The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called for a restoration of the “prayer of the faithful” saying:
Especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation there is to be restored, after the Gospel and the homily, "the common prayer" or "the prayer of the faithful." By this prayer, in which the people are to take part, intercession will be made for holy Church, for the civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the salvation of the entire world. (SC 53)
Exactly how this takes place with regard to form and the specific intercessions offered can vary from parish to parish. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal offers only sparse direction, saying:
It is for the priest celebrant to direct this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he invites the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with a prayer. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community. (GIRM 71)
Given the open-endedness of the instruction, it is easy to understand why the prayer of the faithful can vary from place to place with regard to specific content, but it is still amazing how often the idea of “free but prudent composition” is taken to mean “free to promote pet ecclesial and political agendas from the lectern.”
One of my all-time “favorites” went something like this:
“For world leaders; that they may put an end to the disastrous effects of manmade global warming…”
Gives new meaning to the practice of “green” vestments for ordinary time, doesn’t it?
In all seriousness, it’s no laughing matter that agenda-driven intercessions are not all that uncommon these days. Even though it seems that just about everyone has had a similar experience, I had always just assumed that such intercessions are the work of one or more parish liturgical staff members gone wild.
While this may frequently be the case, I recently stumbled upon an on-line treasure trove of “prayers of the faithful” that many of us have no doubt heard in common. They come to us courtesy of Oregon Catholic Press (OCP); a non-profit enterprise that enjoys no official status (much less authority) within the Church, yet according to the company’s website “two-thirds of the parishes in the U.S. subscribe to one of OCP’s missal programs,” and among the “worship resources” they provide are pre-composed prayers of the faithful.
In my experience the majority of the most poorly written, doctrinally questionable, and downright irritating intercessions I’ve ever endured fall into the category of those “made for holy Church.” For example, consider the following gems from our friends at OCP:
“For the Church throughout the world and for its mission to become one, holy, catholic and apostolic…”
“That ecclesial authorities do everything in their power to preserve the eucharistic nature of the Church…”
No, I’m not making this stuff up. The irony of offering an intercession like the former mere moments after professing (in the Creed) that the Church is indeed one, holy, catholic and apostolic is as rich as it gets! The mission of the Church, of course, has been given to Her by Christ and it reflects the aforementioned marks (one, holy, catholic, apostolic); i.e. the Church’s mission isn’t going to become anything other than what it already is.
As for the latter intercession and the idea of “preserving” the Church’s “nature”; this reflects a similarly flawed ecclesiology that presumes that human beings enjoy the autonomy to manipulate the Church’s very essence. Of course, the members of the Church can do nothing of the sort, even as we must strive to reflect the Church’s immutable nature as we attempt to answer the call to holiness.
One wonders; are these OCP prayers simply the ramblings of a few poorly catechized writers, or are they deliberately subtle messages designed to serve as a recruiting tool by those who wish to “sing a new church into being?” You decide. (Incidentally, the insipid song by that same title is copy written and distributed by none other than… you guessed it… OCP!)
Some OCP prayers are even more transparent in their agenda of dissent. For instance:
“That the Church seek creative ways to bring the Eucharist to all who hunger in spirit…”
And just in case you missed the point, consider this one:
“For all who gather freely at this table, that they remember those who are prohibited from worshipping…”
OK, so maybe the benefit of the doubt says the latter is a prayer for Catholics in China. As for me, that seems a bit naïve. Considering the source, I think it’s reasonable to understand this prayer as one for the Church to welcome to Communion the divorced and remarried along with the generally unrepentant; especially in light of the former intercession implying that the Church isn’t doing a very good job of feeding the spiritually hungry. Again, you decide.
The common thread in many of these prayers is an implication that something is wrong with the Church, and more specifically, with the sacred hierarchy.
“For those who lead the Church – may they trust the power of the Holy Spirit…”
“That the Church embrace the gifts of every person…”
Yes, God’s knows that if the hierarchy would only trust the Spirit and embrace everyone’s gift we’d have plenty of priests, many of them married – and at least half of them women!
Then there are those prayers that indicate that the Mass is all about us:
“For all who serve in liturgical ministries – may they renew their spirits and their enthusiasm for hospitality…”
This would be a lovely little prayer if not for the pesky fact that the liturgy is not an exercise in hospitality at all; unless of course you’re a member of a “new church.”
Enough for now, as I presume the point has been well made and I am certain that readers have many more examples of their own to share.
In conclusion, I’d like to offer an intercession of my own:
For those who enjoy the incredible privilege of writing prayers for the general intercessions; may they always do so faithfully and well; without any hint of a dissenting agenda, we pray to the Lord…
Do I hear a “Lord hear our prayer?”