It is an ancient tradition with deep symbolism.
Pray with hands folded up so that your prayers will go to heaven.
If your hands are pointed down your prayers will go down to hell.
And if your hands are sideways, your prayers will bounce all over the room.
Truthfully, the real reason we fold our hands in prayer has much deeper symbolism. In fact, the tradition has its roots in the customs of ancient cultures.
In the Jewish tradition there is evidence in the Talmud that some prayed with hands folded as early as the post-Exilic period and even continued after Christianity was established. Some historians believe that Christians adapted this custom from their Jewish heritage.
Another common belief is that the hands-folded posture was derived from a Roman practice symbolizing submission.
Religious historians trace the gesture back to the act of shackling a prisoner’s hands with vine or rope: joined hands came to symbolize submission. In ancient Rome, a captured soldier could avoid immediate death by joining the hands together. Just as waving a white flag today, the message was clear, ‘I surrender.’
Centuries later, subjects demonstrated their loyalty and paid homage to their rulers by joining their hands. In time, clasping the hands together communicated both an acknowledgement of another’s authority and one’s own submission to that authority.
This type of joining hands to profess loyalty is still evident in the liturgy of ordination. A bishop will clasp the hands of the priest he is ordaining and say, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”
Another aspect of the folding of hands includes crossing the thumbs, which many have been instructed to do in the form of a cross.
All of this results in a gesture that represents loyalty to God, pointing our prayers to heaven and being reminded of the cross of Christ.
While Christians are not bound to pray with hands folded, it is a beautiful option, one with ancient roots and profound symbolism.
Support Aleteia takes a minute
If you’re reading this article, it’s precisely thanks to your generosity and to that of many other people like you that make possible the evangelization project of Aleteia. Here some numbers:
- 20 million of users around the world read Aleteia.org every month.
- Aleteia is published daily in eight languages: French, English, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Slovenian.
- Each month, our readers view more than 50 million pages.
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia’s social media pages.
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos.
- All of this work is carried out by 60 people working full-time and approximately 400 other collaborators (writers, journalists, translators, photographers…).
As you can imagine, behind these numbers there is a big effort. We need your support so we can keep offering this service of evangelization to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
Support Aleteia from as little as $1 – and only takes a minute. Thank you!