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What are the Manual Acts of the Eucharist?

The manual acts are the position of the hands of the priest during the celebration of the Eucharist. During seminary, priests are taught how and where to place their hands at particular points during the celebration of the Eucharist. In my liturgy classes a well-known dancer and actress came to class to teach us about presence and gesture. Differences between the ways priests perform the manual acts are because of attending different seminaries and the focus of their teachers.

Here are the primary manual acts of the Eucharist:

Orans position – Arms extended with elbows in. Palms of the hands are traditionally held facing inward toward each other or facing slightly upward.

Folded hands – Hands folded at the chest, held together with the palms and fingers touching or the hands may be clasped. While at the altar, hands and arms are never to swing at the sides or to dangle.

The sign of the cross – Done with the right hand, fingers together, palm inward. Left hand is on the chest, palm against the right breast. Left hand should not dangle or be held in midair.

Pointing – Hands are used to point to particular objects on the table. Generally this is done with palm or palms up, fingers together and pointing to the desired object.

Handling the elements (bread and wine) – the holding or placing of a hand on the bread and cup while saying the words about Jesus’ taking bread and wine saying “This is my body, this is my blood”. These words are called the words of institution. These acts also include the elevating of the bread and wine.

The Epiclesis – From the Greek word meaning to call down. This is the moment when the priest asks the Holy Spirit to sanctify the bread and wine that they may be “for your people the Body and Blood of your Son”. This is accompanied by a large gesture with the hands moving up and over the bread and wine and finally resting on them. The sign of the cross may also be made over them


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