PRAYING USING THE ORANS POSTURE
A discussion that is common in Catholic parishes between the more orthodox members of the parish and the more “progressive” members is whether or not the faithful should use the Orans Posture during the Our Father. When such a question comes up, the obvious solution is to go to the rubrics.
Unfortunately, in this case, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) is relatively silent on the topic. Because of the GIRM’s silence, many people have taken this to mean that the faithful may do whatever they want. However, this is not the case. In the document, Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests, put out by the Vatican on August 15, 1997, we read,
"In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to "quasi preside" at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity" (ICP Practical Provisions 6 §2).
What the above statement means is that we may not say the Eucharistic prayers along with the priest — believe it or not, I see people mouthing the words along with the priest every week. More importantly to this topic, this also means the faithful may not use the same gestures that are reserved for the priest celebrant.
As mentioned above, the GIRM is silent with regard to the posture of the faithful during the Our Father, however, the Sacramentary (the book of prayers for Mass used by the priest) states that the celebrant is to pray the Our Father with hands extended. Looking back at ICP, the faithful are NOT to use gestures or actions proper to the priest celebrant. Using this argument, one would think that the rubrics could be used to appeal to the faithful. Unfortunately, many of the faithful view the rubrics as another set of rules and those of us who wish to enforce the rubrics are no better than the Pharisees.
In that regard, let us look instead to another reason why the Orans Posture (and subsequently, holding hands) is not an appropriate gesture for the faithful during the Our Father. The Our Father takes place during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This time of prayer and offering is directed to God (as is the entire Mass, but more specifically during the Liturgy of the Eucharist). As it is directed toward God, the extending and/or holding of hands creates a horizontal emphasis on the prayer, as opposed to the vertical emphasis that it demands. Many people who prefer hand holding or the Orans Posture argue that the Our Fatheris a community prayer, and as such holding and/or extending hands is a visible sign of that community. However, the Our Father is a community prayer, not because we hold or extend our hands, but because we pray it together as the Body of Christ.
On September 3, 1958 the Sacred Congregation for Rites issued a document titled De musica sacra et sacra liturgia (Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy). This document stated, “Since the Pater Noster is a fitting, and ancient prayer of preparation for Communion, the entire congregation may recite this prayer in unison with the priest in low Masses; the Amen at the end is to be said by all” (DM Prayers and Hymns § 32).
It was at this time that the faithful were given permission to pray the Our Father with the priest. However, the faithful maintained the same posture as before - standing, with their hands folded in prayer. Prior to this Instruction, the priest prayed the Our Father on behalf of the faithful. The Orans Posture is representative of praying on behalf of others. The next time you are at Mass, watch the priest’s gestures closely. Anytime he offers prayers on behalf of the faithful, he uses the Orans Posture. Anytime he is offering other prayers, his hands are folded together. Having a better understanding of what particular gestures mean will lead to a better understanding of the Liturgy.
American journalist Hunter S. Thompson was dead on when he said, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” We are talking about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass here. The Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian Life” (LG 11) is consecrated here. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords makes Himself present during the Mass. It is of the utmost importance that we treat the Mass with the respect it deserves. This is not the time nor the place to get creative and inject one’s own style and preferences.
THE OUR FATHER
Should we pray the Our Father using the Orans posture? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:
After the eucharistic prayer is concluded, the priest, with hands joined, says alone the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, and then with hands extended, he pronounces the prayer together with the people (GIRM 152).
Although there is no provision for the congregation to assume the Orans posture themselves, neither is it forbidden. That said, there is repeated admonition in the liturgical documents of the Church that gestures ought not to be introduced into the liturgy without appropriate authorization from the Church and that the respective roles of clergy and laity ought not to be obscured. Examples of this admonition may be found in the Second Vatican Council’s Sacrosanctum Concilium (2-3), the Vatican document Redemptionis Sacramentum (45), and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (43).
It may well be fitting, then, that only the priest assumes the Orans posture, so as not to obscure the necessary distinction between the role of the priest and the role of the laity. The congregation prays the liturgy in its own way as baptized members of the body of Christ. Its members do not mimic the priest, who represents Christ to the congregation and the congregation to God. There can be a danger of clericalism when the lay role in the liturgy is undervalued, and the priestly role is seen as a better or truer expression of the Faith.
Moreover, when the priest adopts this posture during the liturgy, he, like the Orans figures in the catacombs, makes himself receptive to God’s grace as a representative of the congregation. In this act of supplication, the priest opens himself to God on behalf of the people and then offers to the assembly that which he has received from the Father.
Holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer is a relatively recent phenomena within the Catholic Church. The gesture wasn’t widely seen before Vatican II and, according to an article by Catholic Culture, may have been “introduced [by priests] with good intentions to highlight the unity of the congregation as they pray, ‘Our Father,’ not ‘My Father.'” It also may have come about during the hippie “Free Love” movement in the 60s and 70s — coincidentally around the same time that this practice became prevalent.
Proponents of hand-holding during the “Our Father” often say that this gesture demonstrates unity in prayer and brings the congregation together in a way that makes us feel like family. This purpose becomes rather redundant, however, when we remember (as I explained in this post) that part of the reason we stand during prayer in Mass is to symbolize our unity as a congregation.
The other problem is that not everyone is comfortable holding hands with a stranger. This actually disrupts unity because it creates a situation in which some people hold hands anyways and are distracted by their discomfort.
“The act of holding hands usually emphasizes group or personal unity from the human or physical point of view and is thus more typical of the spontaneity of small groups,” according to an article by EWTN. “Hence it does not always transfer well into the context of larger gatherings where some people feel uncomfortable and a bit imposed upon when doing so.
The use of this practice during the Our Father could detract and distract from the prayer’s God-directed sense of adoration and petition, as explained in Nos. 2777-2865 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in favor of a more horizontal and merely human meaning.”
It also disrupts unity because it creates a situation in which not everyone is doing the same thing. Remember the importance of symbolism that I was talking about earlier? When half of the congregation is doing one thing and half is doing another, it destroys something beautiful — the symbolism of a group of people standing together, speaking the same words, with the same gestures because they are not just a collection of bodies but one individual voice, raising towards God.
Yet another argument against holding hands is that it anticipates and devalues the sign of peace — the part of the Mass in which everyone shakes hands with their neighbors while saying the familiar phrase, “Peace be with you.”
I like this argument because the sign of peace, which comes directly after the “Our Father,” is meant to be a time when we greet our fellow Catholics, offering them peace and goodwill while we connect through the physicality of a hand shake. Isn’t the beauty of this moment overshadowed by redundancy — even just a bit — if we had already been holding hands?
WHAT THEN SHOULD WE DO ?
Ideally, everyone would do the same thing during the “Our Father.” In many cases, the best choice, perhaps, is to simply fold your hands and bow your head.
Things to consider:
1 - Your spirituality – This comes in to play when considering whether or not to hold hands during the “Our Father.” Since the Church says neither “yes” or “no” about this posture, in the end it is up to you. 2 - 2 - Consider what you feel called to, and whether you are more traditional or charismatic, among other things. Note: Regardless, you should not be using the Orans Posture during the “Our Father” or any other part of the Mass because the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) specifically states that this posture is reserved for the priest.
3 - The theology – Do your own research. When it comes down to it, there is some practical theology out there that can help you make an informed choice.
4 - Being in union – I was told once that if you walk into a church and the majority of people are making a specific gesture (even if it’s something incorrect, like kneeling at the wrong time), it is more important to preserve the unity of the Mass than to do what you would normally do. If you are feeling particularly confident, you can always (kindly) take it up with the priest after Mass.
5 - Charity – Of course, if the little old lady standing next to you wants to hold your hand, there’s nothing wrong with taking it.
6 - I feel that it’s important to note that whatever prayer posture you decide to take during the “Our Father,” you aren’t sinning. As Catholics, the danger to becoming overly scrupulous is very real and I’ve fallen to this tendency myself on several occasions.
That being said, even if it may not be a “salvation issue,” as many people coin it, it’s still a very important thing to consider and be mindful and prayerful of. This is because the Mass is one of the most important things in our lives, as Catholics. What may seem like minor or insignificant details regarding our participation, are in fact vastly important because they affect how we orient ourselves and perceive what’s going on around us in the Mass.
WHAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE ?
The Orans is an ancient symbol of a soul in union with God interceding on behalf of mankind. The sanctified soul is a pure receptacle of God’s grace, which is why it is traditionally symbolized by feminine imagery, and passes on to us only that which it receives from God. This supplicant posture is most commonly seen today in the Mass, where the priest pleads to God on behalf of the people. The Church has not forbidden the congregation the use of the Orans posture during the Our Father but has many times cautioned against inserting unauthorized gestures into the Mass.
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