During Mass you may notice the priest will at times assume the orans posture, hands raised and outstretched with elbows at his sides, especially during the prayer of the Our Father. Many members of the Faithful may join the celebrant in such a gesture. Would it surprise you to learn that doing so is contrary to Church teaching?
Orans, a loanword from the Medieval Latin ōrāns meaning one who is praying or pleading, is a posture of prayer where one standing has their hands outstretched sideways palms up, with their elbows close to the body. The Orans is seen an ancient Christian symbol of a soul in union with God interceding on behalf of mankind, frequently depicted in Early Christian art in a gesture reminiscent of Christ’s outstretched arms as He offered Himself on the Cross.
For centuries, the Pater Noster has been a pivotal part of Mass, taking place during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. However, because of language barriers and development of rubrics, the Our Father was traditionally a prayer said by the celebrant on behalf of the congregation, not with them. Any prayer offered up to God by the priest is done assuming the orans position.
Liturgical reforms promulgated by Pope Pius XII on September 3, 1958 granted permission for the lay faithful to join the priest in praying the Our Father. However, no prescriptions were made for said lay faithful to join the priest in the orans position, instead remaining standing with hands folded in prayer.
“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.” – Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy § 32
In 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II delivered instructions “On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest: Practical Provisions”, a document which you can read here. The late pontiff said:
“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.”
The Sacramentary of the Roman Missal states the celebrant is to pray the Our Father with hands extended. The above states the faithful are not to use any gesture reserved for the celebrant – which would include the orans posture.