By Bob Sullivan
The “orans posture” is the posture of the priest during certain parts of the Mass, including the Our Father. He stands with his hands out, palms up and elbows bent. Until recently, the priest was the only person using the orans position during the Mass. Slowly, that has begun to change and well-meaning people disagree as to whether this change is good or bad.
Some have very strong feelings on this issue. Some have grown up with this as the normal practice in their family parish or church and have continued the practice after moving into the Lincoln Diocese or converting from another faith. It is normal and good for people to have attachment to the prayer practices of their youth. However, if it is not right for the laity to assume the orans position during the Mass, how should the Church address the issue in a way that does not cause tempers to flare? Well, the first step is to determine if the practice is right or not. A second step requires humility on both sides of the issue.
The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) website states, “No position is prescribed in the Roman Missal for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer.” This is not helpful at all. This may lead you to believe that the orans posture is acceptable. But using this reasoning, jumping Jacks might also be acceptable during the Our Father.
Thankfully, the Church does have an Instruction from 1997, which is titled: ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS REGARDING THE COLLABORATION OF THE NON-ORDAINED FAITHFUL IN THE SACRED MINISTRY OF PRIEST. In Article 6 of the instruction under the heading, Liturgical Celebrations, it states:
§ 1. Liturgical actions must always clearly manifest the unity of the People of God as a structured communion. Thus there exists a close link between the ordered exercise of liturgical action and the reflection in the liturgy of the Church’s structured nature. This happens when all participants, with faith and devotion, discharge those roles proper to them.
§ 2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 are to be eradicated. 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.
This instruction carries the signatures of eight pontifical bodies as well as the following statement:
All particular laws, customs and faculties conceded by the Holy See ad experimentum or other ecclesiastical authorities which are contrary to the foregoing norms are hereby revoked.
The Supreme Pontiff, in Audience of the 13th of August 1997 approved in forma specifica this present Instruction and ordered its promulgation.
In a nutshell: The laity are not to assume the orans position during Holy Mass. I know this will make some people unhappy, but I think there is good reason for following this instruction. St. John Paul II stated, “…the particular gift of each of the Church’s members must be wisely and carefully acknowledged, safeguarded, promoted, discerned and co-ordinated, without confusing roles, functions, or theological and canonical status.”
While there are many opportunities to individualize our personal experience during the Mass, there are some aspects that should not be individualized because they can confuse people, distract people or otherwise diminish the beauty and power of the liturgy which has been around for 2000 years.
During the Our Father, the priest is standing in persona Christi, in the orans posture, speaking to God on our behalf. Prior to Vatican II, this was a prayer reserved solely to the priest. Since Vatican II, we are instructed to pray with the priest, but in words only, not by mirroring his gestures.
A better awareness of what is going on during the Mass can be a powerful renewal of our personal and communal experience during Mass. Simply recognizing that the priest’s posture and gestures during the Mass are significant and tell us what is actually happening supernaturally, can enhance your own receipt of grace during the Mass. For instance, when the priest has his hands out, he’s talking to God. When the priest has his hands folded, he’s communicating with us or praying with us. Our role during the Mass is to participate and respond, but this does not mean we should introduce new practices.