Question by Fr. Emmanuel Ofori :
I would like to know what are the appropriate liturgical gestures and postures to be observed by God’s faithful. Is it appropriate to accompany the response of the congregation to the celebrant’s greeting, “The Lord be with you” with any gesture? At the Pater Noster, should concelebrating priests and the congregation imitate the hand position of the main celebrant? Finally, is the main celebrant expected to say “Amen” after saying any of the Presidential Prayers at Mass?
Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:
(1) When the celebrant says “The Lord be with you” during Mass, the congregation responds “And with your spirit”. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not ask the faithful to accompany this response with any gesture, even though some people do it in some churches. This gesture does not have the blessing of the National Liturgical Commission or of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
(2) During the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster), the celebrant is required to extend his hands. Concelebrants are also instructed to do likewise (GIRM 237). The members of the congregation are not instructed to extend their hands. However, it has become common practice in many places for them also to extend their hands.
It has been suggested that it is probably time for Rome to authorize this gesture among the faithful. It is argued that this would be in line with an early Christian custom. Frescoes in the Roman catacombs portray Christians with their hands raised in the Orantes or Precantes position. The classic posture of prayer, the Orans position for early Christians, includes the raising of eyes and hands. This tradition is found already in the Old Testament. Exod 9:29 speaks of Moses stretching out his hands in prayer to the Lord.
A similar idea is found in Psa 28:2, 63 and Isa 1:15. In the New Testament, Jesus in his prayer would often “raise his eyes towards heaven” (Jn 6:5; 11:41). Paul urges the community to pray, “lifting holy hands” (1 Tim 2:8).
For early Christians, raising the arms and extending the hands during prayer was a reminder of the posture of the crucified Lord. This symbolic posture during prayer reminds Christians that Christ, during the celebration of the Mass, prays with them and for them as their High Priest. In this connection, we can refer to what Origen says: “as there are many dispositions of the body, it is incontestable that those which consist in raising hands and eyes should be preferred above all, for the body brings to prayer the image of the qualities of the soul” (Peri Euxus, 31; PG 11:552).
Tertullian sees the image of the crucified Christ in this position. “Not only do we raise our hands, but we raise them in a cross like our Lord in his passion, and by this attitude we confess Christ” (De Oratione 14; C.C.L. 1:265). It should be noted that in the revised Italian sacramentary the whole congregation is allowed to extend their hands during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in this ancient gesture.
(3) When the presider finishes saying the presidential prayers (i.e., the Opening Prayer, the Prayer over the Offerings and the Prayer after Communion), he should not say “Amen”. That is the response of the people and not of the presider. The same is the case when, at the beginning of Mass, the presider says, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The presider should not say “Amen”; that is the response of the congregation.
This becomes clear when we look at the meaning and history of the word Amen. The word was an expression of agreement, confirmation, or desire used in worship by the Jews. The basic meaning of the Semitic root from which it is derived is “firm”, “fixed”, or “sure”, and the related Hebrew verb also means “to be reliable” and “to be trusted”. The Greek Old Testament usually translates Amen as “so be it”; in the English Bible it has frequently been rendered as “verily,” or “truly.”
In its earliest use in the Bible, the Amen occurred initially and referred back to the words of another speaker with whom there was agreement. It usually introduced an affirmative statement. For emphasis, as in solemn oaths, the Amen was sometimes repeated.
The use of the initial Amen, single or double in form, to introduce solemn statements of Jesus in the Gospels (52 times in the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – and 25 times in the Gospel of John) was unparalleled in Jewish practice. Such Amens expressed the certainty and truthfulness of the statement that followed.
Use of the Amen in Jewish temple liturgy as a response by the people at the close of a doxology or other prayer uttered by a priest seems to have been common as early as the time of the 4th century BC. This Jewish liturgical use of Amen was adopted by the Christians. Justin Martyr (2nd century AD) indicated that Amen was used in the liturgy of the Eucharist and was later introduced into the baptismal service.
In like manner, when the priest finishes saying the doxology, the congregation endorses and ratifies the ascription of praise to God by saying Amen. For St. Paul this ratification by the assembly was essential to the thanksgiving prayer (cf. 1 Cor. 14:15-16) and early Christian writers put great emphasis on it as the people’s confirmation of all that was proclaimed on their behalf by the priest. Justin Martyr in his First Apology (150 A.D.) speaks of the importance of the people’s great Amen as a grand assent to all that the presider had proclaimed in the Eucharistic Prayer.
A final Amen, added by a speaker who offered thanksgiving or prayers, public or private, to sum up and confirm what he himself had said, developed naturally from the earlier usage in which others responded with the Amen. Use of the final Amen is found in the Psalms and is common in the New Testament. Jews used Amen to conclude prayers in ancient times, and Christians closed every prayer with it. As hymns became more popular, the use of the final Amen was extended.
(4) Another gesture worth mentioning in this connection is the holding of hands by members of the congregation during the recitation the Lord’s Prayer during Mass. This gesture is not known to the Roman rite. One objection to it is that it is not appropriate for prayer.
Holding hands is not a traditional gesture of prayer. On the contrary, it is seen as a gesture of love and solidarity. It is something that may be done by a young couple on a date or by a group of people trying to establish unity and singing a song of unity.
If it is considered necessary to have such a gesture, perhaps the orans posture should be used, a gesture that has been used within Christian prayer for over two thousand years. As has been pointed out already, in the revised Italian sacramentary the whole congregation is allowed to extend their hands during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in this ancient gesture.
By: Most Rev. Joseph Osei Bonsu
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