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MANILA, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a controversial ruling, the Filipino bishops have granted laymen unprecedented permission to adopt the priestly posture of raising their hands while praying the Lord's Prayer during Holy Mass.
The decree from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines contradicts a June 16 directive from the bishop of Dumaguete forbidding laity to use the "orans posture" while the priest extends his hands during the Lord's Prayer in the Eucharistic celebration.
Issued Sunday, the Filipino bishops' circular states that both gestures of congregants' holding one another's hands or raising hands are "liturgically accepted to accompany the praying of the Lord's Prayer."
"Since the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is silent on this matter, either forbidding or prescribing it runs counter to the intent of the instruction," the bishops argue. "We are therefore exhorted to exercise sincere respect to each other in the gesture we express during the prayer."
The new decree runs counter to the earlier ruling issued by the bishop of Dumaguete, Julito Cortes, expressly instructing the lay faithful to "join his/her own hands during the singing or recitation of the Lord's Prayer" while the priest extends his hands using the orans posture.
Cortes stated that his decree would "ensure clarity and uniformity" and clear confusion among the laity concerning "the hand posture proper to them" while praying the Pater Noster.
However, Sunday's statement signed by Msgr. Victor Bendico, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy, insists that many of the faithful "can express the filial love and reverence contained in the prayer" by "raising their hands in an orans posture."
"Praying with outstretched arms evokes the biblical attitude of the person praying (e.g., Moses in Exodus 17:8–16; Solomon in 1 Kings 8:54)," Bendico argues. "Paul's instruction to Timothy is to 'pray, lifting up holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8)."
The move has rekindled passionate discussions among clergy, theologians and faithful Catholics, who are divided on the implications of this decision.
Supporters of the bishops' decree say it promotes greater inclusivity and active participation of laity in the liturgy. By allowing the laity to assume the orans position, they believe it empowers them to feel more connected and engaged during this important prayer.
Critics contend that the ruling undermines the sacred distinction between the ordained priesthood and the laity. They assert that the orans position is a distinct gesture reserved exclusively for priests, representing their consecration and sacramental authority.
"If in the past, in the Roman liturgy, the Our Father was considered a presidential prayer, with the Vatican II liturgical reform it became the prayer of the entire assembly," the Filipino bishops explain.
The Filipino prelates quote Pope Francis' catechesis from March 14, 2017, clarifying that the Our Father "is not one of many Christian prayers, but it is the prayer of the children of God: It is the great prayer that Jesus taught us."
The bishops also cite the Italian Roman Missal, which states, "During the singing or recitation of the Lord's Prayer, one may hold one's arms outstretched; this gesture, provided it is properly explained, is to take place with dignity in a fraternal atmosphere of prayer."
In a pastoral letter, Cdl. José Advincula, archbishop of Manila, expressed support for the bishops' decision, insisting that the Our Father was "a prayer of both the presider and the faithful" and "not only a presidential prayer" during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
The cardinal highlighted that the Our Father is a program of the Christian life based on the Good News proclaimed, lived, and died for by Jesus.
Earlier, Greek Catholic priest Fr. Collin Nunis pointed out that "in the liturgical manuals of the Byzantine Rite (which I celebrate in), the orans posture is considered not only 'a good custom' but expected of the faithful when praying the Lord's Prayer with the celebrant."
Nunis, however, clarified that while it may be appropriate for Eastern Catholics to assume the orans position, it is not suitable for Latin Catholics during the Mass.
"The orans position has its basis in Scripture, as it was the common prayer posture for the Jewish people," Nunis explained. "From a theological perspective, though appropriate to the priest at Mass, the orans is not the domain of the priest alone."
"For the lay faithful to extend their arms when saying the Our Father could give the impression that they are somehow 'concelebrating' the Mass with the priest, and this is always forbidden," Fr. John Flader warned.
Flader noted that the Vatican rejected a provision from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that would have allowed the laity to use the orans position during the Our Father.
Canonist Edward Peters notes that in the post-Vatican II liturgy, the priest is not praying the Our Father for the people the way he does during several other prayers in Mass.
"If the orans position in Mass has come to symbolize priestly prayer on behalf of the congregation instead of prayer with it, then the rubrics of the Mass should no longer call for the priest to extend his hands during the Our Father as if he is praying on behalf of the congregation," Dr. Peters argues.
"He should instead be directed to join his hands as he does for all other prayers said with the congregation. And if priests do not assume the orans position during the Our Father, laity will not imitate it," the canon lawyer concludes.