The Mass in Slow Motion – The Prayer of the Faithful

We’ve got to pray! Where would the world be today if the Church wasn’t praying? I don’t know if we’d be here to talk about it. I have always suspected that we have been saved from nuclear annihilation due to the fact that some of the Cloistered Sisters have been praying for us. Our prayers change world history. My parish Church is on a very prominent street in the Nation’s Capital. At one end of the street is the US Capitol, some blocks up East Capitol Street is my parish. And I always tell the parishioners that the most important building on East Capitol Street is NOT the US Capitol, it is Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Parish. That’s because it is prayer that really changes things. The politicians up the street can only make a good difference if we’ve got their back. So the Church must pray and this brings us to the Prayer of the Faithful.

In the Prayer 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, and for the salvation of the whole world. As a rule, the series of intentions is to be

1. For the needs of the Church;
2. For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
3. For those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
4. For the local community.

Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion.

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 69-71)

History. – These prayers were very common in the early Church right about where we have them today. They followed the homily (recall the creed was not said in the earlier days as a rule). All the Fathers of the Church make mention of them. In the beginning this prayer was antiphonally recited by the priest and the assembly.
Over time the deacon took a more prominent role, announcing the whole intention and then the faithful responded; Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) or some other acclamation.

The prayers endured up until about the close of the patristic period (ca 9th Century). Their disappearance seems to coincide with  their evolution into a Kyrie Litany and their transfer to the beginning of the Mass. Here they eventually came to be regarded as an unnecessary appendage and were phased out by Pope Gregory (as we saw in an earlier post). In the west they were retained only on Good Friday. In they East they never were dropped. Today they have been restored to their original place in the Mass.

Pastoral reflections – They are called “general intercessions” since they extend beyond  the needs and concerns of the local assembly. Further, please note that they are NOT called the particular intercessions. What sometimes happens in more extemporaneous settings is that certain very particular needs get expressed and the list can become endless. Thus it is not appropriate here to pray, “For the friend of my Uncle Joe Smith’s sister who is recovering from hip surgery and is having a hard time due to her diabetes.” It is more appropriate to pray, “For all who are sick or struggling in at this time.” Keep it general folks, this is not the time for a full medical update on everyone’s cousin or sister.

To call them “prayer of the faithful” has some historical merit since catechumens and others were dismissed before the proclaiming of them. However, today it is more common to call them general intercessions since the whole Mass is really the prayer of the faithful.  The priest, through his opening prayer may link the intercessions to the reading and by his closing prayer may summarize them. This can help to place them in a clear context. To sing the intercessions where possible is a beautiful option       and surely of ancient practice. (Cf Music in Catholic Worship # 74)

The following video demonstrates the Prayer of the Faithful being sung. The text is in French but you’ll get the point. The congregation sings Kyrie Eleison (Lord have Mercy) and the cantors sing the petitions.

3 Replies to “The Mass in Slow Motion – The Prayer of the Faithful”

  1. In a previous post (, you had mentioned that “only texts which have been approved should be used at divine services.” Does this resolution apply only to the Opening Prayer (and other similar prayers) or to the entire Mass? Specifically, is it okay when, in certain Masses, the congregation is free to say a general intercession from where they’re standing, without any previous approval?

    1. The texts of the Scaramentary should be followed strictly. There are a few places in the sacramentary where the celebrant is instructed to use “these or similar words.” In such cases the celebrant is freer to elaborate. Insofar as the Prayer of the faithful and the people calling out prayers it seems that the following words of the GIRM discourage such a practice: The intentions announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community. I don’t think these words absolutely forbid such a practice but it is assumed the prayers are “composed” or written ahead of time by someone who uses prudence, sobriety and representative of the whole community. All of these norms seem to call for a pre-written texts. In my own experience, I have tended to be a little more relaxed in masses in the Chapel where less than 12 people might gather and can make some allowance for congregational participation there. (Also due to the more familiar setting I usually feel free to correct people after mass who stray into overly particular prayers or give too many details or who become divisive by sounding political etc.) But I never allow prayers to be called out in the main church where the liturgies involve larger numbers. Not only can the prayers stray greatly from prudence and inclusiveness but they are also hard to hear and frequently people talk over each other. So the bottom line seems to be that people calling out prayers is generally unwise and not presumed by the norm. Smaller settings might sometimes be an exception.

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