“Biblical” Prayers of the People?

I find myself quite ambivalent about  attempts to the link the Prayers of the People with the biblical readings for the day (as I realized, once again, today at Mass).  When did this trend develop?  As much as I appreciate worship deeply shaped by Scripture, it seems this “shaping” can be taken too far and become quite artificial.  Prefacing every intention in the prayers of the people by some reference to the biblical readings of the day is — in my experience — often forced, sometimes silly, and always distracting.  Why not simply announce the intentions, and leave it at that?  Random detours, even if through biblical texts, are are unhelpful here — or am I missing something (beyond  a routine impulse that more Scripture is always good?).

17 comments

  1. The Intercessions are one of the most misunderstood and misused eleemnts of the Eucharist even, I find, in communities that have a good sense of the flow of worship. Very few parishes keep them brief, follow the 5 suggested intentions (church, world, local community,etc.)
    and turn them into mini-homilies, force them to reflect the gospel reading, etc. Many of them are telling God what to do rather than praying for something or someone, The name of the person for whom the Mass is being offered is often inserted, at times the list of the dead and sick go on forever listing 15 to 20 names and other kinds of abuses. They should be limited to 5 or 6, directed at the suggested areas, be concise and brief and should elicit a variety of responses other than the trite and over used “Lord hear our prayer.” The response can change seasonally according to the major liturgical seasons, use “Lord heard us” and the response “Lord graciously hear us” and a variety of responses. Instead of “Let us pray to the Lord” we can use simply for whatever intention …..”we pray” or “Let us pray.”
    Current events might be included now and then when they directly affect a local community or the global community. I fear we have come simply to rely on pre-packaged intentions which many times do not fit the time or particular place of the liturgy. It is one of these elements like the Eucharist Prayer where ministers need much for education on the history, function and creative use of the Prayer of the Faithful if they are not to become routine, overly long, too particularized or simply irrelevant to which a mechanical “Lord hear our prayer” is the automatic response.

  2. I think the tendency comes from the older mentality of the need to “thematize” every part of the liturgy. On the other hand, some communities/people might see the intercessions more as a response to the Word listened to and explained, and consequently seek to make the link emphatic.

    Re: Robert Nugent’s post: I am one of the people who doesn’t see why the intentions should be 5, and I frequently insert more if/when I compose them. I don’t think they should be unnecessarily multiplied, but 5 tends to limit the things prayed for. It would seem to me that, looking at the place of this prayer in other liturgies and across the ages, it has been used as a place to express a multitiude of needs and petitions. There is something also to be said for a litany having a decent number of petitions – otherwise, it ends up more like litany-lite, in my opinion.

  3. I am not sure that there is anything wrong with one prayer reflecting the scripture, but there is no good reason for them all to be that way. I personally think they are an opportunity wasted far too often:

    – they tend to be overly wordy; brevity is the soul of wit and also the wit of the soul, imho
    – they tend to be monotonously long (but I do think saying only 5 regardless of the day is wrong, too – do what is needed, but only what is needed)
    – I will cast a vote for “Lord Hear Our Prayer”, though. Why? Because people respond readily with it. Granted, it is litany-like, but that is not bad: we use litanies all the time with great success and reverence in other situations. And on the flip side, changing it every week means most of the congregation takes half the prayers learning it and the response is feeble at best. This is particularly true when the writer has chosen to wax poetic and include more than one thought. EX: “Lord hear us, and be our constant guardian”. Like the prayers themselves, the response should be simple enough for the lowest common denominator to participate meaningfully.

  4. I think Peter Scagnelli did a fine job of using biblical allusions from the readings for general intercessions — Prayers for Sundays and Seasons A/B/C. He used the 5 categories, adding neophytes for the Lenten intercessions, and was able to make them “general” enough and yet included allusions to the Scripture readings. I see they are no longer available from LTP, however.
    If we are taking our priestly responsiblility pf praying for the needs of the wrld seriously, 5 or intercessions does not cut it (IMHO) in today’s need-full world!

  5. Why not look to the Great Litany (at the beginning) or the Litany of Supplication (approximately at the same point as the General Intercessions) in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy? They list precisely what the Church is asking for without getting cliche, long-winded, political or cutesie. And, the deacon (if there is one) or song leader can even sing it–there are more than enough settings of it, and easy enough for the people in the pews to respond. I even believe it’s one of the options in the Book of Common Prayer.

  6. John Kohanski : Why not look to the Great Litany (at the beginning) or the Litany of Supplication (approximately at the same point as the General Intercessions) in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy? They list precisely what the Church is asking for without getting cliche, long-winded, political or cutesie. And, it can even be sung–there are more than enough settings of it, and easy enough for the people in the pews to respond. I even believe it’s one of the options in the Book of Common Prayer.

    Yes, those are terrific models in themselves or for adaptation. Thanks for reminding us!

  7. Thanks – have used Scagnelli’s LTP resource but, of course, it is gone given the new regime in the Chicago archdiocese.

    Here is the best explanation of the General Intentions that I have seen – recently posted by Paul Inwood on an earlier thread:

    http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2013/04/05/rethinking-the-prayer-of-the-faithful/

    Number #19 – he hits all of the principles and main points especially things beyond Teresa’s point about scriptural reference:
    – silence after each petition
    – presider invites the community (not praying to God)
    – use of *let us pray* rather than *we pray*
    – use of a cantor and sung communal response
    – petitions for each to pray in silence negates the very purpose of the *General* or *Universal* prayer

  8. Thanks, Bill and Jack. I would only add here, concerning the number of intentions, that the intercessions provided in the RCIA (for example) have considerably more than five intentions and no one seems to think they are too much. And, Teresa, they certainly have scriptural resonances.

    I think it may depend on context. If you have inculcated a climate of prayer in the celebration, as well as at this particular point, and if everyone is really engaged in what is going on, rather than being “consumers”, then we give this often cringe-making part of the rite a chance to live again.

  9. The first thing GIRM says about these is (69) “In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word
    of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all.”

    So these prayers ARE a part of the Liturgy of the Word; the question then seems to be HOW are they a part of the Liturgy of the Word? Is there some need to insert regular quotations from the readings that have been proclaimed, heard and preached upon? As with the readings themselves, is silence allowed? Maybe the approach can vary from week to week — sometimes the lections lend themselves better to quotation than at other times.

    My practice with the “personal intention” prayer was to make it broad: “For these prayers, and the prayers we hold in our hearts.” It can’t be presumed that everyone is praying only for “me-me-me” . . . and there’s nothing wrong with including prayers about/for myself; I’m one of the “all” that’s included in the “salvation for all” the GIRM tells us we’re praying for. As a “response to the Word” prayer, I like to include one along the lines of “For the Word of God to take hold in our lives and be known through our daily deeds.” or some such.

  10. I think that some sort of connection with the readings helps people see the scripture as a jumping-off point for their own personal prayer. Many parishioners I work with have difficulty internalizing scripture and relating it to their own lives. If I can show how this week’s scripture evokes in me (the writer of the intercessions) a connection with our world, it’s a model for how they can do this, too. It’s in this sense that, in a way, my ministry is a kind of “spiritual direction” for the parish.

    That doesn’t mean that I tie every intercession to the readings. The needs of the world this week don’t always come across to me that way. And I seldom make the connection by quoting the scripture. But I always try to have at least one or two intercessions flow noticeably from the Word we’ve just heard.

  11. Following Alan’s question about how they’re integral to the Liturgy of the Word, I think ties can be made without quotation or allusion, just in the choice of whom/what to pray for. “The poor you will always have with you.” Genuine needs aren’t always “current” or topical, which is why those Byzantine litanies never change. A lot of needs—important ones—are always present in our world, and remain available for prayer when something in the readings might provoke a reminder.

    Granted, even that sort of link can be forced or artificial too, but it can be done without the homilizing or thematizing approaches that are best avoided.

    1. @Christian McConnell – comment #12:
      I have found that using the format of “For ….” without any “that they may/we may/the world may do whatever” clause following it keeps the prayers pithy, but also allows very broad (and occasionally very deep!) echoes of the scriptures. It always, however, keeps the focus on the people and their realities. It also helps to have a skilled writer prepare them; writing short items is infinitely more challenging than writing long ones!

      And Chris is right: Many needs are constant. I’ve written at least ten years worth of intentions for the Prayer of the Faithful, and I find going back to them poignant, for we are still praying for peace, although the hotspots of the world may have shifted, and still praying for couples whose hearts long for a child, and family members struggling to care for relatives who are far away, and kids who are bullied, and victims of violence in our communities, or of natural disasters and catastrophic events. Over the years, it’s turned into a rather large portrait of the faces of the “many” – all – for whom Christ died.

  12. I try to have some Scriptural connection, not unlike what Terri has just noted in comment #11. I have also been trying to include the Holy Father’s monthly intention in some way.

    This prayer is so misunderstood by so many however; I get multiple requests for such specificity of things. When I try to explain that it is the universal prayer, people have a hard time with that notion.

  13. I find it ironic that those strongly pushing these “biblical intercessions” are exactly the same ones who think nothing of excluding the proper chants from the Mass. Just sayin.

    As I said in the other post: just use the ones from the missal, and adapt them. They’re concise, yet elevated and dignified.

  14. I also follow the “for” only principle, without using a “that” or “may” – when I’ve done writing workshops I make that one of the exercises: use “for” and not “that/may” and then write the intercession using 20 words or less, then 15 words or less, then 10 words or less. It irritates people who want the intercessions to be their opportunity to sermonize, but it also forces everyone to make the prayers broader.

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