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Writing General Intercessions/ Prayers of the Faithful
WE PRAY TO THE LORD
The Liturgy of the Word at Mass is brought to a conclusion - and reaches its climax - with the praying of the General Intercessions or Prayers of the Faithful.
Now that we are so accustomed to these being an important element of worship, it's surprising to discover that they were not included in the Tridentine Mass celebrated before the reforms of Vatican II. Although they had been part of the liturgy in the early Church, by the fifth century they had been replaced by the "Lord, have mercy" and the intercessions in the Eucharistic Prayer.
According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the people exercise their priestly function by interceding for all humanity in the General Intercessions (GIRM 45). The General Instruction also sets out the sequence of intentions: 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.
It is my observation that the General Intercessions is one of the most misunderstood and poorly celebrated elements of the Mass. Often it is not the "prayer of the faithful" at all but the individual prayer of whoever composed it. Some are more like mini-homilies (eg "For those who do not give their full support to the work of this parish, that they may be more generous with their time and talents") or news bulletins (eg "For Mrs Jones who died yesterday in Royal Brisbane Hospital and whose funeral will be held here at 10am on Wednesday!!")
In the General Intercessions the reader is not addressing prayer to God but announcing intentions to the people. Hence the word "you", or any form of address to the persons of the Trinity, are quite out of place. The phrase "Let us pray for/that …" which is often used to introduce intentions gives a good indication of the style that is called for here. The reader announces a topic or focal point for which the faithful pray in the silence that follows. Only then comes the cue (eg "Lord, hear us") and the community's common response (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 separate but unified prayers together in the "Lord, hear our prayer".
We have a wonderful model for this in the intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy. These solemn prayers for the church and the world follow a pattern: the intention is announced, "all kneel and pray silently for some period of time" (Sacramentary rubrics), the celebrant sings or says the prayer.
A similar form is used at other times. The presider begins the Intercessions by addressing the faithful and inviting them to pray and concludes them with a collect which sums up the prayer of the assembly. The intentions are announced by a deacon, cantor or reader, usually from the lectern. To evoke a prayer from the heart, these petitions must be brief, simply constructed and clearly articulated. Sample formulas which are useful as models can be found in Appendix I of the Sacramentary (Roman Missal).
The General Intercessions 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. Prepared sets of general intercessions in books should be used only as models as they do not include local or current issues. 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.