17 November 2008

The Our Father and Posture: Orans You Glad You Asked?

A helpful reader not my wife pointed my attention to the following helpful Q&A, answered by Msgr. Matthew Mitas and printed in last week's Review:

Dear Father’What is the importance of posture in prayer?

by Msgr. Matthew Mitas

Q: I’ve noticed that in many parishes of late, it’s become common practice for many of the faithful to hold their hands out at their sides, palms upraised, during the Lord’s Prayer. Somehow I missed the catechesis on this. Which rubric of which document established this?

A: You’re referring to the orans (Latin for "praying") posture, which is mandated by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, but only for the priest celebrant. Let’s examine your question more closely.

Most religions have recognized the importance of posture in prayer, whether it’s the lotus position of the Hindu yoga or the traditional Muslim form of kneeling, face down to the ground. A good posture better disposes one to receive the grace for which he is praying. In our Catholic tradition, there are various postures that relate to the different forms of prayer and are appropriate to the role of the one who prays. For example, we stand when petitioning the Almighty, we kneel (or genuflect) in homage and adoration before Him, and sometimes it is even proper to prostrate before Him (as the priest does in the beginning of the Good Friday service) to express our powerlessness before Him.

The orans posture, whereby one raises his hands from his sides with his palms facing forward, apparently pre-dates Christianity. It was used by pious souls to express openness to God and a vivid awareness of being in His presence when addressing Him. In our tradition, it was adapted early on for the use of the priest while he presided at Mass, most likely because it closely resembled Christ’s outstretched hands on the Cross. After all, the priest stands in the place of Christ at the great, unbloody re-enactment of Calvary which is the Mass. The exact positioning of the hands was modified over the centuries to where it is now most frequently practiced in the manner described in your question. Quite a few people in the charismatic movement in the 1970s began imitating the orans posture in their private devotions and sometimes would even do so during Mass.

In the 1990s, many of our American bishops were disturbed that a great number of our people had adopted the practice of holding hands at the praying of the Lord’s Prayer, another practice not mandated. Unsure of how best to bring this abuse to a halt, they proposed making the orans posture mandatory for all the faithful at Mass, and petitioned the pope to ratify the change. The Holy Father, however, rejected their petition, because the orans posture is recognized as a priestly posture and inappropriate for the laity to assume at Mass. (Anyone, of course, can assume whatever posture he chooses in his private, non-liturgical prayer.) By that time, however, some parishes and priests had already jumped the gun and started the practice and, obviously, have failed to curtail it despite the instruction from authority in Rome.

Two points should be made: First, no priest has the authority to mandate this practice for his whole parish.

Second, since the orans posture is, by custom, a priestly posture, the laity really should not be assuming it on their own initiative. The Mass is the action of the whole Church and not a private expression of an individualistic faith.

Any changes to our ancient customs and practices need to be exceedingly well thought out, consistent with our best traditions, and undertaken by and with the express approval of authority. Then, if the change is mandated, there must be overwhelming catechesis on it so that everyone understands what is being done and, more importantly, why it’s being done.

This breezy, 1960s, you-do-your-thing-I’ll-do-mine approach to the Mass has got to go. Frankly, it’s selfish. The purpose of the Mass is to make us one and express our unity. That can only happen when we are one Body, under one Head.

Msgr. Mitas is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Union.


Ken said...

Very nice. And yet the archdiocese does nothing about clarifying this with the parishes here.

cmziall said...

Wow, did you shudder as you posted that picture? I attend the N.O. and that makes ME shudder!

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that using the wrong posture can actually separate one from the Body of Christ? I thought you had to sin to separate yourself from the Body of Christ. All those years of Baltimore Catechism, and I still can't get it right.MV

thetimman said...



cmziall said...


I don't think it separates us, but a lot of the congregation has been taking on the hand positions that are meant for the Priests. We are not supposed to hold hands during the Our Father and we are not supposed to hold our arms/hands with our palms facing up to Heaven. The Priest is uniting us and offering up the Mass for us.

Fenian said...


Thanks for posting this. I saw this article and it just reiterated everything that I have previously read about holding hands and the orans posture.

I just wish that the Vatican or at least the USCCB would issue something official stating as much.

What really irks me is when the lay people say "We lift them up to the Lord" and raise their hands above their heads. If they want an old-fashioned revival, they should look elsewhere, not in a Catholic church.

Anonymous said...


Disobedience is a sin. Now you know it is wrong as the Holy Father has declared, so if you still do it, then you have separated yourself.

I think that many people who try to imitate the priest in such flamboyant posture do so to look pious, and pride is a sin as well.

And the hand holding and kissing is usually done by older people who know better as well.


Folded Hands

Anonymous said...

"The purpose of the Mass is to make us one and express our unity."
This is not the purpose of the Mass, its the purpose of a Quaker prayer meeting. That a Monsignor today should give such an answer is, well lets face it, pretty typical.

Anonymous said...

The photo looks like the Shrine in Bville. Same as it ever was (when I was a kid in the 70s).

les said...

Something happens to people when they get in those round churches.

Rae said...

Thanks for this post. I had wondered about the sudden popularity of the orans posture at Novus Ordo Masses...!

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a geographical component to this debate, and I wonder whether increased mobility of the population is causing the issue to emerge. Throughout every urban parish in the Northeast Corridor I have attended Mass at(from Boston to D.C.) it seems traditional, since the 1970's, to hold hands during the Our Father. So when attending Mass in the Midwest, I was surprised to find that hand holding was unacceptable and shocked to see the congregation adopting a clerical posture.

Anonymous said...

What to do when the pastor of your parish starts 'inviting' the laity right after the consecration to use the orans posture during the Our Father? It is disturbing to be given posture instructions at such an intimate moment in the liturgy. Is it also wrong? Should this be corrected by the Archdiocese?

Fred King said...

I can't say, I'm lay but I suppose its a matter of picking your battles.. Sure, according to our Mother Church its only for the celebrant and the layity seems to imitating him. It's not the only instance in which the lay people are insinuating themselves into the clergy either. Whether its more important to see that, right before a prayer, "LET GO OF THOSE HANDS!" or maybe that some beloved in the congregation who outwardly support abortion, or continue in a homosexual relationship then line up for waffers and wine might be a priority. At least as far as I (lay) can see, there're bigger fish to fry.

Paul R said...

Amen, all Catholics should read this. I know in my parish probably 90% of parishioners have no idea the position of their hands and holding hands is really contrary to the rubic.

Growing up I didn't see these sort of things. I love this Church, I love how universal we are, how diverse and united we truly are in doctrine and faith. For that reason, how we pray is not trivial when we're all together in worship.Yes when you're praying alone it's different. When we're together, we are all one and our understanding of our practices and laws should be as well.

anonymous Catholic said...

The orans is also seen in images of our Lady.
I suspect this and various other things come out of liturgical workshops. There are two ways to study liturgy. One is to study what the Church presents, and implement it. The other is to be "creative" and think up things to make liturgy more "inclusive" and "relevant".

NJ Catholic said...

Most of the above discourse centers around the fact that those at mass are "prohibited" by the church to "imitate" the priest in any way. The Vatican has ruled this way but it is only for Presidential Prayers...and the Our Father is not one of them. In other words, do not imitate the priestly gestures during the mass, but you are free to hold whatever posture you want for the Our Father.