Orans, a Latin word, translated as “one who is praying or pleading”, also orant or orante, is a posture of prayer, usually standing, with the elbows close to the sides of the body and with the hands outstretched sideways, palms up. It was common in early Christianity and can frequently be seen in early Christian art. In modern times, the orans position is still preserved within parts of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran liturgies, Pentecostal and charismatic worship, and some other religious groups.
The orans posture was practiced by both pagans and Jews before it was adopted by the earliest Christians. Christians saw the position as representing the posture of Christ on the Cross; therefore, it was the favorite of early Christians. Until the ninth century, the posture was sometimes adopted by entire congregations while celebrating the Eucharist. By the twelfth century, however, the joining of hands began to replace the orans posture as the preferred position for prayer. It continued to be used at certain points in the liturgies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In the Catholic Mass, it occurs at the orations, the Canon, and the Lord’s Prayer.
A discussion that is common in Catholic parishes between members is whether or not the faithful should use the Orans Posture during the Our Father. When such a question comes up, the obvious solution is to go to the rubrics. Unfortunately, in this case, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) is relatively silent on the topic. Because of the GIRM’s silence, many people have taken this to mean that the faithful may do whatever they want. However, this is not the case. In the document, Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests, put out by the Vatican on August 15, 1997, we read, “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” (ICP Practical Provisions 6 §2).
What the above statement means is that we may not say the Eucharistic prayers along with the priest — believe it or not, I see people mouthing the words along with the priest every week. More importantly to this topic, this also means the faithful may not use the same gestures that are reserved for the priest celebrant.
As mentioned above, the GIRM is silent with regard to the posture of the faithful during the Our Father, however, the Sacramentary (the book of prayers for Mass used by the priest) states that the celebrant is to pray the Our Father with hands extended. Looking back at ICP, the faithful are NOT to use gestures or actions proper to the priest celebrant. Using this argument, one would think that the rubrics could be used to appeal to the faithful. Unfortunately, many of the faithful view the rubrics as another set of rules and those of us who wish to enforce the rubrics are no better than the Pharisees.