So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Universal Prayer: rite and wrong.

What it is.
What it isn't.
What it should be.
69. In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is desirable that there usually be such a form of prayer in Masses celebrated with the people, so that petitions may be offered 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.
70. 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.
Nevertheless, in any particular celebration, such as a Confirmation, a Marriage, or at a Funeral, the series of intentions may be concerned more closely with the particular occasion.
71. It is for the Priest Celebrant to regulate this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he calls upon the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with an oration. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed with a wise liberty and in few words, and they should be expressive of the prayer of the entire community.
They are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the Deacon or by a cantor, a reader, or one of the lay faithful.
The people, for their part, stand and give expression to their prayer either by an invocation said in common after each intention or by praying in silence.
After the recitation of the Symbol or creed, the priest, standing at the chair with his hands joined, by means of a brief address calls upon the faithful to participate in the universal prayer. then the cantor, the reader, or another person announces the intentions from the ambo or from some other suitable place while facing the people. the latter take their part by replying in supplication. at the very end, the priest, with hands extended, concludes the petitions with a prayer.
After the recitation of the Symbol or creed, the priest, standing at the chair with his hands joined, by means of a brief address calls upon the faithful to participate in the universal prayer. then the cantor, the reader, or another person announces the intentions from the ambo or from some other suitable place while facing the people. the latter take their part by replying in supplication. at the very end, the priest, with hands extended, concludes the petitions with a prayer.
From the ambo only the readings, the responsorial psalm, and the easter proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; likewise it may be used for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the universal prayer. the dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should stand at it.
(USCCBGeneral Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 69–71, 138, 309
Other names for the Universal Prayer (UP)
  • Prayer of the Faithful (POTF)
  • Bidding Prayers
  • General Intercessions or Prayers of General Intercession
The Prayer of the Faithful, or Universal Prayer—which happens at the conclusion of the Credo and provides a bridge of sorts to the Offertory, that chapter within the Mass when our offerings or sacrifices (gifts... symbols of our self offering, and prayers are "collected" by the priest and presented at the altar where Christ unites our offerings/sacrifices to His one sacrifice of Calvary) is typically introduced with an awkward phrase by the priest. The Prayer is often handled with the grace of a drunken uncle attempting to give the toast to the bride at a wedding reception.

Too often the intercessory prayers are more weak attempts to promote a human agenda. The offense is not mitigated by capping the prayer with 'Not our will but God's will be done'.

A "prayer" that is, at best, a cheap slogan or an appeal to people's pocketbooks veiling an attempt to shame people into giving up their cash cannot be reclaimed by tacking on a weak deferential nod to God.

'Oh, but it's the intention, not merely the words that count!' To that protest one might respond with the words of Scripture:
(I)t is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.—St. Matthew 15:11
Sloganeering—platitudes and attitudes
Too often we hear statements that are directed to the congregation and not to God. Said statements speak more about a revisionist view of the Church, a church made in the image of man instead of the Church that Jesus established. The congregation laps up loads of feel good phrases but do not invite God to bless said congregation with a knowledge of His will.
You're not the boss of me, God.
These "prayers" sound more like demands instead of humble petitions placed before the throne of God. I recall a priest once saying that he was so certain God would grant healing to a woman over whom the priest had prayed for relief from cancer. The same priest was disappointed, practically devastated, when the woman died as a result of the spread of the disease throughout her body. The priest gave the impression he was more upset by the fact God had not bent His will to that of the priest's.
Market the homily
Priests frequently use the UP/POTF as an opportunity to enact their homiletic talking points. Themes introduced in the homily suddenly reappear, much like those annoying infomercials that repeat contact information three times or more to lodge a brainworm in the minds of potential customers. All too often, one gets the impression that a priest is so enamoured in his homiletic prowess that he feels his homily merits a second or third act. Sure, a homily that is well constructed according to the Scriptural content of a given Mass and the Proper prayers (collects, etc.) might find its echoes in the UP/POTF, but not at the lips of the celebrant who sounds just a little less than arrogant when he serves up that second helping of homily stew to a congregation that probably already has enough of his priestly popularity contest.
Much of the awkwardness could be avoided if priests took more time to study Appendix V in the Roman Missal: Examples of Formularies for the Universal Prayer. The Appendix can be found at the following link:
Roman Missal | Click on image to Enlarge

The entire action of the Mass, which is first and foremost the action of Christ, is the presentation of our adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication(s) to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. One could rightly (ritely?) ask, 'Why does there even need to be a Universal Prayer when the Offertory serves to expose our needs and collect our prayers at the hands of the priest for offering to God?' Obviously, someone felt that the Mass was somehow lacking something and that omission became the basis of including (restoring?) the Prayers of General Intercession. If the community has need of something specific, there are Masses for just such occasions. Why not use one of those Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions or votive Masses found in the Roman Missal?
Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions
"He is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). The Sacrifice of the Mass makes present to the faithful Christ's eternal act of intercession for us. In that sense, the Mass is the Church's greatest intercessory prayer.
This is why, over the centuries, the Church has provided for her children Mass formularies "For Various Needs and Occasions" as the current Roman Missal calls them. These are Masses that make specific intercession for particular concerns of the time.
The Roman Missal, Third Edition, for example, has:
  • 20 Masses "For Holy Church" (with prayers offered for the Church as a whole, or for the Pope, or for small gatherings of the faithful, etc.);
  • 17 Masses "For Civil Needs" (with prayers offered for the Nation or State, for Refugees and Exiles, or for various kinds of weather, etc.); and
  • 13 Masses "For Various Intentions" (with prayers offered for various virtues or particular situations).
These Masses may be prayed on open weekdays through the Church year. For other days of the year, the Missal states:
In case of some grave need, a corresponding Mass may be said on the instructions of the local Ordinary or with his permission, on any day except on Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls' Day), Ash Wednesday, and on the weekdays of Holy Week.
If, however, some real necessity or pastoral advantage requires it, in the judgment of the rector of the church or the Priest celebrant himself, an appropriate Mass or a Collect may be used in a celebration with the people even if on that day there occurs an Obligatory Memorial or a weekday of Advent up to and including December 16, or a weekday of Christmas Time from January 2 or a weekday of Easter Time after the Octave of Easter. (Introduction to "Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions" no. 2)
The Missal contains four Eucharistic Prayers "For Various Needs" which may be used with these formularies. Certain of the Prayers are recommended to go with particular formularies.
Votive Masses

Whereas the Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions respond to the concerns and demands that weigh on the Christian in the world, Votive Masses respond to the devotional desires and preferences. These Masses highlight 19 central aspects of the faith and are intended to foster the devotion of the faithful toward these central mysteries, which include the Trinity, the Mercy of God, Christ, the Cross, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, Mary, the Angels and the Saints. These Masses may be used under the same circumstances as those for Various Needs, though they are not so connected to the Eucharistic Prayers of that title.—USCCB source/link
God knows what is best for us. He knows our hearts. We can graft our own personal intentions to each Mass simply by praying with those intentions in mind before Mass begins and humbly asking the Father to hear our prayers made in Jesus' name. Those intentions, if they be real and pressing, will stay with us throughout the Mass and will be present when Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion. At that moment, there should be little or no doubt that Christ is present to our needs and sufferings. He is, after all, literally dwelling within us—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—dissolving into us. Is that not the most amazing experience to behold? Christ, then, not only hears our needs with our own "ears", He dwells within us to speak our needs to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Amazing! Of course, Christ is always present to our needs, before, during and after Mass, while we are awake and while we are asleep. We need but ask with utter honesty for those things of which we have need or for which we are grateful, and Jesus will present those intentions before our merciful Father. Jesus loves us so much that He listens to our hearts without interruption and is waiting for us to open our hearts to Him in prayer. When we pray, we dispose ourselves to God and allow His grace to influence our lives. In those moments, especially when we are silent and present to Him, He speaks. Are we listening?

As Father Jeremy Driscoll OSB reminds
The prayers are also called general intercessions, or sometimes even universal prayers, as an indication of the direction in which our prayer ought to go. These petitions should be very broad, all-embracing. Individuals can pray for their particular needs in the the quiet of their hearts. Here the Church is giving voice to her relationship with the whole world. (What Happens at Mass, Gracewing/LTP, 2005, p.59)
If the UP/POTF must remain in the Mass, why cannot it begin without fanfare, other than 'Let us pray' or something equally efficient and appropriate brief for the Latin Rite? It seems just as appropriate that the UP/POTF should begin by having the minister chant or speak the prayers without introduction. Furthermore, the Credo, still lingering in people's ears, is a prayer that functions fine on its own as an introduction or bridge to the Universal Prayer. Whoever is leading the petitions—a deacon or other minister—could just start. As for the response which serves to unify and engage the congregation, how about sticking to the Missal:

The Ordinary Form of the Mass, which has become unnecessarily and unlawfully verbose, could benefit greatly from a silent segue or bridge between the Credo and the Universal Prayer. We Romans are persistent in prayer, much like the widow in Holy Scripture, but we are not in the habit of denying God our trust in His desire to answer our prayers in the manner which He knows is best for us.
St. Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Our brevity or concision in prayer is actually a confident affirmation of our trust in the will of God Who desires what is best for us. Silence tends to provide worshippers with an opportunity to collect their intentions without intrusive banter that annoys like a mosquito bite and which distracts focus away from the mercy and benevolence of God.

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