I’m a news junkie. My phone is set to receive CNN’s news alerts, I read three online newspapers and I watch the NBC and BBC Nightly News.
At night, I’ll catch the 11:30 news to stay current on local events and see how my sports teams are doing—especially the Miami Heat!
I often guess which of the stories will find their way to the Mass and be presented to the assembly in a communal prayer called the Universal Prayer.
Several prayers said at Mass are ancient—from the very beginnings of Christianity. The Kyrie and Creed, for example, are both from the first centuries of the Church, while the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father recited by the faithful are from the very lips of Christ.
But the Universal Prayer (also called the Prayer of the Faithful and the General Intercessions) is not grounded in antiquity, but in immediacy. It is a series of ever-changing intercessory prayers that fully integrate the liturgy with the believer’s every-day life. Among the topics of the intentions may be political elections, hot-button social issues or devastating natural disasters.
Whatever is on the front page of the morning’s newspaper may very well be on the lips of the deacon, cantor or lay reader when reciting the Universal Prayer.
“[The Universal Prayers] 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.”—General Instruction of the Roman Missal #71
After the priest’s introduction, a series of short, succinct intentions are read from the ambo. After a pause for prayer, the congregation assents by voicing a communal invocation after each (“Lord, hear our prayer” is quite common).
The duty of composing the weekly intentions for the Universal Prayer can be undertaken by an individual such as the priest, the deacon, the cantor, the lector, another minister or one of the faithful. It may be best, however, to assign the task to a parish group as this will increase the breadth, vision and scope of the intentions and eliminate any unintentional bias an individual might impose.
While the Church does not dictate who should write the intentions, it does give a clear guideline of how they should be composed:
“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.” —General Instruction of the Roman Missal #55
The intentions are arranged in a specific order:
- For the needs of the Church
- For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world
- For those burdened by any kind of difficulty
- For the local community
The proper content of the individual intentions is hinted at in the Universal Prayer’s former title—General Intercessions. Since the prayer intentions are voiced at Mass, they need to be written in such a way that they are agreeable to all the faithful. In this context, general refers to the necessity that the entire assembly can give their assent to the petitions. They must not include personal preferences or partisan views. For example:
“For our country; that [candidate’s name] will become our next president. We pray to the Lord.”
“For the Olympics;
that the United States win the most Gold medals.
We pray to the Lord.”
While some may agree, not all present will want to pray for these intentions.
But praying for the elections and Olympics is commendable. These intentions simply need to be reworded so all can agree:
“For our country;
that all candidates who are entrusted with the sacred duty to participate in public life may unwaveringly follow your way and adhere to your truth,
we pray to the Lord.”
“For the Olympics;
that this great sporting event help foster cooperation across cultural
and national boundaries,
we pray to the Lord.”
The entire assembly can consciously and actively assent to these fair, impartial and unbiased intentions.
This is why I must abandon hope for every hearing:
For the Miami Heat;
that they may persevere and win their 4th NBA Championship,
we pray to the Lord.
Writing well informed intentions requires that the author be current. An awareness of national and international news is critical for up-to-date intentions that are on the hearts and minds of the assembly. A natural disaster thousands of miles away or a gas explosion at a plant in a third-world country entreats the faithful to be in solidarity with, and pray for, unknown brothers and sisters who are suffering.
Being in touch with the local community is also paramount. It is the task of the writer to know if the assembly is feeling content, confused or complacent. The closing of a factory may affect many parishioners and their families. A heated mayoral election may cause dissension and resentment. It is our responsibility, privilege and duty as baptized Christians to pray for those needs and concerns.
What about you? Do you write the intentions for the Universal Prayer? How do you prepare? What are your sources of inspiration? Share and let’s learn together!