Non solum: Prayers over the People in Lent

Now that we’re in Easter Season (I just can’t get used to “Easter Time”), I’d like to look back to the optional Prayers over the People in the Lenten Masses. These follow the Prayer after Communion. They are new (or revived) in the 2011 Roman Missal.

When the newly translated Missal first came out, I thought these were an enrichment. We were instructed in the abbey how these are to be used, with the priest saying “Bow down for the blessing” and then proclaiming the text, with the usual blessing following. Most priests followed this option.

This year I observed that fewer abbey priests did so. And when they did, it felt to me like simply a second prayer after communion or a second collect, which seemed like a duplication. (Some might recall that collects could be multiplied in the unreformed liturgy before Vatican II.)

Here are examples of two such texts, from Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week:

May your mercy, O God,
cleanse the people that are subject to you
from all seduction of former ways
and make them capable of new holiness.
Through Christ our Lord.

Grant your faithful, O Lord, we pray,
to partake unceasingly of the paschal mysteries
and to await with longing the gifts to come,
that, persevering in the Sacraments of their rebirth,
they may be led by Lenten works to newness of life.
Through Christ our Lord.

I’m not talking about the style of translation – that is an entirely separate issue, and, frankly, one I’d rather not take up again here. In whatever manner this prayer is translated, is it an enrichment to use such a prayer?

Let me argue a bit with myself before I turn it over to all of you for discussion. Maybe the value of the Prayer over the People is to set apart the season of Lent, and it’s more about the “rhythm” of it than the rational content of the particular prayers.

What do you think?

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15 comments

  1. Although I have never made deeper analyses of those prayers, I strongly tend to agree to your thoughts. I makes sense to do certain things differently in Lent, just because of the “rhythm” (or “atmosphere” or whatever). It makes sense to omit any “Hallelujah” in the 40 days – but it also makes sense when the Byzantine rite sings lots of Hallelujahs on Good Friday.

    By the way: In the last ten years in Austria and Germany, I have only once or twice heard the “Prayer over the People”. I think it would be helpful for the rhythm of Lent to use them more often.

  2. I agree that there’s value in making Lent differently. At one of the places I regularly preside, we used Penitential Rite ‘B’ and then sang the Kyrie at every Mass in Lent too, so there was a sense that the opening and closing rites were different.

    Leaving translation issues aside, I have to admit that I often didn’t really like the prayers over the people. Especially, I don’t like that they’re phrased in 3rd person plural and the priest isn’t able to pray for himself along with the people.

    1. @Adam Booth, C.S.C.:
      I don’t understand how the priest isn’t including himself in these prayers. Is he not also among “the people that are subject to you” or one of “your faithful” along with all the other baptized members of the Body?
      If the prayer read “these people, who are subject to you” or “your faithful laity” I could see the exclusion, but not as they are.
      True, God’s blessing that follows this prayer is given by the priest to the people; but that doesn’t exclude him from this prayer.

      1. @Alan Hommerding:

        It’s the pronouns that does it for me. When I refer to a group that includes me, I refer to it as “we / us/ our(s)”, not “they / them/ their(s).” I don’t have any problem with blessing and (in the absence of a deacon) dismissing the people at the end of Mass. I just think that prayer could be more powerful if the priest prayed, in the name of all the people gathered, that God might “make us capable of new holiness” or that “we may be led by Lenten works to newness of life.”

        I could see the point of the third person if this were simply an expanded blessing, but as Fritz pointed out, the pronouns don’t work for that either (switch in who ‘you’ is).

  3. I’ve yet to hear them used, sadly, as that was one feature of the 2011 Missal I thought had some promise. I have zero issue with priests praying over the people, and wish they would do it more….

  4. The General Instruction describes these prayers as an expansion of the text of the final blessing, so it makes sense that they would be in the same “person” as the blessing itself. So if the priest extends his hands as a blessing while saying these prayers, it would unite them more to the text of the final blessing rather than to the text of the postcommunion. I don’t the the history of these prayers, but they seem to be an expansion of the blessing as the sequence was an expansion of the Gospel Acclamation and other parts of the rite became expanded over time.

  5. How about using the Prayer over the People as an invocation immediately prior to the final blessing? Drop the “Through Christ our Lord” at the end of the Prayer over People, then say, “And may almighty God bless you, Father, Son….”. Mass is ended go in peace.
    ?

    1. @John Swencki:
      Something similar is presen in Anglican use “May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and may the blessing…”

      Seems like I would flow better that way.

  6. As an Anglican priest, I’ve made use of the Prayers over the People these last few Lents. Such optional insertion are permissible for us. I’ve found these prayers to be quite wonderful signs of the pastoral care of a priest for the people. A care often intensified by the raw spirituality of the fast. As I pray these, it is as if I implicit that I know they desire additional grace to sustain them in that season. Such an understanding has informed the manner in which I pronounce them. Perhaps if one were to trip over them as ‘just another prayer’, the sense of care would be lost.

    Concerning the translation, I think these prayers are a fair bit more sturdy than the collect-like prayers of the current missal. The Anglican tradition often has the same collects, but we have the richness of our 16th-century translations on which to draw.

  7. It’s worth remembering that these prayers are much older than the trinitarian blessing at the end of Mass. At that time they were the blessing. They had a place in every Mass, but eventually became restricted to Lent. The 1970 Missal (like the current Missal) extended them to every Mass, but as an option: 26 were printed in the Missal, just before the Order of Mass. The current Missal still allows them every day, but returned to the practice of printing one at the end of each Lenten Mass – I suppose to encourage their use at least in that season.

  8. Incidentally, the prayers are optional on Lenten weekdays but would seem to be obligatory on Lenten Sundays (contra the pre-conciliar practice).

    1. @Joshua Vas:

      At our Cathedral we use them both on Sundays and weekdays. I rather like them. To be effective, though, they should be delivered in a tone that matches their elevated style.

  9. I know I’ve said this before in some other posting, but it’s applicable here too. I don’t know a parish that doesn’t have some Sunday announcements after the Prayer after Communion, so we use a Prayer over the People/Solemn Blessing each and every Sunday of the year. It brings needed solemnity after learning about where the Young Adult Group is meeting for Theology on Tap, or which Facebook page we should go to for more information.

    Ours is a pretty vibrant downtown parish, where there’s something happening every weekday to mention, or a group of visitors to thank for coming, or something else to note after the Prayer After Communion. So in the average-to-active parish, there’s going to be a break between these on Lenten weekdays as well, as compared to the monastic community where they would flow right from one to another. I appreciate that during Lent, these are here, to send us out strengthening our Lenten fasting, praying, and almsgiving.

    I think the only liturgy that we go from one right to another without comment is the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion.

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