Q: I have noticed a wide variety of placement of hands for priests during presidential prayers at Mass. These range from unmoving shoulder-width, fingers together, palms facing placements—to hands just above the altar, palms up—to arms wide outstretched. Is there any placement that is more traditional for the Roman Rite that another?
A: Images from catacombs show people at prayer with arms extended to the side, hands lifted up. It’s safe to presume that this was the gesture that gave birth to the instructions for the priest when praying at Mass.
Prior to the reforms, the Roman Missal gave different, though explicit instructions: hands no higher nor wider than the shoulders, palms facing each other, fingers held together. Those precisions were removed after the Second Vatican Council, leaving behind what seems to be a deliberately ambiguous instruction for the priest to extend his hands.
The reason you see a variety of interpretations is that the rubric allows them. However, in my view, when the previous instructions were removed, that option was also removed, or at least considered out of favor.
Whatever gesture the priest chooses, it should look natural. And while we’re at Mass, we should all pay more attention to his command to pray rather than the placement of his hands.