Thursday, November 8, 2012

Assuming Our Royal Dignity

For Christians, arms extended [in the orans position] has a Christological meaning. They remind us of the extended arms of Christ on the Cross. The crucified Lord has given this primal human gesture of prayer a new depth. By extending our arms, we resolve to pray with the Crucified, to unite ourselves to his mind. In the arms of Christ, stretched on the Cross, Christians see a twofold meaning.

In his case too, in his case above all, this gesture is the radical form of worship, the unity of his human will with the will of the Father, but at the same time these arms are opened toward us—they are the wide embrace by which Christ wants to draw us to himself. Worship of God and love of neighbour—the content of the chief commandment, which sums up the law and the prophets—coincide in this gesture.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 203

Reflection – Ratzinger has been going through the various bodily postures used in prayer and exploring their deeper meaning. Here we have the orans position, the extended arms which is the normal priestly posture of prayer in the liturgy.

The word orans means ‘the praying one’ – the very image of what a person praying is. Images of an orans appear in the ancient catacombs of Rome, the very earliest examples of Christian art.

This whole business of being a praying one, a pray-er, and the attitude of mind and heart and being communicated by the gesture that accompanies it is so important. Standing up straight with arms open, arms extended—the human person fully extended in his or her physical being: this is what it means to pray.
So often we can get cramped and crimped and cropped and crouched, eh? Our humanity can feel hemmed in, constricted, limited, bent over. This happens in so many ways: material poverty, physical limitations or illness, emotional wounds and trauma, the hard knocks of a cold cruel world, the pressures and strains of doing what it takes to get by.

All of this can force us into small, tight postures and positions. All of this can impede our free and full extension of our being. Prayer, by expressing itself in the orans position, truly is the place where we reclaim our human dignity, our human fullness, our human capacity to stand up straight and open wide to God and to the world.

In the orans, we assume a posture of royal dignity, coming before God not in cringing fearful servitude but as his sons and daughters confident of our reception and of his desire that we be before him in this way. There is a whole theology and anthropology that flows from this one simple posture—the implications of it are profound.

So many people think of religion as one more thing in the world that cramps and crops and restricts humanity. There is, for sure, a discipline in our religion. The demands of the moral law and the constant challenge of prayer, fasting, and fidelity to the Church are clearly difficult. But the whole impetus of this discipline is to fashion us into the orans, the human person fully open to God and fully open to the world, standing in dignity and beauty before God and man, open to both.

This is what Ratzinger so beautifully shows in this passage. And of course his linking of it to Christ crucified is just perfect—this is the very image and the ultimate realization of human dignity and worth. The crucified Jesus is man open to God and to the world. A terrible image, but with eyes of faith we see beauty and glory there, too. And so we extend our arms in prayer, asking that the posture of our body may be reflected in the reality of our soul, and that the reality of our soul will translate into lives of worship and love, service to neighbour and deep fidelity to God. This is the point, the meaning, and the deep truth of Christian prayer, and the life it is meant to usher us into.

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