Is it appropriate to raise your arms during the Our Father at Mass?

From time to time people ask me why some people at Mass raise their arms at the praying of the Our Father in the same way the priest does. My answer is simple: I don’t know. The rubrics of the Roman Missal do not instruct the people to imitate the priest at this point. I don’t know where this practice came from. I’m sure most people who do so have simply observed other people doing it and have innocently copied them, but it should not be done. There had been at one point some years back a deliberate intent by some people in the Church to encourage the lay people to copy the actions of the priest so as to break down distinctions between the ordained priesthood and the laity, but these actions were quickly corrected by Rome. There are clear differences between the priest as one acting in persona Christi by the power given him at his ordination to the priesthood and his reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the people in the pew. Those differences are substantial enough that the ritual of the liturgy directs the actions of the priest differently from the congregation; therefore, the people should not take upon themselves the actions reserved to the priest. At the same time, the people should also refrain from performing any actions that would make them stand out from their fellow worshippers. As Catholics, we stress the unity of the people in our ritual worship of our Heavenly Father. For example, in some denominations of Christianity people feel perfectly free to cry out “amen” or “hallelujah!” when they like something the preacher has said. We don’t do that. We don’t draw attention to ourselves. While we may feel the action brings us closer to Christ, it is often perceived by others that we think we are more pious than they are, thus making us look “holier-than-thou.” That creates division in the community and not the unity our worship demands. This is also why the United States Bishops have decreed that the proper posture for receiving Communion is to remain standing and not to kneel. Since some of the faithful, especially those advanced in years, cannot kneel, so that we all have a common posture for receiving Communion, the Church instructs us to perform a bow of the head before receiving Communion – not a genuflection, the priest alone does that – and remain standing. While some people may personally feel it more reverent to kneel, they nevertheless must not disobey the directives of the Church. Does our Father delight more in personal opinion than in obedience to the Authority of the Church? Of course, we don’t want to become liturgical policemen and start correcting people at Mass who do hold their hands up at the Our Father or who kneel to receive Communion – we must be sensitive to people’s feelings – but perhaps quietly on the side we can gently inform the individual that this should not happen. Remember that we come to Mass to worship the Father as one body in Christ, and uniformity with our fellow parishioners, not trying to look more devout than others, best serves to draw us closer to Our Lord.

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