May the Congregation Raise their Hands To Pray?
By Fr Thomas Plastow SJ.
Question: Why is the congregation forbidden to use the “orans posture” during the Lord’s Prayer? Does the Lord really care what we do with our hands when we pray?
Answer: The “orans posture” means to pray with your arms open and your palms held upwards. We are used to seeing priests adopt this posture when leading public prayers. In recent years there has been some dispute about whether the laity may also pray in this manner, especially when we recite the Our Father together at Mass.
There are different interpretations of the “orans posture”. Some say that when the priest stretches out his arms, he is praying on behalf of the people. This then becomes a clerical gesture which is denied to the laity.
Others understand that this was usual among the early Christians, especially when praying out loud. Church art has many examples of laity praying in this manner.
As Christian liturgy is absorbed by various cultures around the world, local authorities are adopting different postures and gestures that speak to their people. African-American Catholics were among the first to encourage the congregation to gesture with their arms and hands at certain points.
This was introduced into some South African parishes, but is not included among the innovations set out in the bishops’ document “Pastoral Introduction to the Order of Mass”. There is room for future development in this area.
As to whether the Lord cares, who can claim to know the mind of God? Jesus says we should worship in sincerity and truth, but does not prescribe our gestures. For communal liturgical prayer, it is important that we do things as one body, and that our prayer be embodied.
During the Lord’s Prayer, when the congregation is addressing God as one, I don’t see any problem having the laity open their hands. I think this is much more profound, and much less disruptive, than having everyone join hands right across the aisle of the church.
This question was asked and answered in the December issue of The Southern Cross magazine
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