Deacon Dennis Popadak has prepared a history and purposes of the Prayers of the Faithful, which we pray after the Creed and before the Offertory.
As part of an ongoing understanding of the various parts of the Mass, this two-part article is offered to help you learn more about the history and theology of this particular form of prayer and how it will eventually be experienced uniformly throughout the parish.
The General Intercessions, also called the Prayers of the Faithful, have been part of the Catholic liturgy since the early church. Their origins likely come from Jewish synagogue prayer. The original form of these prayers looked like this:
The presider invited all the faithful to pray on a particular topic.
The assembly prayed in silence…while kneeling.
After a long silence, the deacon directed all to stand.
The presider then prays a "collect" prayer that collects the silent prayer of the
assembly into a concluding spoken prayer to God.
The assembly assents to this prayer by saying "Amen."
The process is repeated with the next topic.
We still use this original structure of intercessions on Good Friday. You may recall from that liturgy, this form can get pretty lengthy. Pope Gelasius I, at the end of the 5th century, wanted to shorten the lengthened liturgy, so he adopted for Rome the style of intercessions used in the East.
Basically, from the 6th century onward, the Prayers of the Faithful disappear from the Roman liturgy, but they remain every year in the Good Friday liturgy. For 1400 years, the church lost an important element: the ability of the liturgy to address and reflect the current-day needs and situations of the church. Fortunately, Vatican II restored the rightful place of the Prayers of the Faithful and reclaimed the role of the baptized in the praying for the needs of the world. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:
In the General Intercessions or the Prayers of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for the deceased, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world.
In the Prayer of the Faithful, we claim for all people in need the salvation that Jesus came to give them by his life, death and resurrection. This is why this prayer is called “universal.” We join our prayers to the powerful prayers of Christ; we pray “with” Christ and “through” Christ. as we offer prayers of intercession for ourselves and for others in need. Intercessory prayer helps us forgetful human beings to remember that God is the source of all that we are and all that we have. We do not need to pray in order to remind God of what we need; we need to pray in order to remind ourselves of who it is that provides for our needs, as we seek God’s will, not our own. Intercessory prayer is not our means to coax something out of God. Rather, such prayer can change our sometimes self-centered and narrow attitudes, so that there is more room in our hearts for those in need. And when we pray for others, we are asking that by God’s grace they may open themselves to God’s will...promoting values of peace, justice, equality, and service, by conforming our wills to God’s will. Faith is a requirement for this kind of prayer, and also active cooperation with God joined to our “working” for it. As St. Augustine said, “Work as if everything depended on you; pray as if everything depended on God.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states: “In the General Intercessions or the Prayers of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God, which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, for the deceased, and for the salvation of the whole world.”
Parish of the Holy Eucharist uniform practice: With this history and theology in mind, it is the desired outcome that as a parish, we have a uniform way of presenting the Universal Prayers of the Faithful at the four churches. A decorative book will be placed at a designated place in each church where parishioners may enter specific intentions prior to the start of Mass. Instead of reading a litany of written names and concerns, the Universal Prayers of the Faithful concludes with an all-inclusive intention: “and for those written in Our Book of Prayer Intentions.” This book will then be brought to the altar, along with the usual offertory gifts and placed at the altar.
…Deacon Dennis Popadak ***