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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 21 Jun 2001

displays of affection QUESTION from Neal Cox November 13, 2000 I am a RCIA candidate and have been going to Catholic Mass for about two years prior to joining RCIA. My ladyfriend (we're both 42) is a member of the church we attend. We both read the missal together during the readings and often will hold hands during the homily. When I decided to join the Catholic Church, I asked my girlfriend to become my sponsor so we could share the process together.
Last Sunday as we stood in the church, waiting to process in, I had my arm draped over the shoulder of my lady friend as we read the scripture for the day out of the missal together. The head of our RCIA program said to us that we shouldn't exhibit these sort of displays of affection. I almost thought she was joking, but removed my arm anyway.
Later, my friend was talking with her mother, who is a eucharistic minister in the same church, and she mentioned the incident. Her mother said that displays of affection were forbidden in the church, and remarked that she had noticed us holding hands during the homily on other occasions and didn't approve. She said that even married couples don't hold hands during Mass. I was unaware that the church had a policy on displays of affection in church, as we always hold hands during the Lord's Prayer. Is this policy for the Catholic Church? If so what is the reasoning behind it? I would appreciate any guidance you might be able to provide.
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on November 15, 2000 Dear Neal,
Welcome to the Church. I help out at our R.C.I.A. class and I enjoy going through the process with the folks in the class. The Easter Vigil Mass is awesome.
Spontaneous displays of affection such as holding hands between friends and family are not prohibited by the Church. What the Church forbids is when the entire congregation is sometimes instructed, coerced or compelled to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer or at any other time during the Mass. It's a kind of fake intimacy foisted on us by well meaning priests or liturgical committees who are trying to make the Mass more relevant. As Catholics our sign of intimacy and unity is the Eucharist.
The Vatican has spoken officially about this kind of forced intimacy and that's probably what your friends are thinking about.
. . .holding hands is a sign of intimacy and not reconciliation, and as such disrupts the flow of the Sacramental signs in the Mass which leads to the Sacramental sign of intimacy with Christ and our neighbor, Holy Communion. [Clarifications and Interpretations of the GIRM Notitiae Vol. XI (1975) p. 226] One should of course use discretion when it comes to public displays of affection. Holding hands with one's loved one is one thing but a more intimate display might be viewed by some as being inappropriate behavior for Mass. In the interest of peace perhaps it's best to save it for after church. I hope this helps,
God bless you,
John Miskell
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