Monthly Archives: October 2010

GYA: Gestures of Worship, Part II–The Orans

In the last post I began answering this question: “What do the hand gestures used by the celebrant during worship mean? Why do people cross themselves?“, asked by E.

In the end I wrote that these gestures are ‘visual, bodily invitations’ to prayer and to worship.  So let’s translate one of the most-used invitations, the ‘orans position’:

Image hosting by Photobucket

Christian artwork from the 4th c. in the catacombs under Rome

The ‘orans’ is an ancient posture of prayer (‘orans’ is Latin for ‘prayer’), with hands lifted up toward God.  You’ll see the celebrant return to this position throughout the service, especially during the Eucharist.

A similar position to the ‘orans’ is, of course, already familiar to those of us from many Christian backgrounds as a posture for passionately expressive worship:

So why do we do this, whether we call it ‘orans’ or ‘lifting up our hands’?

The most concrete answer is that by lifting up our hands, we are living into a posture of prayer and worship found in Scripture.  Psalm 134, among other Scriptures calls to us, “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!”

Of course, I don’t think most of us who have raised our hands in worship have regularly thought of it as an act of obedience to Scriptural prescriptions for worship.  The more powerful force at work may be that we have been created to worship God, and that one primal, gut response to our knowledge of the presence of God is to use our bodies to offer praise.

The orans reminds us that when we worship and when we pray, we are reaching our hands up to a Father who delights in us as beloved children.  Luke 11:1-13, for one example, tells us that as we learn to pray to God, we are also learning how deeply God loves us.  In this brief passage, Jesus’ teaching the disciples how to pray (The Lord’s Prayer) is back-to-back with his teaching that the Father delights to pour out the gift of the Spirit.

The orans is a gesture of child-like eagerness, of expectancy that truly God loves us and desires to inhabit our praises, of offering ourselves to God (the child who wants to be picked up and held), and of readiness to receive.  When the celebrant raises hands in the orans, it reminds us that we are in the presence of God, that we are being invited to pray and to worship.

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Nick Jordan

Leave a comment

Filed under Glad You Asked (GYA), Prayer, Worship

GYA: Gestures of Worship, Part I

What do the hand gestures used by the celebrant during worship mean?  Why do people cross themselves?

Dear E,

Thanks so much for emailing us.  These are important and huge questions for any of us worshiping at All Saints.  Because it’s a big question, I’m going to be breaking it down into several parts.  This first post is about the theory, and the later posts are more about the practical.  To begin…

Early in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (now for sale in both normal and awesome versions), in an imagined series of letters from an experienced demon to a younger one giving advice on how to trip up a new Christian, the experienced demon writes that one very important way to cause people to stumble is to get them to assume that their bodies don’t matter for their lives in God:

At the very least, they [both Christians and humans in general] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever they do with their bodies do affects their souls.

There are, of course, plenty of applications for what our bodily actions have to do with our souls, but I want to lift up one point: God created us with bodies and called this creation good, very good in fact.  God desires us to worship not only with our hearts, not only with our minds, not only with our spirits, but with our bodies as well.

And so we come to the short answer to your question: The hand gestures used by the celebrant are visual, bodily invitations to worship God with our whole selves.  The Christian act of crossing oneself is to participate in worshiping God with our whole selves.

Until the next post on this topic, it might be fruitful to think about the gestures and actions that already are familiar parts of worship for most Christians, liturgical or not.  Like this one, for instance:

Check back soon as this series continues, or add us to your Google Reader.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Nick Jordan

Leave a comment

Filed under Anglicanism, Glad You Asked (GYA), Prayer, Worship