Monday, May 11, 2015

How Can We Elevate the Quality of the “Prayer of the Faithful”?

In “Imbuing the Ordinary Form with Extraordinary Form Spirituality,” I suggested that if the Universal Prayer (also known as Prayer of the Faithful or General Intercessions) is going to be retained, the very first thing that needs to be addressed is the literary, theological, and spiritual quality of the petitions.[1] It is surely no exaggeration to say that throughout the world the quality of these intercessions has tended to be deplorable, ranging from trite and saccharine sentiments to political propaganda, from progressivist daydreams to downright heretical propositions to which no one could assent without offending God.[2] Even when the content is doctrinally unobjectionable, all too often the literary style is dull, flaccid, rambling, or vague. Put together problematic content, poor writing, and the monotonous manner of delivery of most lectors, and you have on your hands, to put it mildly, a lame duck.

Two things, therefore, are urgently needed, and one more thing is strongly recommended.

First, we need strong, solid, Catholic content in the intercessions. They need to be unmistakably, unambiguously the prayers of Catholic Christians, praying in accordance with our tradition for serious intentions that are manifestly worth praying for. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that we should offer petitions “for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world” (GIRM 69), and then specifies a little more: “The series of intentions is usually to be: a) for the needs of the Church; b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world; c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty; d) for the local community” (GIRM 70).

Second, we need well-written intercessions. Rising above the gabby or pedestrian, the literary style should have a dignity, forcefulness, and sacral register that match the style of the revised Roman Missal.[3] As an illustration of these first two desiderata, consider the following:

Celebrant: Let us raise our minds and voices to the Lord as we present our petitions.
  • Cantor: Let us pray for the holy Church of God: that the Lord may grant her peace, unity, and good governance.
  • Let us pray for missionaries and for persecuted Christians everywhere: that the trials they endure may increase their faith and their glory.
  • Let us pray for Jews, Moslems, and all who do not believe in Christ: that by God’s mercy they may renounce their errors and cling to Him.
  • Let us pray for our nation, our state, and our city: that good laws and good morals may prevail over sin and corruption.
  • Let us pray for the members of this community: that we may seek holiness at all times and in every place.
  • Let us pray for our friends and benefactors: that this Oblation offered for their needs may bring them salvation.
  • Let us bring to the Lord in silence the intentions of our hearts.
Celebrant: O God, from whom all good things come, grant to Your suppliants that, by Your inspiration, we may think that which is right, and, by Your Providence, accomplish the same. Through Christ, Our Lord.

Finally, it makes a tremendous amount of difference to sing the intercessions. This can be done by a cantor either recto tono (on a single note) or with a psalm tone. The response, when it comes, has a great deal more punch to it, because a simple sung response involves the people far more. Possible responses include “Lord, hear our prayer”; “Kyrie eleison”; “We beseech you, hear our prayer”; “Te rogamus, audi nos.” At our chaplaincy's Sunday Mass in the Ordinary Form, the cantor chants at the end of each petition: “We pray to the Lord:” and the congregation sings: “Lord, hear our prayer.” When sung, the intercessions are elevated to a new plane; the entire prayer is more solemn and meaningful, and one really listens to the individual petitions. Wyoming Catholic College has been doing this for eight years, and my impression is that it has worked very well. Visitors often favorably remark on the practice.

Here is a downloadable document with 22 sets of intercessions for Ordinary Time or Tempus per annum (including the example given above). The content is available for free and unrestricted use. If anyone would like to have this in Word format, just send me an email.

Here is another document with intercessions for Seasons and Feasts, namely, Christ the King, the Sundays of Advent, the Baptism of the Lord, the Sundays of Lent, Passion (Palm) Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Sunday, the Sundays of Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, Exaltation of the Holy Cross, All Saints, All Souls, Dedication of the Lateran, Conversion of St. Paul, St. Joseph, Annunciation, and other Marian feasts.

Lastly, here is a document with suggested chant tones to use at the end of each petition.


[1] As to the abstract question of whether the Universal Prayer is a feature that belongs in the Roman liturgy as a regular feature, I have some doubts (see here). Nevertheless, as always, we should have the attitude that if something is to be done, it ought to be done well.

[2] See the hilarious spoof at Eccles. Warning: British humour.

[3] I had high hopes for the book Prayers of the Faithful, edited by Msgr. Peter J. Elliott, but a closer examination showed that the collection was quite uneven, suffering from some of the flaws noted at the start of this post.

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