Monday, July 24, 2023

Doing Without the Prayers of the Saints

In the modern missal of Paul VI, first issued in 1969, an entire celebration of the Holy Mass, using licit options, can take place without even once directly asking the saints to pray for us or without asking the Lord to grant us that the saints would pray for us. If, however, the “Confiteor” is used, and the Roman Canon, then at least twice we do ask for the help of their prayers, or directly ask them to pray for us. But it is very rare for the “Confiteor” and the Roman Canon to be chosen in the same situation, and either of them may not be very common either, depending on the celebrant’s habits.

Here is a synthesis of some of the teaching, in the Ordinary of the modern missal, on the intercession of the Saints: By their intercession, we receive sure support. Their fervent prayers sustain us in that all we rightly do. Their merits and prayers can gain us the constant help and protection of God. We rely on their constant intercession in the presence of the Lord for unfailing help. [1] So the postconciliar missal recognizes the great help that can be obtained by the People of God through the intercession of the saints. And yet it very often, according to the options made use of, does not ask for this intercession.

In Eucharistic Prayer II it says:
Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you...
The mercy requested is that we, the faithful, would merit to be with the Saints in eternal life. But their intercession is not asked for.

In Eucharistic Prayer III it says:
May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect, especially with the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs and with all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help.
The intercession of the Saints is not explicitly requested, although it is praised.

It is an important thing in the “economy of salvation,” the Lord’s household arrangement (so to speak), that we ask. “Whoever asks receives,” Our Lord taught us. This implies that whoever does not ask, does not receive—or at least, does not receive as much as he might.

The saints are constantly interceding for us. Their merits and prayers are efficacious and operative in the flow of divine grace to us, in the communion of saints. But they can do so much more for us if only we were to ask for their intercession and help.

Here we can see one of the ways in which the traditional Roman missal is superior to the postconciliar one, as regards both the welfare of the Church militant and the salvation of the entire world. In the traditional Ordo Missae, the intercession of the saints is requested seven times. In a very common and perfectly licit variation of the modern Mass, the intercession of the Saints is requested zero times.

What difference might this make in the life of the Church on earth?

But that is only the first level of the issue. As my friend Hilary White likes to say, one reaches what one thinks is the bottom, and then a trap door opens and one realizes that the bottom is further down. “Have we hit rock bottom yet?” is, in liturgical discussions, by no means a frivolous question.

So, when we discover that even the 1962 missal, as much better as it is, is vastly inferior to the practices of the pre-55 missal as regards precisely this point—the intercession of the saints—we realize that the Novus Ordo was not a sudden departure but rather a continuation of a process of denudation, evisceration, suppression, that was already under way prior to the Council, and which appeared to legitimize the direction in which the Consilium acted.

As I discuss in the last chapter of my book The Once and Future Roman Rite, for centuries it was the custom for priests to say or to sing more than one set of orations (Collect, Secret, Postcommunion) at Mass. The rubrics told the priest which additional prayers to use. For example, in Advent, from the first Sunday, the Missal prescribed the addition of a second Collect of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a third Collect either for the Church or for the pope, although if there were saints to be commemorated, their prayers would be used instead.

Here, for example, are the orations that were added “To implore the intercession of the saints,” appointed for the time between Purification and Ash Wednesday and during the Time after Pentecost (translation from the St. Andrew Daily Missal, 1945 edition, p. 1712):
Collect. Defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all dangers of mind and body; that through the intercession of the blessed and glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, together with blessed Joseph, Thy blessed apostles Peter and Paul, blessed N. [titular saint of the church], and all the saints, mercifully grant us safety and peace, that all adversities and errors being overcome, Thy Church may serve Thee in security and freedom. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son…
          Secret. Graciously hear us, O God our Savior, and by the virtue of this sacrament protect us from all enemies of soul and body, bestowing on us both grace in this life and glory hereafter. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…
          Postcommunion. May the oblation of this divine Sacrament both cleanse and defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, Thy blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, blessed N. [titular saint of the church], and all the saints, render us at once purified from all perversities and freed from all adversities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

A large number of the required additional orations had precisely this character of invoking the intercession of the saints. Ask, and you shall receive.

On Sundays, too, saints would be commemorated instead of simply ignored. In late June it would be quite possible to have a situation where the Third Sunday after Pentecost fell within the Octave of the Sacred Heart and of the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The priest at Mass would say or sing Sunday’s oration, followed by those of the Sacred Heart and of Saint John the Baptist. Ask, and you shall receive, grace upon grace.

Prior to 1955, the maximum number of Orations at a low Mass on simple days was five or seven (depending on circumstances). In 1955, this number was reduced to three, and mandatory prayers of the season were abolished. In 1960, the possibility of additional orations was reduced still further, and, for most Sundays of the year, done away with altogether. Do not ask; do not receive.

Think about this: thousands of priests were praying for these intentions daily at the altar, in the voice of the Church, in the name of Christ, the prayer most pleasing, most acceptable, most heard… and then suddenly: GONE.

If we believe in the power of prayer—if we believe that liturgical prayer is the highest form of it—then wouldn’t this have some consequences? Is it possible to believe that the sudden abandonment of thousands of Masses in which the pope was being prayed for with quite specific and “demanding” intentions, or in which the Virgin Mary, local patron saints, even all of the saints were being called upon, could have no effect in the spiritual order? Is it possible to believe this and still be a believer?

It is not fanciful to think that there is at least some connection between the official abandonment of liturgical prayer asking for the intercession of the saints and the grievous afflictions of the Church on earth since about the time when these orations began to be systematically canceled.


[1] Exact phrases: “By their intercession, sure support” (Preface I of the Saints); “their fervent prayers sustain us in all we do” (Preface II of the Saints); “their merits and prayers [can] gain us [God’s] constant help and protection” (Eucharistic Prayer I); “[the] constant intercession in your presence [of the saints] [can give us] unfailing help” (Eucharistic Prayer III).

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: