“By Their Intercessions You will Know Them”

What we pray for (and against) reveals some of our deepest desires and commitments – at least that is what I have been pondering lately.

Today at Mass, in a parish I was visiting, the intercessions brought this home to me very concretely.  The intercessions opened with a prayer for Pope Benedict and for the local bishop.  We then prayed for the unborn, and for the very sick and aged, that they would be allowed to die naturally.  We concluded with a prayer for the living and deceased of a particular group, for whom ‘this Mass was being offered up.’  Not that there are problems with any of the concerns voiced in these intercessions; I united my own prayers without difficulties with those of the assembly.  Rather, the point is the different kinds of concerns voiced in this parish from the ones I hear routinely in my own community (both parishes are in the same city).

My own community as often as not will voice the city’s heartaches in intercessions: the plight of the homeless and of those out of work or the suffering of those affected by the increase in violent crime.  And especially during the open intercessions, one might hear people “balance out” – for lack of a better term – the community’s prayers.  I remember, for example, how a prayer for the men and women in uniform was followed by a prayer for all the victims of violent, military intervention.

The point of all this is not that some intercessions have more right to be prayed than others.  My point simply is that our intercessions reveal who we are and what we passionately care about.  What will those who come to our liturgies as strangers learn about us, how will they “know” us, by our intercessions?


  1. Mass intentions are generally written by the liturgy coordinator in my parish. I suspect that is the general rule in most parishes unless the pastor writes them himself. A few parishes still allow, during the week,
    the faithful to vocalize personal intentions. I would certainly expect intentions to vary with the economic and social climate of the community. For example, my parish is a student parish at a major university and so many times intentions include concerns of students i.e. exams, graduation, employment etc.

  2. As the writer of intercessions for our parish, I consider this one of my most important tasks. I prepare for them throughout the week, almost in the way my homiletics class taught me preaching. I read the scripture passages and the collect and keep them in mind through the week as I read the paper, listen to the news, talk to the people of the parish and in my own daily prayer. In a way, I see this ministry as a type of spiritual direction for the parish. So it really irritates me when I go to Mass somewhere else and hear intercessions that seem unrelated to what’s going on in the world.

    1. Terri: I was moved by your post and by how you craft the intercessions during the week. May your tribe of intercession crafters increase!

    2. I am adding this as a reply to Terri’s comment, and hope that is acceptable in this case. I too am the writer of intercessions at both the parish where I work and the parish where I worship.

      Like Terri, this is one of my most important things to do. For me, it a rich gift and privilege to be in a position to do this for two communities.

      Also like Terri, this is something that I spend considerable time with during the week. Reading, praying, listening. When it is time to put the words to paper, I do so with no small amount of reverence. In case anyone is wondering, while some of the intentions themselves overlap, I do prepare two different sets of prayers, as the communities are somewhat different.

      In my worship parish, depending on the schedule, if I am reading, I may also be the person to give voice to the intentions.

      And I am saddened when I go elsewhere and hear something that is unrelated to the world at large – and just as often unrelated to the assembly that is present.

      Thank you Teresa for this post and to Terri, a kindred spirit. I will remember the idea of spiritual direction for the parish. What a wonderful way to frame this. Thank you.

  3. I am growing more and more keenly aware of the Intercessions/ Prayers of the Faithful as the prayers of the priestly people — to be taken as seriously by the community as the EP is by the presider.

  4. Intercessory prayer is interesting. In our personal prayers we pray for others as if God wouldn’t help them as much as he could unless we asked him first in their behalf – that idea bothers me, but still I do pray this way. Intercessory prayers at church (for instance praying for the pope’s intentions) seem even more problematic.

  5. The Prayers for Sundays and Seasons books from the pre-Cardinal George LTP do a marvelous job of crafting Scriptural, seasonal and timely intercessions . . . oh pardon me, Bidding Prayers.

  6. In.my parish in England several different people compose and voice the intercessions and are on the rota in the same way as readers are. The prayers are always very rich and reach out to the wider community and the needs of the world. They are rich, challenging and reflect a community committed to justice, peace and the poor. We have done this for years.

  7. I know of one intercession writer who got in trouble for writing an intercession “for all who serve their nations in the military; for their safety and safe return home” – one person in the pews evidently caught that this meant we were also praying to God for our ENEMIES. As the story was related to me, pointing out the teaching of Jesus in regard to our enemies did not have any power to persuade. [It’s interesting to note the overwhelmingly female presence in this thread so far.]

    1. Oh that is a tough road- people have all kinds of reactions to any military intentions and even bigger and more negative reactions to having none for the military at all.

      P.S. Yes – interesting indeed.

  8. Alan, it really IS all in the wording, isn’t it? I’ve cringed inwardly (and maybe even outwardly a time or two) for years at one of our parish’s usual intercessions for military personnel which would invariably conclude “as they protect our way of life and keep us free from terrorism”. It’s been interesting over 9 years to hear that one evolve to a simple “return them home safely to their loved ones”, even in such a GOP community. No intercession should be so agenda-slanted that sizable numbers in the assembly just cannot in good conscience affirm “Lord, hear our prayer”…

  9. I wish these words were engraved over the sacristy door:

    No intercession should be so agenda-slanted that sizable numbers in the assembly just cannot in good conscience affirm “Lord, hear our prayer”…

  10. Wording of intercessions is always interesting. I try to stay away from the “God, magically solve our problems for us” genre. “Pray that the hungry might be fed.” Fed by whom? A giant hand from the sky? Let’s pray that God would move our hearts to better serve the poor. I sometimes use the phrase, “may they know God’s abundance through our sharing.”

    I have a pet peeve with prayers that inadvertently make a political statement. For example, “we pray that the government might provide food and housing assistance for people in need.” You’ve just assumed that it’s the government’s role to do this, which may or may not be the best way to provide service.

  11. It is so encouraging to hear from people in the above posts who regard the intercessions as a form of preaching and evangelization. So often those responsible for the intercessions are cautious not to rub people the wrong way, staying clear of the provocative part of the gospel message, as do many homilists. That is why folks will search for safe intercessions in books or on the internet. Thus we hear “For peace in the world…” and the overly familiar intercession for the pope and the bishop, even though intercessions for the hierarchy are already a required part of every Eucharistic prayer. To borrow a bit of tone from Theresa of Avila, “That we be delivered from every intercessory bromide…we pray to the Lord.”

  12. I spent a few years writing and coordinating the writing of these prayers for Mass. One thing I encouraged us to strain against was letting the news cycle rudder the intercessions; if anything, we should be straining to see what the news cycle blinds us to.

  13. We have a priest who cannot stand prayers like this, he considers them to be too far “out there” and anti-Catholic. He doesn’t “get” that we are praying as Jesus taught us. For example, he thinks every intercession “for the Church” should pray for the pope, bishops and Church leaders and that’s it. Then there should be three more prayers: for the world, for local needs and for the sick/dying. That’s all; no more, no less.

    Poor liturgy formation on his part. It’s sad. However, he doesn’t win the battle. I do, as intercession chief writer.

  14. In our parish the Bidding Prayers always include a prayer for those of the faithful departed “who have nobody to pray for them.” A neighbouring priest reminded us on All Souls day, that there are no “forgotten souls” because all the deceased are remembered every day at every Mass. That’s a comforting thought for me.

    1. One priest I know always prays for “our benefactors”. It always rubs me the wrong way, as if the prayers are purchased.

      1. I see that point, but I would interpret that differently: as a prayer for the benefactors of each of us. It’s a good practice to pray each day for own benefactors, known and especially unknown (and deceased as well as living). They would include those who pray for us. Actually, anyone from any time in history whose good action or omission has been for our better. It’s a capacious prayer…. My daily practice is also to specifically give thanks for blessings that I don’t know of, don’t understand, don’t appreciate, or take for granted.

      2. In an English-speaking monastery I know of, the traditional prayer after meals, “Retribuere dignare, Domine, omnibus nobis bona facientibus propter nomen tuum, vitam aeternam” (the monks’ acknowledgement that the kindness of others helps to provide their daily sustenance) is translated more or less literally and, like the Latin, kind of expands the word “benefactors” into what the concept really means:

        “Reward with eternal life, O Lord, all who for your sake do good to us.”

  15. Although I have far too much to do, I continue to prepare the intercessions as part of preparation for preaching as well as balance in the liturgy.  Here are some of my complaints about the intercessions I hear in other parishes:

    1) they are taken verbatim from the same source all the time;
    2) the response NEVER varies;
    3) we instruct God on how to answer our prayers;
    4) a “Do-the-red-say-the-black” slavish following of the GIRM;
    5) they too long as though it is our responsibility to pray for everyone and everything as if God doesn’t care about human needs unless we ask;
    6) the intentions are OBVIOUSLY biased by something the priest or composer believes in (e.g., “That people will show their love for God by praying the rosary and the Angelus daily”);
    7) no connection whatsoever with the readings, the Feast or Sunday, current events or local concerns;
    8) too MANY connections with  the readings, the Feast or Sunday, current events or local concerns;
    9) intercessions that are NOT general;
    0) ending with a “Hail, Mary.

    In a shameless promotion for my spirituality blog, I recommend a remarkable prayer — two versions, no less — written by a Jewish Rabbi on what to pray for:



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