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Monday, March 20, 2006

The Orans

How to start this subject? I remember years ago, when I was in high school, a new priest came to our parish and suddenly people were holding their hands out to the sides, palms up, during the Lord's Prayer. This morphed into hand-holding (not pleasant when the person sitting next to you has been coughing into his her her left hand and then you have to grasp it so as not to break the enforced chain), and this further morphed into stretching across the aisle to the other side to hold THEIR hands also. We were one big happy parish.


When we had a choice, of COURSE we opted for the orans position. I didn't know any better, it was uncomfortable for me, yet because adults around me were doing it, both my best friend and I adopted the awkward pose.

Last spring and summer I was attending daily Mass at my parish, and twice each week, the school joined us. We adult communicants were relegated to the rear of the large sanctuary, which put us in a great position to see the students of all ages holding their hands aloft, clearly uncomfortably. Why do I say this? I'll admit partially from experience, but also, it's in their postures; rounded shoulders, ducked heads, curled fingers, hands and arms held in tight to their bodies.

It makes me want to reach out to the nearest kid and say, "Psst! You don't have to do that! Just fold your hands, up or down, close your eyes, and offer the prayer, " thus releasing the poor kid from this pop-culture hangover from feminist and liberation "theology".

Tonight I attended a beautiful Divine Liturgy at my parish in honor of the Solomnity of St. Joseph. I noticed that during the Eucharistic prayers, Father was holding his hands out in a correct orans position; palms toward the congregation, arms outstretched. As he stood there, at the altar, the already-consecrated hosts and precious blood before him, I was struck, hard, by the image he mimiced. Our parish has a HUGE crucifix, centered behind the altar, and of course, behind the priest.

Father was standing directly in front of and below the large crucifix, and it was impossible for me not to see the image he formed in his representation.

Now, keep in mind, when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, he is standing in persona Christi, that is, in the PERSON of Christ. When he pronounces the words, "This is my body..." and "This is my blood..." he is no longer Father whoever, but he is standing in for Christ in the very person of Christ. This is very, very deep theology, but if we pay attention, the little things help us understand, and one of those little things is the orans position.

So we've come back to that. The orans. There was Father, standing exactly centered at the altar, in the person of Christ, and there, behind him, is Christ crucified. It was like a 3-D image, Father mimicing his own personal sacrifice, standing freely crucified, offering his life for us all.

So many people criticize our dearly held beliefs and traditions, even those that aren't doctrinal, and yet tonight, my eyes were opened to see something I'd never seen before; that is, the eternal Truth of the Church, the sacrifice of the priest on the very altar as he brings us the same sacrifice of Calvary.

And you know what happens next, after the priest completes the Eucharistic prayers...he SERVES us, the laity, the flesh and blood of the lamb of God.

Again, let's go over this. This is SO important!

1. The priest stands in persona Christi to consecrate the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

2. As part of being in persona Christi, he holds his hands outstretched, palms towards us, mimicing Crucified Jesus, for whom he stands before us

3. As a servant to all, he SERVES us the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God.

Are you seeing what I am seeing? Are you understanding what I understood tonight? That for the laity to hold the Orans position is WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG!

NONE of us can stand in persona Christi, NONE Of us has the right to hold our hands aloft like Jesus crucified during the Mass. Only the PRIEST can do this!

The laity's use of the orans is a little fuzzy, but in my observation had it's origins with the feminist/liberation "theology" movements and attempted internal takeover of the Church. It was accompanied with women "deciding" they are called to the "power" of the priesthood, women taking charge of catechesis, watered down Gospels to such a degree they are not recognizable as remotely Christian, and prayer positions which mimic the percieved power of the ordained priesthood.

Another possible origin was from Protestantism. No offense to our seperated bretheren as I agree we can learn much from them, but the liturgy needs no "innovation". Every part of the Divine Liturgy (Mass) has meaning. Every posture, every movement, every all has meaning.

Take, for example, the times we are to STAND (in the Latin Rite specifically): the Procession, through the Gloria, the Alleluia and the Gospel, for the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist through the Sanctus (Holy, Holy), the Our Father through the Agnus Dei. We KNEEL during the Consecration, after the Agnus Dei as we are in the presence of Christ, and after reception of Communion. We BOW during a portion of the Creed, during the Consecration, and as an option deigning reverence before recieving our Lord. We do all this and more as the laity, and every movement is important.

Likewise, every movement on the altar and around the altar is important and has meaning. The presiding priest uses incense, bows, holds the Word of God aloft before reading the Gospel for the day, blesses us, sends us forth...all with gestures. EVERYTHING in the Mass has meaning.

When our priests stand before us, praying in the orans position, it is a moment in which we all need to understand that we are not all called to ordained priesthood. We are not all called to stand as though crucified because while we share in the sacrifice as members of the body of Christ, we cannot stand in persona Christi. We have our own place and we need to be humble and accept our places in God's house. We are the laity and we are there to worship, to be ministered to so that we can better carry the Gospel message and therefore minister to others. We have our place and our posture and that of the priest helps to define those places and FREES us from the discomfort found when we are holding positions which are not appropriate for our given station.

Consider also that when the priest, specifically during the Lord's Prayer, stands in the Orans position, his position is not just as Christ crucified, but as a shepherd and his flock. Arms oustretched as though to gather us in to him and offering us all and all of our collective prayers, petetions, and thanksgiving to the Lord. We are not to do this; he is to make this offering on our behalf. Why? Because he is the servant of all. He is the only one annointed to carry out this particular service.

There are many who argue for the orans position, and don't understand why it is an issue. I would like to make it clear that there is no problem with it in personal prayer. The Church has not spoken formally on the laity's use of the orans, but it is definitely not encouraged, although seen as preferable to hand-holding during the Lord's prayer.

When we, as the laity, begin to use positions reserved appropriately for the clergy, then we are blurring the lines and we are taking something away from the worship which is supposed to happen. I do not mean to attack those who hold this position, and perhaps some of you are converts who find this position natural to you. However, as Catholics, this position is NOT natural and the use of it in the congregation is just one more thing that jumbles details which would otherwise be apparent.

If you are an orans-holder during the Mass, I encourage you next time to keep your hands folded, look up at the altar throughout the Eucharistic prayers (bowing where appropriate, of course), and consider the priest's physical position and presence espeically in relation to the altar and the crucifix, assuming your parish has one. Then truly ask yourself if it's really appropriate to hold your own hands aloft during the Our Father, rather than bow your head to the sacrifice of Christ on the crucifix and clasp your hands in humility. If you really want to go back to your roots, then pray with your arms crossed over your chest, left over right, head bowed. This was how the early Christians prayed.

Open your heart, pray for the eyes to see and the ears to hear, and WATCH this deep theology happening before your very eyes. Your life may be changed forever.

Christ before me....
Christ behind me....
Christ within me....
Christ beside me....
Christ in all the words I speak...
Christ in all the ears that hear....


Our Word said...

Excellent, excellent post. I have seen the same thing in parishes I've attended over the years - the laity in the Orans position - and I've disapproved of it as well. But I've never seen it in the same light as what you described. I really believe you've been graced by the Holy Spirit to see this with such a profound insight. What is it that Jesus says to Peter when Peter makes his confession of faith? Something about how no mere man could come up with this knowledge?

Girl, you are so in tune right now. I hope some of it rubs off!

Anonymous said...

I would agree that you have hit the nail on the head with that post, Adoro. We need to print off 20 or 30 million of them and hand them out at the various parishes.

I must admit, though, if someone thrusts their hand at me, I willingly grab it, even if they are much taller or shorter, sometimes causing painful contortions for the two minutes or so.

But posture is something that needs to be addressed at other points in the Mass.

My parish of record, the Basilica, has us stand during the Consecration. I've read the arguments, and I suppose a case can be made for that, but I prefer to kneel in adoration. Even though the American Bishops want us to kneel. But that doesn't stop some people.

But whatever the position, a prayerful, reverent posture is called for and when I am called upon to stand, I fold my hands appropriately and thump my breast in the old style at the Words of Consecration.

I've never even seen anyone standing and few kneeling, bother to even fold their hands.

When asked, some Catholics are aware that they are present at the Consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, but you'd never know it from outward appearances.

Part of the reason I'm sure is that they have not been told to do that.

I've noticed that since the instruction has come down a few years ago that we are to make some reverent sign (slight bow, etc.) when we are standing in line for Holy Communion, more and more people are doing that.

So people will behave properly if instructed.

With respect to holding hands, I must admit that when I see parents and children holding hands at the Our Father, I am a bit envious and wish that as a child my family had engaged in such a practice. So I suppose there are two sides to that, too.

Anonymous said...

The next morphing stage is to have the "Eucharistic Ministers" (not EMHCs) gather around the altar and hold aloft the host in union with the priest. Then they can partake a split second after the priest (and before he drinks from the chalice).

At the end of the Mass, the priest can then say "May the Lord bless us" instead of "May the Lord bless you".

These steps are necessary to further blur any distinction between the priest and laity. I'm sure liturgists can come up with some more to minimize the priest's role in persona Christi.

The error can easily be summed up in four words:

Lex Orandi, Lex credendi

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Adoro! I plan to borrow your comments the next time someone asks me why I "don't do Orans"


March Hare said...

Okay, I'm confused. Are you saying that the congregation was standing in the Orans position during the Consecration or just during the Lord's Prayer?

FWIW, I don't see the Orans position, or holding hands, during the Lord's Prayer as having originated with feminists. I do see a lack of instruction from the priest. My parish recently changed some of their practices, per the request of the Diocese, to conform more closely to the GIRM, which have caused some moments of confusion.

Adoro said...

March Hare,

I certainly hope NO ONE is standing in the Orans position during the consecration! Typically it is during the Lord's Prayer. Quite honestly, the timing is a moot point. The laity should NOT be standing in the Orans position AT ANY POINT during Holy Mass. I will need to edit, but as I haven't done so yet, what I will be adding is this: During the Lord's Prayer, the priest, as our spiritual father, standing with Jesus before him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, is standing in the Orans. People often think that they must "copy" or "mirror" the priest (I've heard this dubious reasoning). They do not realize that the priest is standing in that position, leading the prayer and offering our collective Our Father. It is like an embrace. We are presumptious if we are standing in that position at any point in the Mass.

Regarding the feminist link...I have seen this position promulgated by women as most men didn't seem real inclined to do it but of course do so often now as they have never been taught, or have beem misled differently. I have heard it is an "import" from Protestant Churches, people who do not understand that our prayer positions during the liturgy have true and complete meaning. The use of these positions by the laity is inappropriate and helps to water down the impact which would be seen by everyone if they weren't so busy trying to do what the priest is doing.

We are not to do what the priest is doing. We are to do what the laity is supposed to do: stand for the Gloria, the Gospel, for the Our Father, the procession and recession; mark our foreheads, lips, and hearts during the Gospel; kneel during the consecration and after the Agnus Dei and again after Communion, and remain seated during the readings and wherever indicated otherwise. Each position of ours has meaning and indicates humility. Each position used by the priest has meaning within the liturgy.

I wish I had known this long ago. I wish I had understood. I wish I could communicate effectively so that others will understand.

Thank you for reminding me what editing needs to be done yet!

God bless!

The Confessionator said...

very well articulated post! For a long time, my archdiocese had instituted some wacky liturgical "reforms," which involved requiring lay people to say the Our Father in the Orans Position, stand after communion, among other weird things. I thought it was something that the Church either encouraged and required until recently, when I learned that this was not appropriate. Now I like keeping my hands folded because it prevents people from holding my hand, which I really don't appreciate.

Adoro said...


As I understand it, in the Eastern Catholic Church (not sure which Rites, if one of them or all of the Eastern Rites), it is their custom to stand during the Consecration, but I don't know if they do so after Communion. For them it's proper, but of course, it's a different Rite.

For we of the Latin Rite, however, it's not appropriate to stand at those times. Isn't it frustrating to learn that stuff which has been shoved down your throat and taught as "correct" is actually just watered-down liturgy which is hand in hand with the watered-down catechesis?

Are you seeking a new parish?

~pen~ said...

i would have *created a link* had i read all of the comments prior to creating a link from my desktop blogger publishing button...

outstanding post and one i am printing out for my RCIA students. thank you.

Adoro said...


Thanks for stopping by! I think if you can pull this page up, just the link itself, you may be able to print everything including the comments. I do hope it's helpful for your students.

I also want to teach RCIA but I don't think I have enough knowledge to do so and I have to admit I'm fearful of giving incorrect information. I have already been on the wrong end of catechesis as a child/young adult and so it disrupted my faith for many years. God bless you for what you do!

Thank you for trying to teach newcomers about correct positioning and all the things that are otherwise done incorrectly or not at all. If my post is helpful to anyone, please give the Holy Spirit the credit; by his fruits you shall know him.

God bless!

Simon Bar Jonah said...

Excellent point! At first I was a bit confused by your Orans "position". The Church (which natuarally includes the laity) has long used this position as a holy posture for personal prayer. In fact, scripture tells us to pray, lifting holy hands to God, and all of us are called to the perfection of prayer that Christ possesed. However, you are correct that this form of prayer should not be encouraged during certain rubrics of the mass. For a detailed explanation of why, please have a look at the following article on EWTN's website....

EWTN Orans Posture

March Hare said...

Thanks for the explanation.

However, in my Diocese, the altar servers join the priest at the altar and hold hands during the Our Father. Since we have a ~very~ conservative bishop, I find it difficult to believe that he would encourage an act that goes against the GIRM.

We now kneel through the Great Amen, rather than standing at the GA as before. There were also several changes to how the Eucharist was distributed (mostly involving the EMEs) to ensure that the Body and Blood of Christ were handled properly.

We have the option of standing, sitting, or kneeling once the Eucharist has been received; again, we were told that standing is preferred, but the other two options were acceptable.

Additionally, standing during the Consecration during the Roman Rite is not new. Many cathedrals and churches in Europe had neither pews nor kneelers, so the congregation had little choice but to stand. IIRC, that was the case in Notre Dame in Paris.

Adoro said...

March Hare,

I really have to wonder how you define "conservative", because the altar boys are NOT to be holding hands with the priest during the Mass. Now, that's not to say that it's a huge deal, either. I would have to actually attend your Mass in order to see the totality of circumstances so I am not going to pass any kind of judgment on the Mass.

However, in regards to kneeling during the Consecration, you have been misinformed. I'll admit that the custom may differ from Europe to the US, however in the US and specifically in the Roman Rite, kneeling is the preferred method and is not only encouraged but strongly suggested that standing is not appropriate. Our customs in the US differ from Europe. You can also apply this to liturgical some cultures, even in the Roman Rite, liturgical dance is appropriate as it is firmly grounded within the culture as a normal expression of their faith. This is NOT our culture in the US and so it has no place.

If you have access to Catholic Answers or Relevant Radio, or Ave Maria Radio, you may want to listen to them as they've got great resources.

Our Word said...

March Hare,

I can certainly understand how people can be uncertain as to what is and isn't allowed in the Mass. The orans posture is one such example. In my comments I'm quoting from two sources - Colin Donovan's piece at EWTN and an article from the Adoramus Bulletin regarding the orans and the GIRM. What I want to stress in quoting these articles is that we're not talking merely about adhering to the letter of the liturgical law, but more importantly trying to discover and understand the underlying reasons for why it says what it does.

"First of all, nowhere in the current (2002) General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) does it say that the orans posture is recommended for the congregation during the Our Father.

"In GIRM 43 and 160, the paragraphs dealing with the people's posture during Mass, the only posture specified for the congregation at the Lord's Prayer is standing. It says nothing at all about what people do with their hands. This is not a change from the past."

[Mitchell speaking] Now, my understanding regarding the GIRM is that if a position, posture or action is not specifically mentioned or approved, then de facto it is not allowed. Ergo, if the orans is not recommended within the GIRM as action suitable for the laity during the Mass, it should not be done. Of course, as we both know, just because something is not allowed does not mean that it doesn't happen.

A further question is why the Orans position on the part of the laity is a problem. Again, from Colin Donovan:

"Use of the Orans position by the laity during the Mass, specifically during and after the Our Father, is a source of liturgical disunity. Lets take each case.

"Our Father. The intention for lay people using the Orans position at this time is, I suppose, that we pray Our Father, and the unity of people and priest together is expressed by this common gesture of prayer. Although this gesture is not called for in the rubrics, it does at least seem, on the surface, to not be in conflict with the sacramental sign system at the point when we pray Our Father. I say on the surface, however, since while lay people are doing this the deacon, whose postures are governed by the rubrics, may not do it. So, we have the awkward disunity created by the priest making an appropriate liturgical gesture in accordance with the rubrics, the deacon not making the same gesture in accordance with the rubrics, some laity making the same gesture as the priest not in accordance with the rubrics, and other laity not making the gesture (for various reasons, including knowing it is not part of their liturgical role). In the end, the desire of the Church for liturgical unity is defeated.

"After Our Father. This liturgical disunity continues after the Our Father when some, though not all, who assumed the Orans position during the Our Father continue it through the balance of the prayers, until after "For thine is the kingdom etc." The rubrics provide that priest-concelebrants lower their extended hands, so that the main celebrant alone continues praying with hands extended, since he represents all, including his brother priests. So, we have the very anomalous situation that no matter how many clergy are present only one of them is praying with hands extended, accompanied by numbers of the laity."

[Mitchell again] It would seem, therefore, that there is a clear case against adoption of the orans position by the laity during Mass. And yet this continues to be a contentious issue, one that sows disunity at a time when unity is not only desired but essential. The source of the confusion stems from past discussions at the bishops' conferences.

As to what that confusion is, well, I don't want to put up a comment that's as long as Adoro's original post. Please feel free to check out the Our Word blog and email me; I'd be glad to email you more extensive excerpts from these articles (and others), including further discussion on why the orans posture in particular is a difficult position to defend.

And keep in mind, as I mentioned earlier, that we're not simply talking about legalism and the GIRM; we're considering the real possibility that the posture becomes a sign of disunity and, therefore, contrary to what we try to accomplish with the Eucharist and the Mass.

Again, to say that this posture is not allowed in the Mass is not to say that it does not happen, even in conservative dioceses. We can speculate on why, as well on the other facets of liturgal posture that you mentioned, but that's for another comment!