go to communion at the second Mass because I had already received communion that day. Is this correct?
A. Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law was implemented, communion could be received a second time in a day only when one participated in a funeral, marriage or ordination Mass. The current canon states:
"One who has received the blessed Eucharist may receive it again on the same day only within a eucharistic celebration in which that person participates.” (917)
So it is permissible to receive communion a second time in the one day in the context of taking part in the celebration of the Eucharist, which you were doing.
After the promulgation of the Code there was some debate as to whether the word “again” meant twice only or as often as a person attended Mass. A reply from the Code Commission in 1984 made it clear that it means twice only—unless of course there is danger of death. Communion given as Viaticum may be received at any time.