So, is hand-holding during the Our Father at Mass prohibited? Well, not really, according to Fr. Z--if it's a spontaneous gesture by the laity and not mandated from the altar in any way. It's not in the rubrics, and thus can't be imposed upon the people.
As liturgical aberrations go, I must admit that this isn't one over which I lose any significant sleep. There are far worse problems out there, even if you are just considering liturgical matters.
Having said that, though, I have to place myself in the anti-hand-holding camp. The soprano section of our parish choir dropped the practice following a winter during which the whole choir seemed to be passing a cold around weekly, and none of us care to re-institute it (either the cold or the hand-holding), which suits me just fine. My problems with it are twofold: first, it is an inherently rude thing to do, and second, it reduces the Sign of Peace to a trivial and redundant moment.
To take the first objection first, I want to say at the outset that just because the hand-holding is inherently rude does not, not, not mean that I think people who do this are in any way being deliberately rude or have any interior disposition toward rudeness. In fact, I think that people who grab hands during the Our Father at Mass are intending to be displaying a jolly attitude of warm Christian fellowship; the thought that anyone could ever find such an innocuous and friendly gesture rude would probably seem unthinkable to those who are deeply attached to this practice. Yet the inherent rudeness is there nonetheless.
Why? Because it is an essential part of politeness that one is capable of taking "no" for an answer. The hostess who insists that her diabetic guest take a piece of dessert and "at least taste it" doesn't get this; and neither does the person who grabs the hand of the stranger beside him without ascertaining in any way if that person wishes to hold hands, or might have very good reasons for wishing not to do so.
Some good reasons for not wishing to hold hands during Mass might be:
- illness one does not wish to transmit, but which isn't serious enough to keep one at home
- injury (such as carpal tunnel or a muscle strain) which makes having one's hand grabbed and then elevated and/or squeezed an agony
- physical or mental handicap (and with the latter one may not realize that the person beside one is, perhaps, impaired in such a way that makes having a stranger grab hold of them extremely frightening)
- cultural matters--some cultures find hand-holding far too intimate to be done in a crowd of strangers
- liturgical sensitivity--a person might be very reluctant to participate in non-required liturgical gestures
- germaphobia or some similar fear of contact
- extreme introversion that automatically withdraws from such a noisy, extroverted gesture as communal hand-holding is likely to be
Unfortunately, the way that the Our Father hand-holding gets done it is almost impossible to refuse to participate without being instantly judged by the person grabbing at your hand as being rude yourself. Even if you have an extremely good reason for not wanting to hold someone's hand, you will likely be glared at and dismissed as "holier-than-thou" if you keep your hands folded and ignore the grabber. But it is not rude to refuse to participate in something that is supposed to be voluntary and spontaneous, not mandated or required, any more than it is rude for a diabetic to say, "No, thank you," when she is offered dessert. For myself, I learned that if I happened to be recovering from a cold or flu, the best way to handle the matter was to be completely unsubtle about it, and to whisper loudly to the person grabbing at me that I didn't wish to share the germs in question. I've never been glared at for that--in fact, I've had people thank me for being so considerate.
The only way a spontaneous Our Father hand-holding outbreak can avoid being rude is if people hold hands only with those in their own families or Mass-attending groups. But I've never actually seen that work; in fact, people would probably criticize such a practice as standoffish or exclusionary, so I don't think it would solve the problem.
Besides the rudeness factor, there is the little problem that a spontaneous outbreak of Our Father hand-holding at Mass makes the Sign of Peace, which is in the rubrics, seem rather redundant and unnecessary. The scriptural basis for the Sign of Peace would seem to be this: "Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24). But surely, having previously grasped your brother's hand in a spontaneous gesture of loving and warm Christian fellowship, your brother has shown by his acceptance of this gesture that he no longer has anything against you, nor you him--so why spend time a few moments later shaking his hand as if to confirm the fact?
No, the Sign of Peace (which I find problematic for other reasons, and which would require its own post) becomes liturgically incoherent if we've already shown by that spontaneous hand-grabbing that we have nothing whatsoever standing between ourselves and our brothers and sisters. In fact, the Our Father hand-holding steals the Sign of Peace's thunder, if it is meant to have any; it becomes an odd little redundancy instead of a liturgical action fraught with meaning in its own right.
So there are plenty of good, solid reasons to abandon the supposedly spontaneous act of grabbing hold of everybody's hand to say the Our Father; I know there are others, too, having to do with what kind of prayer the Our Father actually is and to Whom it is addressed (hint: it's not the community).
Still, if I happen to be next to you at Mass and you happen to reach for my hand at the Our Father, chances are I won't put up a fuss and try to stop you, or anything. Unless, of course, I'm getting over a wicked cold, in which case common charity compels me to warn you to cease and desist for your own good.