ASK FATHER: Extending hands during the Our Father

3rd c. allegorical depiction in the Catacombs of Priscilla of the praying Church, hands in the “orans” position. This is NOT, as confused feminists claim, ancient evidence of female priests.

From a reader…


Please comment on lay persons extending their hands while praying the Our Father as the priest does during the Novus Ordo Mass. I feel like you have addressed this topic before but I am unable to find your discussion and would like to send it to a friend. Thank you.

The extension of hands which you describe is the “orans” position, the “praying” position.  It is an ancient posture of prayer, particularly for priests praying for and in the name of the people.

During the Our Father the faithful are not to use the orans position, which is the proper hand position of an ordained priest in prayer.   The orans position is reserved for a certain liturgical role (read: priest – not even deacons).  That position of extended hands is not appropriate for the lay faithful in the pews.  Even worse is when they hold that position after the Our Father through the (Protestant) addition that follows.

We must not mix or confuse liturgical roles.  Lay people have their own dignity without trying to jazz them up by – and how condescending is this? how clericalist in the worst sense? – by allowing them to do what the priest does.  That’s the worst sort of clericalism.  When lay and clerical roles are confused for the sake of “active participation” or “getting the laity involved”, the underlying subtext is “You aren’t good enough on your own, so I’ll let you do something that I can do.”   Grrrrr.   Mind you, I don’t think that all priests who try to get lay people to do things are purposely trying to be condescending clericalists.  They are probably well-intentioned.   But they haven’t thought through the subtle message in their choice.

On a related now, I am unaware of an official prohibition of holding hands during Mass, so long as it is spontaneous and not invited by anyone or virtually imposed by some Good Idea Fairy with a microphone.  It should not be imposed by your neighbor in the pew, either.

There are people at Mass who really would like to be left alone.  That’s okay.  Leave them alone.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I think the “Orans” position and the hand holding during the Our Father has died out (or is dwindling) due to COVID. Nobody wants to touch another persons hand and extending your hand can sometimes go over the “tape markers” on pews for the 6 foot rule. Additionally, the Kiss of Peace is either minimal or nonexistent in the NO, as well as no procession of gifts by the laity during the Offertory seems to have been dwindling down as a well.

    A silver lining due to COVID.

  2. WmHesch says:

    It’s beautiful the Extraordinary Form doesn’t prescribe any postures for the laity… but it’s ironic that latter-day revivalists insist on uniformity thereof (e.g. the erroneous “Red Booklet” from the Indult Days)

    For example, there’s literally no theological reason the laity should remain kneeling thru the end of the Canon (except on ferial penitential Masses and Requiems)… most pre-Conciliar authors suggested they arise with the servers & choir after the Consecration.

    Although perhaps 1940s Catholics were too absorbed in their private rosaries and Confraternity prayers to have much context for the why’s and what’s of Liturgy…

  3. Mariana2 says:

    ‘the (Protestant) addition that follows’

    What? As a convert and, apart from the priests, knowing only converts (cradle Catholics are thin on the ground this far north (Scandinavia), I wasn’t even aware of this. And our good priests of course don’t know what we don’t know, so can’t instruct.

    Was there no ‘Protestant addition’ before Vatican II?

  4. The “doxology”, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever” (or similar)” is not included in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke when the Lord teaches His prayer. The Vulgate, Douay, and other Catholic Bibles do not have it.

    The doxology is like to one in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13.

    The doxology is not in the most ancient manuscripts of the Gospels, though it is in a Byzantine text sometime later. It seems to be in the very early Didache.

    In general, Protestants use the doxology and Catholics do not. So, even if some did tack it on long before the Protestant Revolt, I don’t think it is unfair to qualify it as a Protestant addition.

  5. L. says:

    In our diocese, our corrupt (it was in all the papers!) former Ordinary ordered that those assisting at Mass must remain standing after the Agnus Dei. Some of us continued to kneel and our Pastor asked that we all remain standing to abide by the diocesan diktat and to maintain a uniform posture at Mass. But, he says he can’t do a thing to stop people holding their hands up while the Our Father is being said. While watching others waving their hands at Mass, I often contemplate what kind of hand shadow characters I could make if the light were right.

  6. adriennep says:

    When we were “church shopping” in the 1990s, before we became Catholic, our local parish had almost everyone doing this, and we thought the Catholic Church had “gone Pentecostal” or something. It was not a good visual intro to the faith of the ages. Which is why the piano at Mass is so wrong aurally: it is associated with so many non-sacred things and places…like Las Vegas. An organ, however, is unmistakably linked with “church.”

  7. WVC says:

    One of my favorite parts of the “Master & Commander” movie is the funeral at the end. Everyone on deck is saying the Our Father in a slow pan from left to right. But when they reach the Doxology, you can see Dr. Maturin closes his mouth and stays silent.

    Now THAT’S attention to detail!

    [Which it is attention to detail. Indistinct mumbling.]

  8. oledocfarmer says:

    I think the “holding hands” was officially “reprobated” by the CDW in 1976. I’ve seen the document but can’t lay my [unheld] hands on it.

  9. When I see so many at Mass in the Orans position I want to holler at the priest and those who teach RCIA and catechism classes and tell them to explain why only the priest is to take that position. I think I read that not even deacons are to assume that posture. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. These kinds of things that have been adopted need to be addressed, even if it is during the Mass. That is just my opinion of course.

    When it comes to shaking hands I always put my head down and fold my hands in prayer and I don’t look up until all the pew jumping is over with.

  10. JustaSinner says:

    Holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer is like shaking of hands during the Peace be with You. Virtue signaling Diet Catholicism…all the regular sanctimony with 1/3 the sacrifice!

  11. Littlemore says:

    Semperficatholic @12.59
    Not only is there pew jumping, but waving all over the church to any that they chance to catch the sight of. I’ve begun to remain kneeling after the Eucharistic Prayer, so am not available for the sign of peace. In TLM it is only the ministers who make the sign of peace, but it encompasses all at Mass.

  12. zeremoniar says:

    Byzantine Catholics always use the doxology during the liturgy. But it certainly is foreign to Roman tradition and should not have been introduced in the Roman rite.

  13. I agree: follow the rubrics. But, actually, the extension of the priest’s hands at the Our Father is not really correct. When the priest and the congregation are reciting a prayer together the proper posture for all is hands folded–e.g. Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus.

    In the old rite the priest prayed the Our Father alone and so it was an intercessory prayer and his arms were extended. When it was made a congregational prayer, this posture should have been corrected—as it actually was in the 1960 Dominican Holy Week Missal for the common recitation of the Our Father on Good Friday!

    A liturgical note on the doxology of the Our Father. It is used in all the Eastern Rite liturgies, but is is sung only by the priest, unlike the Our Father itself, which is sung by all. The reason Protestants use it is that the first version of the Textus Receptus, which Erasmus produced using late inferior manuscripts, had the doxology—it had crept into those MSS from liturgical use.

  14. Brian J. Wilson says:

    Thank you, Father, for this information. In the Cleveland diocese, we have been directed to stand in the orantes posture for about twenty years now, as per the instruction of a former ordinary. This instruction was probably given at the behest of a former Director of the Office of Liturgy (an acknowledged sex criminal) who was also probably the originator of our diocese’s directive to stand after the Agnus Dei. I always think of Fr. Hunwicke and his contentions about local custom when I am stewing about these little annoyances.

    Just as an aside, I was under the impression that one had to have explicit permission to do something like holding hands (blech!) during the Lord’s Prayer. Otherwise, one could posit that, since there is no prohibition against dancing a buck-and-wing before Communion, it is therefore OK!

  15. Fr. Reader says:

    Before reading the Gospel, the priest does not separate his hands, because he is doing something that is part of the role of the deacon. It is a bit awkward than the deacon is “forbidden” to do something because it is proper to the priest, and the people are encouraged to do the same.

  16. Fr. Reader says:

    @Augustine Thompson O.P.
    I think that would be an example of what in linguistics is called hypercorrection.

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