Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Orans Position: Can Deacons & Laity Do this?

St. Pricilla -catacombs
The Orans Position:  Can Lay People Use It?

The orans position is a gesture of prayer that involves raising and extending the arms to the sides or upwards. It is an ancient posture that expresses supplication, praise, or intercession to God. It is also a liturgical gesture that is used by the priest during the Mass to signify his role as the head of the assembly and the mediator between God and the people.

The orans position has a long history in Christianity and other religions. It can be seen in the catacombs, where early Christians depicted themselves or their deceased loved ones in this posture to show their hope in God's mercy and resurrection. It can also be found in the Jewish tradition, where it was used by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and in some psalms, where it is associated with lamentation or thanksgiving. In pagan religions, it was a common way of invoking the gods or showing reverence.

The orans position is prescribed by the rubrics of the Mass for the priest at various moments, such as the opening prayer, the preface, the Eucharistic prayer, and the Lord's Prayer. It indicates that he is praying on behalf of the whole Church and offering the sacrifice of Christ to the Father. It also shows his communion with Christ, who is the true high priest and intercessor for us.

The orans position is not prescribed for the deacon or the lay people during the Mass directly.  However, it does not state they cannot adopt it.  The deacon assists the priest in his ministry, but does not share in his priestly character. The lay people participate in the Mass by their baptismal priesthood, which is different from the ministerial priesthood of the ordained. They are called to offer themselves with Christ, but not to act as mediators for others.

However, some lay people have adopted the orans position as a personal gesture of prayer during the Mass, especially during the Lord's Prayer. This practice may have originated from the charismatic renewal movement, which emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit and personal expression in worship. Some may see it as a sign of unity with the priest and with each other, or as a way of imitating Christ's prayer in Gethsemane.

While this gesture is not forbidden for deacons or lay people by any official document of the Church, it is not encouraged either by official Church documents. It may cause confusion about the hierarchical nature of the liturgy, which is based on different roles and functions within the body of Christ. It may also contradict the symbolism of other gestures that are proper to the laity, such as holding hands, striking their breast, or bowing their head. Moreover, it may distract from the focus of the prayer, which is not on ourselves but on God.

Futhermore, the USCCB website has this to say:

According to the USCCB, "No position is prescribed in the Roman Missal for an assembly gesture during the Lord's prayer." So this can be interpreted either way.  There is no prescribed gesture for the assembly therefore they can/cannot perform a gesture.  The directive remains neutral. and ambiguous.  

Historically speaking, since the codification of the Latin Rite in the west, the Our Father was said only by the priest. Remember, it was said in Latin and not everyone spoke the language. Therefore, the priests back then said the Our Father on the behalf of the people. This changed centuries later.  Liturgical reforms by Pope Pius XII on September 3, 1958 gave permission for the laity 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 and no prescriptions were made preventing them from doing so either. 

“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

So as you can see, there is no mention giving the okay for anyone else other than the priest to join him in the Orans position, but there is also no mention discouraging it either. The whole issue is left neutral. 

However, in 1997, Saint Pope John Paul II delivered instructions “On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest: Practical Provisions,” he 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  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 possibly include the orans posture. However, there is no explicit prohibition for deacons or lay people. 

Biblically speaking, the Orans Posture has been used by both those in priestly function and the lay faithful in the Jewish and Christian faith. Here are some examples:

Leviticus 9:22- Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.

Exodus 17:11- So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.

1 Kings 8:22- Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.

1 Kings 8:54- When Solomon had finished praying this entire prayer and supplication to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven.

These are some verses showing religious leaders using the Orans Posture to offer prayers or blessings upon the congregation or those before them. However, we see in these passages below the regular faithful or laity in both Judaism and Christianity perform the Orans Posture:

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

Psalm 134:2 
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.

Psalm 63:4  
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

Psalm 134:2   
Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!

Lamentations 3:41   
Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven:

Psalm 141:2   
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Psalm 28:2  
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Nehemiah 8:6
Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Deuteronomy 32:40
‘Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven,
And say, as I live forever,

Psalm 63:4
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.

Psalm 119:48
And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments,
Which I love;
And I will meditate on Your statutes.

Psalm 28:2
Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You for help,
When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.

Psalm 141:2
May my prayer be counted as incense before You;
The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.

Psalm 134:2
Lift up your hands to the sanctuary
And bless the Lord.

Lamentations 2:19
“Arise, cry aloud in the night
At the beginning of the night watches;
Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones
Who are faint because of hunger
At the head of every street.”

Ezra 9:5- And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God,

So even Scripture is ambiguous with the Orans Posture. In some verses it describes religious leaders like Moses and Aaron using the posture to bless or pray while in other verses it describes just regular believers using it to offer prayer and praises to God.

In light of this, we cannot truly say that deacons and lay people are prohibited from using the Orans Posture. However, it makes sense for only the priest to use this posture. Hopefully in the near future the Vatican will issue official instructions on who can perform the Orans Posture and/or if it is okay for deacons and lay people to use it during the Liturgy.  

In any event, the Liturgy is not ours to modify.  Vatican II made this clear, “no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22.3).  It is up to the bishop to decide what is best for his diocese within the framework of the Liturgy, rubrics and teachings of the Church.  Lex orandi Lex crendendi, or how we pray is how we believe.  He is the chief liturgist. However, he is overruled by the pope and Rome whenever they issue instructions or documents.

Therefore, it is advisable for lay people to refrain from using the orans position during the Mass, unless they have a good reason to do otherwise (i.e. bishop or pastor gives permission, there is a charismatic themed Mass or other liturgy taking place). They should respect the liturgical norms and traditions that have been handed down by the Church for centuries. They should also be attentive to the meaning and purpose of each gesture that they perform and that which the priests or deacons perform, and avoid any form of individualism or novelty that may disrupt the harmony and beauty of the worship.

We know from experience that people who use the Orans Posture at Mass and are not priests do so in good faith. They are not out there trying to play pretend priest or compete with the priest. These are simply people using their hands and arms to convey their prayer. There is a huge difference between ladies or men in the pews holding hands or lifting hands up and a woman, religious sister or brother, or man who is not a deacon standing next to the priest behind the altar using the Orans Posture.  The latter would be totally unacceptible just on optics alone. 

What do you think? Post your comments below on Disqus and be sure to follow the rules so your comment can be allowed to post on the forum. 


Posture During the Eucharistic Prayer and the Our Father | USCCB

[1] Praying With Hands Extended (Orans Posture) | EWTN


[2] Orans Posture at Mass | Catholic Answers Q&A


[3] The Orans Posture — Appropriate at Mass? - Church Militant


[4] About that Orans Posture - Adoremus


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