Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What is the posture for the Our Father in Mass?

"A lot of people hold hands during the Our Father, some assume a similar posture as the priest, and some fold their hands. Is there a norm on this? Anonymous

This is a common liturgical question, especially since practices and opinions on this matter vary dramatically. Actually, there is no norm as to what posture the laity should adopt during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass. The “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (the official instruction manual for the Mass) is silent on this particular issue. As such, besides the commonly accepted praying gesture of folded hands, there may be some legitimate room for variety — but only insofar as the practice does not contradict local regulations or disrupt the prayerfulness of the Mass.

The posture of outstretched arms is called the “orans” position, and was a common sign of praise and adoration in the early church. During the development of the Roman Catholic liturgy, this posture became closely associated with the intercessory role of the priest on behalf of the people.

The recent appearance of uplifted hands among the congregation probably originated in charismatic communities, but has since gained wider use. If it is done, individuals should be careful not to obscure the unique role of the ordained presider. It may be helpful to consider that even in concelebrated Masses, only the principal celebrant (not all the priests) maintains the “orans” posture while “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil ...” is prayed.

The practice of holding hands is also very widespread. It is a devotional practice that can be very beautiful, and many families do so as part of their domestic piety during prayer. It might make sense if couples, families, or close-knit groups wish to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass; but those who do this must guard against three things.

First, this posture should not be mandated or broadly encouraged for the entire congregation. Holding hands can be harmless if conducted with dignity and if nobody is pressured into it. Those who hold hands must recognize and respect that many are uncomfortable with such an intimate posture, which often requires a strong sense of personal familiarity.

A natural aversion is also particularly strong during cold and flu season. In addition, mandating this posture would be an inappropriate injection of piety into the liturgy.

Second, this practice should never detract from filial adoration of God, which is a focal point of the Our Father and of the entire Mass. The end of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is devoted to the Lord’s Prayer, and No. 2781 says this: “When we pray to the Father, we are in communion with him and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we know and recognize him with an ever new sense of wonder. The first phrase of the Our Father is a blessing of adoration before it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize him as ‘Father,’ the true God.” Therefore, the liturgical recitation of the Our Father must not be self-centered, or otherwise distract from what should be a humble disposition before the Father’s transcendence. It is not primarily about us, but about God.

Third, it would be misguided to hold hands during the Our Father if it is meant to promote a sense of unity or community that is allegedly lacking in the liturgy. Not only can this easily become superficial or devolve into a worldly understanding of solidarity, but the principle source of unity should always be the liturgy itself — especially the Eucharist and the reception of holy Communion. We are preparing to enter into real communion with God while asking him to “keep us free from sin,” so that we may more perfectly live our adoption as his sons and daughters in the bond that is the body of Christ. Our goal is elevation into the community of saints.

Similar concerns apply to the orderly carrying out of the sign of peace afterwards — the ritual action should express that this is the peace of Christ and not a haphazard social greeting. Also, dramatic efforts to stretch arms across aisles are really not in keeping with the decorum of the sacred liturgy, or with the focus of the Lord’s Prayer.

So, although many practices are not explicitly forbidden, any extra actions or postures during the Lord’s Prayer must ultimately be evaluated according to whether they keep intact the integrity and reverence that are so fundamental to the Mass."

Answered by Brian MacMichael, Office of Worship, Diocese of Fort Wayne, IN

No comments: