|ROME, 20 JULY 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor
of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: At daily Mass in two local parishes the priests will offer the list of
prayers to the faithful, and then ask the congregation to verbally add
their prayers. This has led to some profound prayers underlining some of
the current local, national or international concerns of the faithful; but
more often or not it is the same people offering the same intentions
daily, many of them spoken too quietly for others to hear. On occasion the
offered prayers have contained political bias, or suggested a lack of
knowledge of Church teaching. It is precisely because of some of these
problems that I understand the prayers of the faithful are to be limited
to the celebrant?
D.P., Innisfil, Ontario
A: Norms regarding the prayers of the faithful are found in the
Introduction to the Lectionary, Nos. 30-31.
No. 30 states: "In the light of God's word and in a sense in response to
it, the congregation of the faithful prays in the universal prayer as a
rule for the needs of the universal Church and the local community, for
the salvation of the world and those oppressed by any burden, and for
special categories of people.
"The celebrant introduces the prayer; a deacon, another minister, or some
of the faithful may propose intentions that are short and phrased with a
measure of freedom. In these petitions 'the people, exercising its
priestly function, makes intercession for all men and women,' with the
result that, as the liturgy of the word has its full effects in the
faithful, they are better prepared to proceed to the liturgy of the
No. 31 continues: "For the prayer of the faithful the celebrant presides
at the chair and the intentions are announced at the ambo. The assembled
congregation takes part in the prayer of the faithful while standing and
by saying or singing a common response after each intention or by silent
As can be seen, there is no mention of spontaneous intentions being
offered. And this is usually inadvisable for the very reasons you mention:
the danger of rambling, and the offering of political or even
theologically incorrect intentions.
Yet, this is not an absolute rule. There are some communities with a long
tradition of intercessory prayer who have learned to formulate brief
concrete intentions according to the indications given in the ritual,
above all on weekdays or in small groups.
Generally, however, and especially on a Sunday, the intentions should
always be prepared beforehand and approved by the pastor or celebrant. It
is praiseworthy to follow the general order indicated in No. 30: asking
for the universal Church, the local community, etc., although special
intentions are usually prepared for particular occasions such as
confirmations and ordinations (see the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal, No. 70).
The tendency to pronounce abstract intentions should also be avoided. For
example, instead of asking generically for "human rights" the request
should be for those who suffer persecution or injustice.
If the priest wishes to offer the people an opportunity to add their own
intentions it is probably better for him to say something like "Let each
one add in silence his own personal intentions" and then observe a moment
of silence before reciting, with hands extended, the concluding prayer.
The minister reading the intentions of the universal prayer is usually the
deacon, followed by the instituted lector and any member or members of the
However, even when a deacon or instituted lector are present, there may be
occasions, such as weddings, first Communions, confirmations, funerals and
other special occasions, when pastoral reasons allow for several members
of the faithful to recite the intentions of the General Intercessions.
An important point to observe here is that the people's "exercising the
priestly function" is not limited to those who read the intentions.
Indeed the intentions are not actually prayers as such insofar as they are
not directed to God.
The "prayer" of the prayer of the faithful consists in the response or
silent prayer made by the people after the invitation "Let us pray to the
Thus the exercise of the common priesthood lies in the very fact that each
member of the assembly participates in offering intercessory prayer for
all men and women. Interceding before God for our fellows is an eminently
priestly function in which all baptized Catholics may participate albeit
always in communion with the sacred priesthood. ZE04072023
* * *
Follow-up: Ad-libbing the Prayers of the Faithful [from 08-17-2004]
Several correspondents noted that I forgot to mention in the July 20
column that the proper place for reading the general intercessions, or
prayers of the faithful, is the ambo.
This fact was included in the document I quoted. But it serves as a
reminder that the ambo is reserved for the proclamation of God's word,
preaching and the general intercessions. Commentators, choir directors and
others who intervene in the celebration should preferably not use the
A reader from Spain asks if it is proper to recite the Hail Mary to
conclude the general intercessions.
This custom, fairly widespread in some countries, is usually introduced by
a phrase asking for Mary's intercession with respect to the other
intentions. Since, as we mentioned in our previous note, the intercessions
are above all intentions, and not prayers or petitions directed toward
God, then there is no reason why we cannot invoke Mary's intercession in
presenting our intentions to God.
However the Hail Mary should not substitute [for] the priest's closing
A correspondent from Ontario in Canada asks if there is any particular
format for writing the intentions of the general intercessions.
The official documents limit themselves to asking that the "intentions
announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be
succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community"
(General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 71).
The documents also state that the intentions more or less should follow
the suggested order: universal and local Church (Pope, bishop, etc.); for
the salvation of the world (for those responsible for civil government)
and those oppressed by any burden (those who suffer, the sick); and for
special categories of people (those who prepare for baptism, for those
dedicated to some special mission, etc.).
Being brief and to the point prevents the intentions from mutating into
long prayers or verbose pious exhortations.
Expressing the prayer of the entire community means that they should not
be too personalized either by reflecting too closely the spiritual
interests of an individual or group within the community or my mentioning
very particular individual needs.
This would not exclude particular mentions on special occasions such as
funerals and confirmations nor the custom of some parishes of asking the
parish community to pray for those members who are gravely ill or recently
There are many worthy editions of books with formulas for the general
intercessions, even some covering every day of the year.
These books may be used for the general intercessions themselves or as
resources in preparing intercessions tailored to the needs of a particular