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Prayer of the Faithful
Let Us Pray To The Lord
Again this week I am responding to a request - this time to write about the General Intercessions or Prayer of the Faithful at Mass because it is a part of the liturgy that is generally not done well.
A common fault is that the petitions are much too long, poorly constructed and hard to comprehend. Often they are more like mini-homilies which admonish the assembly and give advice to God, or news bulletins (eg, "For Mrs Jones who passed away yesterday after a long illness and whose funeral will be held here at 10am on Wednesday").
There seems to be a misunderstanding about the nature of the Prayer of the Faithful (and it is Prayer, not Prayers). In this prayer, the reader does not address God at all, but rather announces intentions to the people. Hence the words "you" or "your", or any form of address to God is quite out of place. The prayers also do not use an imperative (command) verb construction such as "Guide the Pope…", "Give peace to our world...", "Bring them eternal life...".
In this respect, the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass is different from the intercessions or invocations of morning and evening prayer. The latter is structured in such a way that it can be prayed by a group or individually. "The intentions should be address to God in such a way that they can accord with common celebration or individual celebration." (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours # 191)
The presider begins the Intercessions of the Mass by addressing the faithful and inviting them to pray. The intentions are announced by a deacon, cantor or reader, using a form of words such as "Let us pray for/ that…". The petitions must be brief, few in number, simply constructed and clearly articulated.
The faithful pray about the announced intentions in the pause that follows each one. After a time of silence comes the cue (eg "Lord, hear us") and the community responds together (eg "Lord, hear our prayer").
If there is no silence, then there is no prayer - just a list of statements. 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".
The presider concludes this element of Mass with a collect which sums up the prayer of the assembly.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal sets out the sequence of intentions to be used: the needs of the church, public authorities and the salvation of the world, those oppressed by any need, the local community. In particular celebrations such as weddings and funerals the intentions can refer more specifically to the occasion.
The General Intercessions make a connection between the Eucharist and the daily life of Christians. The prayers must be relevant to the concrete needs and concerns that the people are facing at a particular time, as well as stretching their compassion to include the whole world.