ASK FATHER: Why do Catholics hold their hands open and turned upward during Mass?

From a reader…


I have seen a certain posture at Mass:

Sloppy Orans

Why do you think people do this? Why do they choose this non-Roman posture instead of the orans posture?

And what posture should I do at home? Just stand but with hands doing nothing? and at Mass? Do nothing with the arms and hands?

That photo, in the email, is from Amerika.

I suppose we might call that “I’m So Pious” posture or “Sloppy Orans”.

You will see this more in some places than others, probably because there were liberal priests and/or “liturgists” who told them that this was more meaningful than folded hands because it was more … well… Protestant.

There could also be a measure of imitation of the priest at the altar (versus populum, of course).   Priests are required to use the orans posture at certain times during sacred liturgical worship.  Lay people who are present are not.

To be clear, there are no rubrics for lay people concerning what they do with their hands during Mass… with the exception of the reception of Communion (quod Deus avertat!) on the hand.

Neither this nor the hand-holding things (blech) during the Our Father are prescribed.

There is a little more to be said about Sloppy Orans, however.

Back in 1997 the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Laity issued a document entitled Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests.

We read:

Liturgical Celebrations

§ 1. Liturgical actions must always clearly manifest the unity of the People of God as a structured communion.(89) 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.

Hence, Sloppy Orans shouldn’t be used.   As a matter of fact, it should be discouraged through proper liturgical catechesis.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Admiraldr says:

    I have seen that in Germany for the Pater Noster at various places. Also in Italy.

    Never did it by myself. I prefer a bow during the PN.

  2. I have brought Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests to the attention of many people and they still do their own thing. I cringe when I see Altar boys, deacons and the laity use the “sloppy orans position.” I don’t shake hands either. I sit behind a very short pew that is made for wheel chairs so those are in front of me. I just fold my hands together and keep my head down.

  3. Julia_Augusta says:

    I’ve seen this in the N.O. masses in Japan. Looks like they’re waiting for rain. At least Japanese Catholics don’t shake hands, or hug and kiss each other for the peace sign. They bow.

  4. bibi1003 says:

    If priests corrected us, all the Susans from the Parish Council would foam at the mouth.

    [And how is that different from what they usually do?]

  5. majuscule says:

    When I returned to Mass (stopped going before the big changes) one of the things that stood out starkly (besides the vernacular) was the people doing the sloppy orans (though I didn’t know what to call it!). Since I had not seen it before I assumed it was in imitation of the priest who was now facing them. I have always kept my hands clasped in prayerful position as the sisters taught me in school.

    Even our elderly deacon knew better. He told me when I questioned him, that as deacon he was not to use the same posture as the priest.

    I have seen one of the Good Jesuits™ hold his arms up better than shoulder wide, palms facing, fingers together pointing upward. Nothing sloppy about it. I have also seen a new priest do this at his ordination. Other priests are more relaxed, sometimes with palms splayed upward or towards the people in the pews. I don’t pretend to know what’s correct—I just know not to do it myself.

    I know this discussion is about the laity. I’m just making an observation about the priests.

  6. ex seaxe says:

    And yet, at the Pater Noster we, the congregation, are praying (as also Suscipiat …). So while I strongly agree with the general position, and particularly in the “Prayer of the Faithful” which is a misnomer, I would like more clarification of whether orans is always inappropriate for the congregation.

  7. Adelle Cecilia says:

    Why can’t the lay faithful at Mass be directed toward the deacon(s) and altar server(s) during Mass for posture direction, if not simply told that the priest is the only one who is supposed to use the orans posture?

    It really seems like it should be so incredibly simple to fix such an incredibly frustrating sight.

    re: “do nothing with my hands…”
    Hold them together, and pray?

    “But Mommy, that man is holding *his* hands out…?!?”
    “Hands together. We’ll talk after Mass.”

  8. Will Elliott says:

    With apologies to Lena Horne:

    “Don’t know why
    their hands are at their sides
    sloppy orans …”

  9. ajf1984 says:

    A semi-related question: in the EF, there are a great many occasions for gestures of reverence made by the priests/other clergy. I’m thinking especially of the bows toward the Crucifix during the Gloria, the Sign of the Cross during the same and during the Credo, etc. Is it appropriate for me as a layman to also make these, or similar, signs of reverence? Or does that begin to tread upon the toes of using “gestures or actions which are proper to the priest celebrant”? Understanding, of course, that this 1997 statement probably does not extend to the EF as celebrated according to the rules in force in 1962…

    [The sign of the Cross is not specifically a priestly gesture. You are good to go! Not to worry.]

  10. JamesA says:

    Good question. I’ve wondered the same.

  11. jaykay says:

    Archaeologism, as decried by Ven. Pius XII of happy memory.

    ajf1984: I wouldn’t worry about that. The servers make many of those gestures, on our behalf, so no harm in doing similarly from the pew. On a like note, in recent years I’ve noticed more people crossing themselves at the “Misereatur nobis” (English equivalent, obviously) in the N.O. even though it’s “technically” wrong, there not being an “Indulgentiam etc.” in that rite, but – it’s good! In the way that the “faux-orans” isn’t. Perhaps a sign of the “pull” of the EF that is so much to be hoped for?

  12. The posture depicted in the photograph is very common among many Christians of a Pentecostal, Evangelical or charismatic bent, and I can think of many ways Catholics might have picked it up.

  13. OldProfK says:

    Lacking much other than instinct to go on, I’d always thought what Father refers to here as “sloppy Orans” felt vaguely Protestant and I preferred “hands together.”

    Somehow I couldn’t shake the suspicion that that (and my equally instinctive antipathy toward what passes too often for liturgical music nowadays) was just me being a prideful Redacted New Guy, as a cradle Catholic finally confirmed via RCIA in my 30s. Looking back I think my RCIA experience was kind of…um, heterodox…too, but it’s water under the bridge now.

  14. ChesterFrank says:

    Cant we just use jazz hands ?

  15. Philmont237 says:

    I wish the Vatican would tweet these documents with a Twitter-long explanation.

    “Unless you are a priest you should not extend your hands at any point during the Mass, and especially the Our Father.”

    That’s a lot easier for Mary and Joseph Catholic to understand.

  16. teomatteo says:

    What’s wrong with a man who is irritated by couples kissing at the ‘sign of peace’? Sad but twooo. Irritating that.

  17. I just returned from spending the Octave in the Philippines, and couldn’t always attend a Traditional Latin Mass (which I did, on Christmas Day, at Most Holy Redeemer in Quezon City, which I highly recommend).

    When attendance at the “ordinary form” was my only option, I found the holding and raising of hands at the Lord’s Prayer to be the norm. I attribute this among Filipinos to two things; a very fervent approach to devotional practices (including those traditional), and the undue influence over the years of the charismatic movement.

    Also, for what it’s worth, they applaud at the end of every Mass. Not at the TLM, I’m happy to say.

  18. Charles E Flynn says:

    I am not sure this is the author’s last word on the subject, but he is always worth reading:

    Another Look at the Orans Issue, by Dr. Ed Peters.

  19. templariidvm says:

    In our parish, the pastor wanted people to transition to this posture instead of holding hands during the Our Father. What he said in the homily regarding these “instructions” was that we are asking God for something and we put our hands out when we expect to receive something. That doesn’t really resonate with many in the congregation, including myself. I had been hoping it was a transitional posture on the way to folding ones’s hands during the Our Father, but it has been almost 2 years and no sign of a change. I fold my hands, nonetheless.

  20. Dan says:

    I seem to remember that Ed Peters has a good article on this somewhere. I am to lazy to look it up now but if memory serves the jest of it was that, Orans is reserved for the priest when offering prayers on behalf of the faithful. In the EF the priest offers the Pater Noster using orans on behalf of the faithful. With the reforms of the NO we now say the Our Father together. He suggests it would be more appropriate to change the rubrics so the priest offers the prayer with his hands folded praying together with us (instead of on our behalf) than it is for the faithful to assume the posture of the priest.

  21. mo7 says:

    Folded hands keeps them quiet and put away. Anything else, e.g. sloppy orans, leads the mind away from praying and leaves it to focus on holding up the hands just so.

  22. BrionyB says:

    I’ve seen people assuming this posture at Mass and found it a bit puzzling; it’s not something I was ever taught to do when growing up Catholic. However, I’m inclined to mind my own business. In general I’m not a fan of uniform postures being imposed on the laity at Mass and would prefer people to be left alone to participate and pray as they see fit (as at the TLM) as long as they’re not creating a major disturbance (hand-holding is different if it involves unwilling participants having their hands grabbed).

    Importantly, it seems to me that if people are going to do this non-standard posture, it’s difficult for anyone to complain if I choose to genuflect at “et incarnatus est” or stay kneeling throughout the Eucharistic Prayer.

  23. Mariana2 says:

    I’m happy to report that people were doing this at my parish when I first arrived there (as a Lutheran, instructed by the pp), because a lady who was considered very devout did, and people felt they had to do as she did. I didn’t, and people stopped doing it, in relief, I think. Nobody does it now : ) .

  24. veritas vincit says:

    Is “sloppy orans” different from the preferred orans posture? I have seen orans done by the laity many times. A previous bishop in my diocese authorized the laity to use the orans posture during the Our Father and I have done that ever since, except when traveling elsewhere.

  25. Liz2257 says:

    Neither I nor my husband will use this posture during the Our Father. It has annoyed my husband no end since it was first instituted. And I especially won’t after a former pastor practically insisted we all do so from the altar. At the time, I thought “OK, Father, that virtually guarantees I will *never* do it now.” I prefer the “I will make up my own mind” approach. There is nothing wrong with holding one’s hands together in prayer, which is what I have done since I was a child. The rest of our parish is a mixed bag: lots of families will hold their hands out and/or hold each other’s hands, but other people stand with their hands together or folded.

    The whole gesture is as about as grating as the trend to turn and watch the priest walk down the center aisle during the entrance hymn. That’s another thing I refuse to do. A few pastors we’ve had really play that up, as in “Look! I’m here to celebrate Mass!” and I always want to say “Father, it’s not about *you;* it is about HIM — Jesus – on the altar.”

  26. JustaSinner says:

    Can we add holding hands during the Our Father and raising them together at the end? While Mass is communal in nature, my sins are mine alone, and my journey is private.

  27. ajf1984 says:

    Thanks to our kind host and to jaykay for their responses. They put my mind at ease! Gravitational pull, indeed :-)

  28. Sandy says:

    I believe Father Fox, above, is correct. After several years in the Charismatic Renewal (some good things, some not so good), I noticed this “posture” creeping in to the Mass. My hands are now folded, fingers pointing up, because the pretend orans posture grates on my nerves; even moreso OF hand holding and shaking hands!

  29. Hilda says:

    For the Pater Noster in the Novus Ordo the priest is required to use the orans posture exactly as he does in the Vetus ordo where he is saying the Pater in the name of all present (Reason for this orans gesture).
    Nevertheless, as in the Novus ordo all present are saying the Pater with the priest, he should have not been required to use the orans posture. This would have not led the people to wrongly imitate him.
    I suspect that this requirement for the priest to use the orans posture for the Pater in the Novus ordo is just a Vetus ordo rubric which should have been removed but remained by mistake. Thus the general confusion.
    I hope you can understand my English.

  30. DeaconCharleyWaite says:

    What about the annoying “Roman Salute” when the priest asks the congregation to join him in praying for a particular parishioner who is in need, or about to have surgery, etc. Does one think the outstretched hands aim the prayer to the party!

  31. The Cobbler says:

    I’ve always been under the impression this was the pentecostal/charismatic “imagine the Holy Spirit is going to toss you something to catch” gesture, as practiced by those who haven’t yet ended up singing gregorian chant at the TLM instead. The orans imitation is (in my experience) more like the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign without the split finger arrangement.

  32. Seppe says:

    “… I can’t adequately explain why, but the folding–or not–of the hands has a great deal to do with the way our minds pray. If you look at the representation of angels in our church–and elsewhere in art–you will see their hands joined in prayer. Likewise the Virgin Mary. To my mind, this discipline of the hands has the effect of helping to concentrate, to focus one’s thoughts more securely on God. It’s a posture we don’t employ for anything else except prayer. Hence, like kneeling, it’s an act of the recognition of God. You can swing your arms freely about wherever you may be, but you should not in church, and especially at Communion time, because you know you are in the august presence of the Most High.” ~ Fr. Eduard Perrone [full article linked below…]

  33. APX says:

    It comes from the Charismatic Movement. There are people at our Latin Mass who do and it looks really weird.

  34. veritas vincit says:

    APX: you are correct that the “lay orans” posture comes from the charismatic renewal, where that posture is common during prayer meetings during singing, prayer in tougues, etc (you know, the “weird” things charismatics do). :-)

    Judging from Father’s post and the discussion, it is far from clear how appropriate that is during Mass. DFather’s comment about ‘sloppy orans” leads to the q

  35. veritas vincit says:

    Sorry, botched the end of that post; I means to say that the comment about “sloppy orans” leads to the question: what would a proper posture of orans during Mass, consist of? (If the answer is “none at all,” that would best be delivered from someone like Dr. Peters).

  36. jmaryb says:

    I moved away from my home diocese in Ohio in 1998. For 21 years I was in the Diocese of Arlington (VA). After retirement I came back home to Ohio, and found some things had changed. Back in the 2003 time frame there was a diocesan wide bulletin insert instructing the faithful to raise their hands during the Lords Prayer. Apparently they were concerned about people holding hands during the Our Father and thought this would be a remedy. Now you see people holding raised hands during the Our Father.

    They also instituted the practice of standing from the end of the Eucharistic Prayer until the end of Mass. This seemed really strange to us returning after two decades. The Bishop doubled down on the policy earlier this year, stating that standing during the entire communion rite is the normative posture for the faithful, as stated in the GIRM.

    Many parishes also have the pre-Mass Greet your Neighbor rite, in the Spirit of Welcoming.

    I do miss the Diocese of Arlington (VA).

  37. Jonathan Marshall says:

    I always think it makes people look as if they’re holding a giant invisible beach ball – i.e. really silly.

  38. jhayes says:

    Jmaryb, Article 43 of the GIRM includes a special provision for the the USA

    “In the Dioceses of the United States of America, they [the faithful] should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause. However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects after the Consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.[53]”

  39. Adelle Cecilia says:

    I’m just going to be grateful that I haven’t experienced whatever you are talking about.

    I always think it unnecessary for people to wave (orans) the “and with your spirit” back at the priest, though.

  40. JakeMC says:

    I remember in the late 1960s/early 70s when this practice was introduced in my parish, the priest explained that we were to turn our hands upwards as a gesture of giving. As he demonstrated what the posture should look like, it was very clearly distinctly different from the orans posture.
    Over time, people have, as we all do, become sloppy in their execution of this gesture, and it now more closely resembles a “sloppy Orans” than anything else. This was not the original intent. I think perhaps a little more forethought should have been employed before this posture was introduced. (NB: Personally, I was never comfortable with it, nor have I ever been comfortable with the hand-holding thing. It used to be the practice to stand with your hands folded for this prayer. I suggest that anyone uncomfortable with any of the modern practices simply resume the old one…and if you get someone next to you insistently tugging at your arm to hold your hand, politely ask that person to stop it.)

  41. Shonkin says:

    Charismatic movement? Okay, that partially clears up what I’ve been wondering about since the Eighties.
    At some point back then, people in my parish (I was in California at the time) started apparently spontaneously holding hands during the Our Father and doing the “Gospel singer” thing at “for the Kingdom, the Power,…” (raising their joined hands). Weird, I thought. Then, during the Nineties (I was in Montana then) people began making a strange palms-up gesture toward the celebrant whenever he said, “The Lord be with you.” Even more recently, after “Lift up your hearts” people have taken to raising their hands as if someone with a gun had said, “Stick ’em up.”.
    I had begun wondering whether the Macarena would be next. Now I think I see the effects of organized groups of charismatics getting whole congregations to go along with them. Lately in my parish church I have heard scattered people loudly saying “AHMEN” in unison when everyone else is less loudly saying “Aymen.” Another organized claque I suppose. At least it’s something harmless this time.

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  43. Docent says:

    Thanks for the insights, Fr. Z. I came across a fine and insightful article on this abuse by the laity that should not take place. Check it out at:

  44. chuckharold says:

    And let us not show too much enthusiasm at church. God will punish us for showing our neighbor that we wish him/her the peace that comes from Christ, or if we join hands as a congregation to praise the Lord in the words He taught us to pray. Oh, it is much too Protestant for us. We can adore Christ from our lounge chairs. We attend liturgy so that we may adore him in communion with other believers. Sometimes, it seems, that we are more concerned with form than substance. Let us praise God with the clang of symbols, …

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  46. gstuckman01 says:

    Good, simple, and to the point, Father.
    –your friends at Clarifying Catholicism

  47. prayingcher says:


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