What do you do during the “Our Father”?
Whether using the Orans Posture, holding hands with your neighbor, or simply folding your hands together in prayer, it’s true that the prayer posture used during the “Our Father” is one of the most hotly contested points of the Mass. Nearly everyone seems to have an opinion. The question is, who’s opinion is right? Is anyone’s? Does it matter?
According to the USCCB, “No position is prescribed in the Roman Missal for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer.”
Because no position is prescribed, it is true that prayer posture during the “Our Father” comes down to opinion and personal preference. In other words, we as the congregation are free to choose which posture we use. However, the use of the Orans Posture and hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer is problematic on a theological level. This matters because nothing the Church does is without purpose and if we ignore some of the symbolism and tradition that the Catholic Church offers, we are missing out on a part of the richness that our faith can give us.
Holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer is a relatively recent phenomena within the Catholic Church. The gesture wasn’t widely seen before Vatican II and, according to an article by Catholic Culture, may have been “introduced [by priests] with good intentions to highlight the unity of the congregation as they pray, ‘Our Father,’ not ‘My Father.'” It also may have come about during the hippie “Free Love” movement in the 60s and 70s — coincidentally around the same time that this practice became prevalent.
Proponents of hand-holding during the “Our Father” often say that this gesture demonstrates unity in prayer and brings the congregation together in a way that makes us feel like family. This purpose becomes rather redundant, however, when we remember (as I explained in this post) that part of the reason we stand during prayer in Mass is to symbolize our unity as a congregation.
The other problem is that not everyone is comfortable holding hands with a stranger. This actually disrupts unity because it creates a situation in which some people hold hands anyways and are distracted by their discomfort.
“The act of holding hands usually emphasizes group or personal unity from the human or physical point of view and is thus more typical of the spontaneity of small groups,” according to an article by EWTN. “Hence it does not always transfer well into the context of larger gatherings where some people feel uncomfortable and a bit imposed upon when doing so.
The use of this practice during the Our Father could detract and distract from the prayer’s God-directed sense of adoration and petition, as explained in Nos. 2777-2865 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in favor of a more horizontal and merely human meaning.”
It also disrupts unity because it creates a situation in which not everyone is doing the same thing. Remember the importance of symbolism that I was talking about earlier? When half of the congregation is doing one thing and half is doing another, it destroys something beautiful — the symbolism of a group of people standing together, speaking the same words, with the same gestures because they are not just a collection of bodies but one individual voice, raising towards God.
Yet another argument against holding hands is that it anticipates and devalues the sign of peace — the part of the Mass in which everyone shakes hands with their neighbors while saying the familiar phrase, “Peace be with you.”
I like this argument because the sign of peace, which comes directly after the “Our Father,” is meant to be a time when we greet our fellow Catholics, offering them peace and goodwill while we connect through the physicality of a hand shake. Isn’t the beauty of this moment overshadowed by redundancy — even just a bit — if we had already been holding hands?
The Orans Posture
We’ve all seen it, though most of us probably don’t know the Orans Posture by name. The Orans Posture is one that we frequently see priests use — arms outstretched with palms facing upwards. A lot of people have adopted this posture during the “Our Father” as an alternative to hand-holding and also use it at several other points during the Mass.
According to an article by Church Militant, the posture itself predates Christianity and was often used as a position of pleading and supplication in many ancient religions. It eventually worked its way into Christianity as a symbol of Christ on the cross. What many people don’t know is that this posture is reserved strictly for the priest during the Catholic Mass and wasn’t seen in the congregation until the charismatic renewal, according to an article by EWTN.
“It is a legitimate gesture to use when praying, as history shows, however, it is a private gesture when used in the Mass and in some cases conflicts with the system of signs which the rubrics are intended to protect,” according to EWTN. “The Mass is not a private or merely human ceremony. The symbology of the actions, including such gestures, is definite and precise, and reflects the sacramental character of the Church’s prayer.”
When used by the priest, the gesture signifies the priest praying on our behalf and also symbolizes his role as in persona Christi (in the person of Christ).
What then should we do?
Ideally, everyone would do the same thing during the “Our Father.” In many cases, the best choice, perhaps, is to simply fold your hands and bow your head.
Things to consider:
- Your spirituality – This comes in to play when considering whether or not to hold hands during the “Our Father.” Since the Church says neither “yes” or “no” about this posture, in the end it is up to you. Consider what you feel called to, and whether you are more traditional or charismatic, among other things. Note: Regardless, you should not be using the Orans Posture during the “Our Father” or any other part of the Mass because the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) specifically states that this posture is reserved for the priest.
- The theology – Do your own research. When it comes down to it, there is some practical theology out there that can help you make an informed choice.
- Being in union – I was told once that if you walk into a church and the majority of people are making a specific gesture (even if it’s something incorrect, like kneeling at the wrong time), it is more important to preserve the unity of the Mass than to do what you would normally do. If you are feeling particularly confident, you can always (kindly) take it up with the priest after Mass.
- Charity – Of course, if the little old lady standing next to you wants to hold your hand, there’s nothing wrong with taking it.
I feel that it’s important to note that whatever prayer posture you decide to take during the “Our Father,” you aren’t sinning. As Catholics, the danger to becoming overly scrupulous is very real and I’ve fallen to this tendency myself on several occasions.
That being said, even if it may not be a “salvation issue,” as many people coin it, it’s still a very important thing to consider and be mindful and prayerful of. This is because the Mass is one of the most important things in our lives, as Catholics. What may seem like minor or insignificant details regarding our participation, are in fact vastly important because they affect how we orient ourselves and perceive what’s going on around us in the Mass.
What do you do during the “Our Father?” Why? Let’s talk about it in the comment section below!