Expert Answer Forum
displays of affection in church 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 John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on March 2, 2001 Dear Mr. Cox:
Your friends have wrong information.
On the holding hands issue, it is true that holding hands as a part of the rubrics of the Our Father for the whole congregation is prohibited, but family members and friends may hold hands if they wish. There are some parishes that during the Our Father the whole congegation holds hands -- sometimes even across aisles. This is prohibited by Liturgical Law. But individual family members and friends, amongst themselves, can certainly hold hands.
As for the general displays of affection such as holding hands at any part of the Mass, or having one's arm around a spouse or loved one is not prohibited by any Church law I can think of. The Catholic Church is pro family. Why a family cannot demonstrate these non-descript gestures of affection is beyond me. Obviously there are other forms of expression that would not be prudent in a Church setting, and other displays not prudent anywhere but in private. But I am not aware of any prohibition that placing your arm around your loved-one's shoulders or just the two of you holding hands at any part of the Mass is prohibited.
I would ask your friends to produce an OFFICIAL Church document that supports their position.
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