QUAERITUR: Doing the Roman salute/blessing gesture

From a reader:

The recent post about the LCWR has got me wondering. Is there ever a time in the liturgy (in the rubrics, anyway) when the laity are encouraged to raise their hands in blessing? I am under the impression that the orans posture is reserved for the priest at Mass, but I have seen parts of the RCIA in the context of Mass where laypeople are instructed to raise their hands in blessing.

Not that I can think of, in either Form of the Roman Rite.

I cannot think of a moment when the people are directed by the rubrics to do that or a priest/deacon is allowed to invite people to do that.

However, I think that during their special closed door sessions they are indeed directed by rubrics (a more sinister term in that setting), to raise their arms while chanting:

Darksome night and shining moon,
Hearken to the witches’ rune.
East then South, West then North,
Hear! Come!  I call thee forth!

By all the powers of land and sea,
Be obedient unto me.
Wand and Pentacle and Sword,
Hearken ye unto my word.

Cords and Censer, Scourge and Knife,
Waken all ye into life.
Powers of the witch’s Blade,
Come ye as the charge is made.

Queen of Heaven, Queen of Hell,
Send your aid unto the spell.
Horned Hunter of the night,
Work my will by magic rite.

By all the powers of land and sea,
As I do say, “So mote it be.”
By all the might of moon and sun,
As I do will, it shall be done.

That said, if people spontaneously want to stand around doing the Roman salute, I guess they can.  When they do, however, they may be giving the impression that they don’t understand either who they are during Mass or what that gesture signifies.

But I wouldn’t worry much about what the LCWR does.  They make up their own liturgies and they probably won’t be around much longer, judging from the photos.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. teomatteo says:

    At times when i attend our area OF mass we do the raised hand blessing over the newly baptized. I’ve never really gotten comfortable with it. Should I comply?

  2. Peter in Canberra says:

    Sadly the orans posture is very widely adopted in the charismatic and similar circles – they are all well meaning and I doubt they even realise that is a posture reserved to the celebrant.
    There is also the single or double arm waving which I don’t think is even identified as a gesture of blessing but of ‘praise’ as they would view it.
    Of course there is much unadulterated protestantism that has entered the Church via the charismatic renewal portal. Including the laying on of hands.

  3. Alex says:

    I remember encountering a priest who would, at times, invite everyone to extend their hand for a blessing. It usually happened when he celebrated a Nuptial Mass during the Nuptial blessing. He would say something like “as all of us bless one another through each other” or something to that extent. Then all the confused when look around and cautiously put their hands up, including the protestants present.

    It was quite a scene because some people thought it looked like a Nazi-style salute instead of a blessing.

  4. Luke Whittaker says:

    I get the horrible feeling of helpless embarrassment whenever I am away from my home parish and find myself amidst a congregation doing just this sort of thing. How do we bring folks around to see the error in these oddities?

  5. Peggy R says:

    In our household we call it the Nazi salute and do not participate at our parish. Ironically, we are in a highly German Catholic (& Lutheran) town. I am a Kraut myself.

  6. benedetta says:

    I have become oblivious to it.

  7. JaneC says:

    I really dislike that. I’m young enough that it has featured in my parish life since I was child, and I was uncomfortable with it even then. I comply when I am seated with the choir, mostly because they already think I’m weird (I cover my head) and I’d rather not be asked why I don’t do it.

    In our parish, this gesture is usually associated with baptisms. After the rite, there is some other prayer tacked on and we’re all supposed to “raise our hands in blessing” over the child.

    We also have other wackiness associated with baptisms, which may have been made up by our “liturgist” or he might have learned it from someone else: when we renew our baptismal promises, we are asked to “face the West, the place of the setting sun” when we renounce Satan, and turn to the East when we profess our faith in God. Needless to say this is geographic east-west, and nothing to do with liturgical east and west.

  8. Joe in Canada says:

    I have a concern that a number of very devout people adopt this position during say the Pater because they are imitating the priest, the thinking being that it is more participatory to do what the priest is doing. This is a real problem when it comes to saying the Doxology, etc.
    On the other hand, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orans

  9. Luke Whittaker says:

    JaneC: I am sorry to hear about those problems. There is almost nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable at Mass. If I were in that congregation and was asked to do the Roman salute while turning west and then east, there would be a commotion around me because I’ve always had a poor sense of direction.

    But then I’m also the guy who blows his Easter candle out long before everybody else because I can’t get it to stop dripping on my hand. Next year I plan to take my own dripless candle. . .

  10. flyfree432 says:

    Our parishioners all “pray over” others once a month during the anointing of the sick. Our family is, as usual, the only family that refrains but I have never been able to point to any instruction saying that it is illicit. Though I suppose it isn’t the job of the Church to write down everything you shouldn’t do at Mass.

    As far as charismatics, I think it is wrong to associate the LCWR with the renewal, even if you wrongly reject the renewal. If they want to open their hands or raise them to pray together I think that is well enough. It is certainly not anthropocentric as is most liberal prayer is, as it is focused to God.

  11. Margaret says:

    Our parish’s solution to the “Nazi” appearance is to ask people to raise BOTH hands. Sort of a “laying-on-hands-from-50-feet-away” thing, apparently. My solution, since I don’t want to look unsupportive, or as if I’m asking God to please NOT bless the person(s) in question, is to bow my head, clasp my hands, close my eyes, and earnestly beseech the Lord to bestow His blessing.

  12. Centristian says:

    I only ever see the “Seig, heil!” gesture anymore at weddings, and only on a rare occasion. Once in a while a flax alb-wearing Adenoid Hynkel will be the guest wedding officiant and ask the congregation to “bless” the new couple in the Nuremberg fashion (which musn’t at all, I’m sure, make Jewish wedding guests feel in anyway uncomfortable).

    Don’t these priests realize what it looks like to have an entire congregation doing that? Do they really imagine that people don’t associate that gesture with Nazism, anymore? That ugly gesture will forever be associated with Hitler and Nazism. Pick a different gesture for the congregation. My suggestion is two hands gripped onto the pew in front of them, while the officiant does the blessing, himself.

  13. ScholaLady says:

    The pastor at our old parish frequently asked people to do the salute. I always felt silly doing it, even though I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be doing it at the time. I thought I was just being unmutual. But what made me feel even sillier was being on the receiving end of it. Looking out into the church and seeing hundreds of people giving us what looked like the Nazi salute after my daughter’s baptism was pretty creepy.

  14. benedetta says:

    Thankfully I am not required to do this where I worship currently. But I would go with Margaret’s sensible option.

  15. bernadette says:

    The diocese of Los Angeles is really big on this gesture. I visit family often there and at one Mass I attended the priest had us perform this gesture four times over various and sundry people. I just couldn’t make myself do it. It reminds me too much of the Nazi salute. Since then I have found two very traditional parishes in the area for which I am most grateful.

  16. digdigby says:

    Peter tried to ‘get involved’ when Jesus was washing his feet. Jesus didn’t want him to. “Just sit there and let me do what I must do.” How ‘involved’ were the Apostles at the Last Supper and the first partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ? All this hand waving, in fact anything we do to ‘get pumped’ is fundamentally irreverent and faithless.
    If you are ‘dry’ – it is a fascinating state if you bring it ‘to God’ and offer it up. Many great Saints have experienced and known this merciful truth.

  17. ShihanRob says:

    It happens all over the San Jose Diocese. When dismissing the children for the “children’s liturgy of the word, mothers on Mother’s day, fathers on Father’s Day, dismissal of the catechumen, whenever there’s a special blessing. The priest asks us to extend our hand, from where we are in the pew, over whomever is receiving the blessing. I would prefer that he would instead ask us to pray along while he “administered” the blessing. But, Oh My Gosh, how so many in our parish enjoy performing the “salute” at these times.

  18. irishgirl says:

    I remember seeing this gesture at a wake for a Third Order Franciscan (not from the fraternity I was with). All the members present stretched their right hands over the coffin where the deceased was resting. If I made any gesture at all (it was so long ago), it was more with the palm open as in ‘stop’-not stretched out, but close to the chest.
    I am not comfortable with ‘liturgical gestures’ that clearly belong to the priest.
    Should I find myself in a similar situation, I would do as Margaret suggested: bow my head, clasp my hands, and close my eyes.
    That photo does kind of creep me out–it DOES make me think of a Nazi rally!

  19. don Jeffry says:

    Click your heels and yell “Heil Hitler” every time they have you do that and they’ll soon see the necessary connection of the gesture and stop. Meanwhile, go and complain about that guy yelling “Heil Hitler”!

    flyfree432: From James 5:13-18 (USCCB website)
    13Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick?* He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord,j 15and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.*
    16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. 17Elijah was a human being like us; yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land.k 18Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the earth produced its fruit.l

  20. FrCharles says:

    There’s a great story in my community about a friar who used to teach ‘how to say Mass’ in the olden days. If ever a young friar became tired or lazy, and his hands in the joined posture pointed downwards even in the least, Father would say, “Oh, Frater, beware…you are praying to Satan!”

  21. La Sandia says:

    Ugh, my childhood parish used to do this ALL THE TIME, and we always called it the “Seig Heil” blessing. No one felt comfortable doing it, but didn’t want to say anything for fear of offending the priests/liturgists.

  22. Pachomius says:

    I’ve never seen the ‘Roman salute’ done at Mass here in the UK. People would be very quick to make the association with Nazism here, and consequently be uncomfortable about it, though. I have seen some people with their arms in waht looks like it could be based on the orans posture, though it usually ends up looking more like they’re carrying an invisible pile of large books.

    In the US, of course, this gesture could also be (no doubt erroneously) connected with the Bellamy Salute, which up until late 1942 took a similar form to the Nazi salute.

  23. lucy says:

    I’ve seen this happen so many times at our parish, it’s not even funny. It was usually associated with sending the RCIA group off to their study after the Mass of the Catechumens. I was never comfortable participating, but admit to have fallen into the trap many times before I knew it was just too silly to do. I haven’t been to the new Mass lately so I wouldn’t know if it still goes on with the new pastor or not. Thanks be to God for giving our parish the extraordinary form of Mass!!

  24. Centristian says:


    “I was never comfortable participating, but admit to have fallen into the trap many times before I knew it was just too silly to do.”

    I think somewhere Father Z spoke about liturgical bullies. I think we’ve all been in a situation where we don’t want to do some idiotic thing or other that the celebrant is encouraging us to do, but at the same time we don’t want to seem like the lone obstinate child, crossing his arms, closing his eyes, stomping his foot, and shouting, “No! I won’t!” while everyone else goes along with it. Shame on a clergy, however, that can make a Catholic feel embarrased for REFUSING to make the “Heil, Hitler!” gesture in church.

    The gesture, in my opinion, is only used properly in an ecclesiastical context when greeting a nun.

  25. Patti Day says:

    This picture made me gasp. I’ve never seen that gesture done at church or anywhere else in public. The people in this picture appear to be around 60, which would make them familiar with the horror that gesture evokes.

    Father, was that chant from The Witches of Eastwick? I can’t imagine any Catholic speaking something like that without throwing up afterward. It made me shiver.

  26. amenamen says:

    Where are the Rubrics for this?

    I have seen this Ritual in various places, where a priest will command everyone in the congregation to extend their hands in blessing (for example, toward a bride and groom at their wedding).

    It troubles me that a priest would impose this thing upon the liturgy and upon the people. But it also troubles me that the “sensus fidelium” is so weak that almost all of the people obey this odd command, and that they seem to do it willingly, without complaining, and even with gusto, solemnity, and fervor, as if it were a normal part of the Roman Rite. Why do people “go along” with this? And what do they think it means?

    I would be afraid to ask people (but maybe it is time to ask the question) what they think they are doing when they extend their hands like that. The adage “lex orandi, lex credendi” necessarily implies that the Ritual expresses a Belief. So, what do they believe they are doing?

    Even without the obscene connotations of the Nazi-style gesture, there are problems with telling the faithful (and non-Christian visitors?) to “extend their hands” like priests giving a blessing withing the context of the liturgy. It creates ambiguity and confusion. It “clericalizes” the laity. It implies that the priest can invent his own rubrics at will. It robs the people of the sacredness of the liturgy. It gives people the idea that they have actually “added” something to the liturgy. And it causes resentment when another priest tells them NOT to do this anymore.

  27. Thomas S says:

    Whenever I see this group blessing nonsense (always at weddings) I half expect the recessional music to be replaced with “It’s springtime for Hitler and Germany” from Mel Brooks’ THE PRODUCERS. I should offer to hold the front of the priests vestments up so his goose step isn’t impeded going down the aisle.

  28. ROFL!

    How did Wiccans end up with better prayers than the ICEL?

  29. FrAWeidner says:

    Amenamen’s last graph is the salient point. The wiccans and Nazis, not so much.

  30. Gail F says:

    We do this at baptisms and certain RCIA things, and occasionally throughout the year. Well, our parish does — I don’t. Where did this stupid thing come from? And BY THE WAY, I can’t bless anyone! So why should I “extend my hand in blessing”?? I did it once or twice when I first moved here and then, long before I knew there was no real basis for it, stopped because it is just plain dumb.

  31. Theodore says:

    Anent the posts regarding the Roman salute, I remember my grandmother telling me that Americans used to salute the flag with a similar gesture before WWII during the pledge of allegiance.

    The out raised arm salute became so associated with fascism that the US dropped the so-called Bellamy Salute when saluting the flag when the US Flag Code was amended in 1942.

    The wikipedia entry for Bellamy Salute (which antedated the rise of 20th century fascism) follows.


  32. AnAmericanMother says:

    Yikes! That certainly brings back my misspent hippie days . . . .

    Badger Catholic,
    They wound up with better prayers because they really believe what they’re praying. They may be misguided (also frequently a little nuts), but they are very sincere.

    Thankfully our parish does NONE of this nonsense (and certainly not the Rune).

    You will occasionally see folks doing the “orans” gesture, or doing the “holy field goal attempt” during the Sursum Corda . . . but they are mostly visitors and after awhile they notice nobody else is doing that. We’re not mean to them, we don’t even stare at them . . . they mostly figure it out, or they don’t. But they’re a curiosity here.

  33. benedictgal says:

    The hand-raising gesture does not appear anywhere in the Roman Missal, the GIRM nor in the De Benedictionibus. The way I see it, Sacrscanctum Concilium states that no one, not even the celebrant, has the right to add anything to the Mass on his own authority.

    We cannot invent “rituals” and imbed them into the liturgy on our own whim. I am frankly surprised that no one has sent a dubium to the CDWDS to finally kill this bad practice.

  34. don Jeffry says:

    At least the nun on the bottom right with the veil and the lady to her left didn’t give the salute!

  35. liz says:

    Ever since the post yesterday with the pics of this I’ve had “ave caesar morituri te salutamus” rattling around in my head. Interesting that phrases, mottos, and cojugations drilled into you by a public high school latin teacher are still mentally accessible 20 years after the fact. Something to be said for repitition and oral drills in school. What’s great is that the teacher made even that stuff fun- none of us hated latin class. Watching my barely 4 year old try to figure out how to speak her first language english correctly makes me think back to how easy and logical latin was by comparison. I bet those ladies in the pics couldn’t stand to think that beautiful language and repitition of liturgy done by the rubrics and isn’t reinvented constantly will have more staying power with the young folks today than their ever-shifting made up nonsense.

  36. TopSully says:

    I have been a catechist in our parish confirmation program for 15 years and have had at least 6 different Bishops as celebrant in that time period. We do this each and every year when the Bishop calls the Holy Spirit to the candidates. I’ve honestly never given it a second thought until today. Next year I will clasp my hands and bow my head.

  37. Will D. says:

    In the 80’s, when I was a kid, this was very popular, and I’d comply. Later, the vaguely fascist resemblance started to bother me, so I always kept my elbow bent and hand lower than my head. And then still later, when I began to understand that, as a layperson, I had no business raising my hand and trying to bless people, I took the approach of bowing my head, clasping my hands, and praying that the Lord would see fit to bless that person or persons.

  38. Joseph-Mary says:

    Although we do not do this in my parish, I have visited others where even the priest asks people to raise their hands and ‘bless’ someone–even himself!

    When asked to ‘bless’ I hold my hands in the regular prayer position–together about chest high and say a quiet prayer.

  39. Pachomius says:

    benedictgal – Interesting. If that’s so, perhaps we could encourage priests who use this form of blessing to consider the potential upset it might cause people who have heard of World War II (!), and suggest they use the traditional “hand of blessing”, so redolent of the Jewish “hand of blessing”, instead?

  40. Marius2k4 says:

    Sorry for somewhat of a tangent, in advance:

    Wow, the wiccan stuff reminds me of high school.

    Before I converted, I was deeply involved in the occult (wicca, astral projection, amateur necromancy, etc…). I was hearing voices, having thoughts implanted, and even fantasizing about the torture and slow death of my enemies.

    That all went away when I was baptized (as a Lutheran, I might add). I converted to the Church two years later.

    That experience with real evil is what turned me from a liberal to a conservative, and brought me to God. Allow me to advise everyone, however, to never, ever stroll down that path. It becomes increasingly seductive as you become enamored with your own perceived power. You start living on hate and anger at everything, but you’re so blinded as to never realize that you’re making it worse. Eventually, you see yourself as some sort of equal with God. For years, I viewed myself as at a “truce” of sorts, as surely the Lord owed me something for all the things that had gone wrong in my life. I never even questioned my salvation, as my mind had become so warped as to make spiritual reality malleable by my own will.

    We must pray for our enemies, especially those who exhibit signs of occultism. Their minds and souls are enraptured and only the Grace of God can break them free.

  41. mdoneil says:

    I’m not doing that, it is silly.

    I don’t wave my hands in the air when we pray during Mass either, nor do I feel the need to hold hands.

    The good sisters taught me to fold my hands in prayer and make a cross with my thumbs to remind me of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. It has worked these 30 odd years since I learned it in elementary school. I thank God we had orthodox, holy nuns.

  42. ghp95134 says:

    ShihanBob: It happens all over the San Jose Diocese.

    Not at Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara! At least not during mass (a few families might do it during the Our Father…). I’ve never been to a baptism here, so don’t know for 100% sure; however, since the priests are all IVE and are fairly obedient to the rubrics … I somehow doubt it would occur.

    –Guy Power in SJ

  43. Lynn Diane says:

    I teach RCIA at my parish. We never do anything like that ever.

  44. Mary Bruno says:

    I kept my daughter home from her Catholic (Franciscan) high school last year on the day they have a big Mass/celebration in the gym. Part of the reason she didn’t want to go was the blessing when everyone in the school does this salute. There’s other things in the way Mass is done that she is uncomfortable with and I’ve to 2 Masses at the school and wasn’t thrilled with the hand clapping and the irreverence after Holy Communion when the kids are hanging out chit chatting, The Blood and Body of Christ are in glass containers and left out in the open after Mass. I felt kind of bad keeping her home on a day when they had Mass, but I can understand why she did not like the Mass and I myself do not like to go to Masses with hundreds of people. I think my only exception to large Masses would be at the chance to go to a Mass with the Pope and a large crowd.

  45. Campionsbrag says:

    Is it coincidence that the nun in the foreground has a habit AND that she is one of only two in the room that I can see who is not doing a Seig Heil?

    Also doesn’t their all being asked to perform the same gesture at the same time undermine their individuality and must be evidence that there is a man somewhere in that room exercising a coercive power over them?

  46. Mr. P says:

    I’ve never been comfortable w the hand gesture. It’s above my paygrade and outside my jurisdiction.

  47. irishgirl says:

    Theodore-I have never heard of the ‘Bellamy salute’ with regards to the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag! Wow-and Francis Bellamy lived and died not far from where I am! I can see why it fell into disuse…
    Speaking of another experience with the ‘Roman salute’, I was at a Confirmation Mass years ago in a parish where I sang in the choir. I was upstairs watching everything from the loft. At one point during the Mass, the Bishop knelt on a prie-dieu before the altar, and all the confirmation candidates extended their hands in his direction ‘to pray that the Holy Spirit would come down upon him’. I was never comfortable with that, for the simple reason that lay people are NOT CLERICS! We are NOT ORDAINED!

  48. Cathy says:

    Thank you, I learn something I need to know here everyday. In my parish, this is common practice, even initiated by the laity in group settings in which we are instructed by our priests in some matter of the faith. I recall being in such a setting in which we were all called to extend our hands in a blessing song, sung to the tune of “I wish I were and Oscar Meyer wiener”, over the priest, himself. I guess I have to ask, Father Z and the priests readers of your blog, how to respond with charity if you found yourself in such a situation?

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