Silence in Liturgy, Prayer of the Faithful

The Sound of Silence
What some people miss from the days of the old Latin Mass is the hushed atmosphere and prayerful silence which gave them a sense of the presence of God.

At times it seems that at liturgy, as in life, every moment is taken up with sound and action. The Vatican documents however make it clear that being silent together at Mass is an aspect of our active participation.

The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass says: “Short intervals of silence give worshippers an opportunity to take the word of God to heart and to prepare a response in prayer.” (#28)

“Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #45)

The rubrics (instructions written in red) of the Order of Mass indicate what these ‘designated times’ are where silence should be observed:

after the “Let us pray” of the Collect (opening prayer)
before and after the readings from scripture
after the homily
after each petition of the Prayer of the Faithful is announced, so that people can pray for that intention
after Communion

The collective silence of the assembly at worship is a deliberate, conscious activity, not just a space where nothing is happening. It can also be very powerful!

Times of silence can also help us learn, or rediscover, the art of reflection and meditation.
We Pray to the Lord
The Liturgy of the Word ends with the Prayer of the Faithful, also called the ‘Universal Prayer’ or ‘Bidding Prayers’ in the Roman Missal. The Prayer of the Faithful is actually not a prayer addressed to God at all but a list of intentions that worshippers are invited to pray for. Hence they need to be brief, simple and clearly enunciated.

The reader announces a topic or focal point for which the faithful pray in the silence that follows. 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 by making their own prayer in their hearts.

The pattern is: (1) the presider begins the Prayer of the Faithful by addressing the faithful and inviting them to pray; (2) the intentions are announced by a deacon, commentator or reader; (3) after each petition there is a period of silence, then a cue (eg, We pray to the Lord) and the people’s collective response (eg, Lord, hear our prayer); (4) the presider concludes with a collect which sums up the prayer of the assembly.

Because the Prayer of the Faithful link the Eucharist with the daily life of Christians, the petitions need to connect with the day-to-day lives of people in the community and with what is happening 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.


Elizabeth Harrington