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Parts of the Mass: Prayer of the Faithful
Parishes, RCIA groups, RE teachers and others will hopefully find Liturgy Lines over the next few weeks a useful accompaniment to Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s multi-part series on the Mass at https://brisbanecatholic.org.au/beliefs-and-works/mass/.
Prayer of the Faithful
The Liturgy of the Word ends with the Prayer of the Faithful or Universal Prayer, also called ‘Bidding Prayers’ in the Roman Missal.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains that in the Prayer of the Faithful the people exercise the office of their baptismal priesthood by offering prayers to God for the salvation of all (# 69). The early Church took this so seriously that only the baptised were allowed to be present for this part of Mass.
As the name ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ indicates, it is the prayer of the gathered members of the assembly, the Body of Christ, not of the presider, nor the person who composed or reads them, nor someone who has provided pre-prepared intercessions.
The Prayer of the Faithful is actually not a prayer addressed to God at all but a series of intentions that worshippers are invited to pray for. The General Instruction sets out the sequence of these intentions: the needs of the Church, public authorities and the salvation of the world, those burdened by any difficulty, the local community (# 70).
The pattern of the Prayer of the Faithful is:
The presider begins by addressing the faithful and inviting them to pray.
The intentions are read out, using a form of words such as “Let us pray for/We pray that…”. They are invitations to prayer announced to the assembly, not prayers addressed to God, so the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ are not used. Petitions should be brief, few in number and simply constructed.
The faithful pray about the announced intentions in the pause that follows each one.
After a cue (e.g. “Lord, hear us”), the community responds together (e.g. “Lord, hear our prayer”).
The presider concludes with a collect that sums up the prayer of the assembly.
The petitions only become the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ when the people respond to the invitation, formulate their own prayer in their hearts and bring their prayers together in the ‘Lord, hear our prayer’. If there is no silence, there is no prayer – just a list of statements. It is vital that those who announce the intentions do so clearly and observe a deliberate pause after each one.
The petitions of the Prayer of the Faithful make a connection between the Eucharist and life, so they must flow from the day-to-day lives of people in the community and from what is happening in the universal Church and in the world.
Pre-prepared sets of intercessions take away the right and responsibility of the local community to offer its own prayers of petition to God. There are always people who will take the easy option if it is offered, but like a diet of pre-packaged meals instead of home cooking, it is not what is best for our spiritual well-being.
As with all the elements that make up the Liturgy of the Word, the pattern of the Prayer of the Faithful is one of dialogue – between reader and listener, between God and us.