Sunday, June 15, 2014

Joined Hands in Prayer

It is impossible to determine at what period the habit of praying with hands joined together became general. No doubt the practice became part of the devotional life of the faithful when they ceased to pray with outstretched arms; it certainly was so already in the ninth century, because Nicholas V defends the practice against the objections of the Greeks, who pretended that it was unlawful to pray in any other way except with the hands crossed over the breast (cancellatis minibus). The Pope explains that this joining of the hands is an expression of humble submission to the will of God and of our readiness to accept at His hands whatever chastisement it may please Him to lay upon us. The joining of the hands is a beautiful and most eloquent gesture of supplication. The Rubrics are very definite and clear when they describe the manner in which it has to be done: "Junctis manibus ante pectus, extensis et junctis pariter digitis, et pollice dextro super sinistrum posito in modum crucis" (Ritus cel., III.).

We have in this gesture all the essentials of the old-time prayer with outstretched arms, or uplifted hands, the crossing of the thumbs in particular being a reminder of the blessed Passion of our Saviour. The priest should be most careful lest long familiarity with the sacred rites should lead him into slovenly habits. It is a most impressive and edifying spectacle to see a priest, or a number of priests, standing at the altar, or serving in the sanctuary, with hands folded in prayer as prescribed and described in the above Rubric. We should exhort our people to fold their hands in like manner at Mass and particularly when walking up to, or away from, the communion rail. The mere fact of thus folding one's hands is in itself a help and incentive to earnest prayer, for by common consent folded hands are the symbol of a mind united to God.


Source: Benedictine Monks of Buckfast Abbey, "Attitudes During Liturgical Prayer," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, January 26, 1926: 373–380; republished:

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