Responding to the Word: Creed and Intercessions


Part of our response to the word of God that we hear proclaimed and preached at Mass is to restate our belief in the fundamentals of our Christian faith. On Sundays and solemnities we recite the Profession of Faith, or Creed, after the readings. It is a communal statement which is intended to be proclaimed as one voice by all the people.
In early Christianity, the Profession of Faith was primarily associated with baptism. It first became part of the Mass in the late 5th century as a safeguard against heresy.
A different creed cannot be substituted for the two approved versions – the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds – because it is meant to express the foundational belief of the whole Church, not only of the people gathered at a particular time and place.
It is sometimes called the “symbol of faith”, that is, the expression of belief by which Christians can be identified. The traditional creeds have a long history and their texts have been carefully worded over the course of many Church councils to express Christian faith accurately.
The Liturgy of the Word at Mass is brought to a conclusion with the General Intercessions or Prayers of the Faithful.
These prayers 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 Although they had been part of the liturgy in the early Church, by the fifth century they had been replaced by the ‘Lord, have mercy’ and the intercessions in the Eucharistic Prayer.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 (# 69). The early Church took this so seriously that only the baptised were allowed to be present.
The General Instruction also sets out the sequence of intentions: the needs of the church, public authorities and the salvation of the world, those burdened by any difficulty, the local community (# 70). In particular celebrations such as weddings and funerals the intentions can refer more specifically to the occasion.
The General Intercessions is one of the most misunderstood and poorly celebrated elements of the Mass. They are not prayers addressed to God but intentions announced to the people. Hence the word ‘you’, or the imperative verb form (‘help those who..’, ‘show us..’) is out of place. The phrase ‘Let us pray for/that …’, which is often used to introduce intentions, gives a good indication of the correct form.
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 prayers together in the ‘Lord, hear our prayer’.
The General Intercessions make a connection between the Eucharist and the daily life of Christians. The petitions must be relevant to the concrete needs and concerns that the people are facing at a particular time and also stretch their compassion to include the whole world.

Elizabeth Harrington