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Pre Prepared Prayers
A caller today asked me to recommend a book of Prayers of the Faithful that the parish could buy to use at Sunday Masses during the year. I think he was shocked when I said that I would strongly recommend not buying any! Let me explain.
Now that we are so accustomed to the Prayer of the Faithful being an important element of worship, some readers might be surprised to know that it was not included in the Tridentine Mass celebrated before the reforms of Vatican II.
We know that the Prayer of the Faithful was part of the liturgy in the early Church. The description of early Christian worship by Justin Martyr around the year 155AD includes this: “And the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites us to imitate these noble things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers.”
The last sentence is a clear reference to what we call the Prayer of the Faithful. You will notice that it says “we all stand up together and offer prayers”, suggesting that members of the community offered petitions.
For various reasons, the Prayer of the Faithful had been replaced at Mass by the "Lord, have mercy" and the intercessions in the Eucharistic Prayer by the fifth century. However it was retained in the solemn intercessions during the celebration of the Passion on Good Friday.
According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the people exercise their priestly function by interceding for all humanity in the Prayer of the Faithful (# 69). The early Church took this so seriously that only the baptised were allowed to be present.
The Prayer of the Faithful is what the name suggests – the prayer of the gathered members of the assembly, Body of Christ, not of the parish priest, or commentator, or person who composed them, or someone who has written a book, or an outsider who provides intercessions promoting a particular cause.
The petitions of the Prayer of the Faithful make a connection between the Eucharist and the daily life of Christians, therefore 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. That is why they are led by a deacon if present. In the early Church, the ministry of the deacon was focussed on the sick and the poor, widows and orphans, and all those in need.
The prayers must be relevant to the concrete needs and concerns that the people are facing at a particular time. Prepared sets of general intercessions in books do not include local or current issues so should be used only as model, and sample formulas which are useful as models can be found in Appendix I of the Sacramentary (Roman Missal).
Books of Prayers of the Faithful and agencies who provide parishes with pre-prepared sets on 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 living on pre-packaged meals instead of home cooking, it is not what is best for our spiritual well-being.