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Week of September 3, 2023

A Note From Fr. Jeremy


Brothers and Sisters, 

During Mass (and other ritual prayers) the priest extends his arms during the formal, written prayers.  For example, during the Collect – often simply called the ‘opening’ or the ‘closing’ prayer – the priest will raise and often widen his arms as he prays the words from the Missal.  Why is that?  During the Eucharistic Prayer, too:  the priest extends his arms and makes several other motions as well.  What’s going on here?  

We just need one simple term for this discussion:  orans.  It is a Latin verb that means praying.  It is the same root for the Latin “oremus” – which means “let us pray” which the priest says at Mass.  This is a term the Church uses to describe the extension of the cleric’s arms as he prays Mass and other formal liturgies.  At its most basic level, when the priest or deacon has his arms extended during liturgy, it is a signal to everyone that there is a formal prayer going on at this time.  

Have you noticed that various priests hold their arms and hands in very different ways?  That is one hundred percent Ok.  Here’s the only guidance that the Church gives the priest for this formal gesture:  the priest, with arms extended, says the prayer.  That’s all the direction that we are given.  Some priests widen their arms such that their elbows are nearly straight, some priests hold their hands almost next to their ears, many others are somewhere in between.  All of these are perfectly fine (again “arms extended” is the only official rule).  

The orans gesture of the priest is one of the many ways that the Church gives us practical help in the Mass.  Again, it signals that a formal prayer is happening; even if you are not fluent in the language the priest is praying, you would still know that there is a formal prayer happening from the orans gesture.  It has a further practical effect of inspiring silence and calling for our attention.  Additionally, it gives a sense of gravitas that these prayers deserve.  

Give yourself permission to notice all of this at Mass:  the collects (opening and closing prayers), the Eucharistic Prayer, the Our Father, and other times as well.  The priest, praying, extends his arms to signal to all gathered that he is formally praying.  Consider how this is different from how we normally pray.  Traditionally, we fold our hands together when we pray; the priest, when formally praying at liturgy, does something of an opposite gesture.  

God be near, 

Father Jeremy, pastor

Fr. Jeremy Ploof

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