A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Ad-libbing the Prayers of the Faithful
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 Eucharist."
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 prayer."
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 faithful.
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 Lord."
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
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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 ambo.
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 prayer.
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 deceased.
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 community. ZE04081723
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