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Writing Collects and Intercessions
MORE GUIDELINES FOR GOOD LITURGY
In the last two Liturgy Lines I have expressed my concern about what often masquerades as liturgy at Catholic gatherings. Sometimes the ‘prayers’ used are in fact NOT prayers at all because they are not addresses to God. Frequently they totally ignore Catholic tradition and include no familiar words or rituals.
Creativity and originality are fine things in themselves, but liturgy is, by definition, public worship in which everyone present participates through word, song and gesture. When no one knows the words, songs or gestures and the role of everyone except the worship leader(s) is reduced to that of spectator, then it is no longer liturgy.
The Catholic tradition of prayer provides us with patterns and structures that make preparing worship a relatively simple task. Last week I described the YOU-WHO-DO-THROUGH model that can be followed to compose a ‘collect’ prayer for any time and place, and also the 4-part structure of GATHER-LISTEN-DO-GO which provides a framework for planning any liturgical celebration.
Another type of prayer that people make unnecessarily heavy weather of preparing is that of the General Intercessions, or Prayers of the Faithful. Following a couple of straightforward principles makes it easy to do well. Firstly, the reader simply announces to the assembly that for which we are asked to pray, eg “Let us pray for all those suffering the effects of drought across this country”. The petitions should be short and simple; there is absolutely no need to turn them into mini-homilies by telling God what to do and how we want our prayer to be answered! The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that petitions should be offered for the Church, for civil authorities and the salvation of the world, for those oppressed by any need, and for the local community.
A time of silence follows the statement of the prayer intention so that the ‘Faithful’ can make their ‘Prayers’. That is where the name ‘Prayers of the Faithful’ comes from! If there is no silence, then there is no prayer. The petitions are NOT prayers because they are NOT addressed to God; they simply name those people and causes which are the object of our prayer.
Only after there has been a substantial time of silence does the reader give a cue, such as ‘Lord, hear us’, to bring the assembly’s separate prayers to a close with a common response, ‘Lord, hear our prayer’.
It reinforces people’s perceptions that liturgy is divorced from real life when what we are asked to pray for in the Prayers of the Faithful bears no relation to what is currently happening in our community and our world. For example, at a meeting I attended shortly after the bombings in Bali, the intercessions of the opening worship service made no reference to that tragedy. That is why books of pre-packaged prayers of the faithful are virtually worthless. By being attentive to what is happening in the world and in the local community, by respecting the Church’s liturgical calendar, and with a little practice, most people can prepare intercessions that are truly worthy of the community’s prayer.