Q. 1. Is it allowed in the Catholic Church for members of the congregation to gather around the Altar and hold hands during the Consecration, especially when there are few members attending the service? How about the children gathering around the Altar during the Consecration?
A. 1. In 1997, the Roman Congregations of Clergy, Doctrine of the Faith, Bishops, Divine Worship, Religious, Laity and Evangelization, as well as the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, jointly issued a document called, "Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration Of The Non-Ordained Faithful In The Sacred Ministry Of Priest." Its purpose was to make a clear distinction between the role of the laity and that of the clergy. In that document, it states:
"In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy." (SC art. 29). During the liturgy of the eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the "presbyterium," which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers. [Notitiae 17 (1981) 61]
In other words, the faithful, including the children, are not permitted to be inside the presbyterius (around the Altar) during the Holy Mass, including during the Consecration.