Good Friday Intercession for Ukraine

In consultation with the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, the Liturgical Institute Salzburg has published an additional Solemn Intercession for the 2022 Good Friday liturgy with special regard to the war in Ukraine. Here is the German text, an English translation and a short commentary:

Lasst uns (auch) beten für die Menschen in der Ukraine und in allen Kriegsgebieten der Erde;
für alle, die vor dem Schrecken der Gewalt geflohen und ihrer Heimat beraubt sind;
für alle Frauen und Männer, die mit ihrem Leben einstehen für die Abwehr des Bösen und für den Schutz der Schwachen und Verfolgten.

Beuget die Knie. — Erhebet euch.

Allmächtiger, ewiger Gott,
du hast Mitleid mit den Geringen und Armen, die Unterdrücker aber stürzt du.
Wie du Israel aus der Knechtschaft Ägyptens geführt hast, so rette in unseren Tagen alle Opfer von Krieg und Gewalt.
Wandle die Herzen derer, die Böses tun, und lass den Frieden siegreich sein.
Darum bitten wir durch Christus, unseren Herrn. — Amen.

In English:

Let us pray for the people in Ukraine and in all war zones of the world,
for those who have fled the dread of violence and have been deprived of their homes,
for all women and men who stand up with their lives to ward off evil and to protect the weak and the persecuted.

Let us kneel. — Let us stand.

Almighty and eternal God,
you have compassion for the lowly and the poor, but you throw down oppressors.
As you guided Israel out of slavery in Egypt, so save in our days all victims of war and violence.
Change the hearts of the evildoers, and let peace be victorious.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. — Amen.

Some remarks on each sentence and expression:

Let us pray for the people in Ukraine and in all war zones of the world

The war in Ukraine is the specific occasion for which the intercession is made. But we should not forget that there is always war somewhere in the world. That is why the intercession is not exclusively for Ukraine, but for all war zones. It is a prayer for everyone involved in wars, the good and the bad, the violent and the victims.

for those who have fled the dread of violence and have been deprived of their homes,

The Schrecken der Gewalt in German—here translated as dread of violence, but horror of violence would work too—is not exactly a Biblical quotation, but a very familiar poetic phrase. The homes are in German Heimat: a very emotional expression not only for where one lives, but also where one is rooted, finds a place to rest and belongs to. That makes deprived of their homes a very emphatic expression for the loss that the refugees have had due to violence.

for all women and men who stand up with their lives to ward off evil and to protect the weak and the persecuted.

War is not beautiful. War is cruel, disturbing, traumatizing, and destructive. Liturgy must not ignore this reality, but at the same time liturgy is a poetic and symbolic ritual. The text includes everyone who works for the good against the bad, be it armed or unarmed. The evil is an ambiguous expression in English as well as in German: It can refer to an evil person—war proves that there are evil humans—, but also to the evil as something abstract that is present in the world, even in any human’s heart. The text tries not to judge in a simplified manner, but to name the reality.

It might look a bit redundant to explicate women and men. But this phrase reminds us that there are female soldiers warding off the evil as well as male nurses protecting the weak. This is worth mentioning when we have gender roles from earlier times in mind.

Almighty and eternal God, … We ask this through Christ our Lord. — Amen.

The opening and closing phrases of the collect are the same as in all other Solemn Intercessions. Thus this particular intercession fits into the entire ritual, so that the people at prayer can focus more on the content than on the form.

you have compassion for the lowly and the poor, but you throw down oppressors.

The basis for this phrase is Ps 72:4, in German more obvious than in English: He may defend the oppressed among the people, save the children of the poor and crush the oppressor. The final words crush the oppressor are not used here. The prayer shall not encourage any desire of violence. Instead the wording from the Magnificat in Luke 1:52 is used: throw down (from the throne).

As you guided Israel out of slavery in Egypt, so save in our days all victims of war and violence.

Israel’s liberation from the slavery in Egypt is one of the core Biblical narratives. Hence this sentence shows how radical the experience of war is: for those who are involved, but also for those who observe it with fear and cluelessness. Liberation of violence is probably the most basic human need in everyday life. Any experience of peace can be regarded as an analogy of Israel’s original Paschal experience.

The liberation from Egypt is well-positioned not only in the Easter Vigil, but also on Good Friday, especially in the Improperia: I led you from slavery to freedom and drowned your captors in the red sea. The German text is probably a little more poetic than the English translation: Instead of the noun Sklaverei (slavery) it uses the word Knechtschaft (serfdom) with Knechtschaft Ägyptens being a common phrase in the Biblical context.

The Exodus narrative also reminds us of a reality that we should not ignore: Wherever someone wins, someone else loses. Israel can only be saved from Egypt by the destruction of the Pharao’s armed forces. Jesus can only raise from death by the destruction of death’s power. We cannot long for peace without the option that the violent may lose.

Change the hearts of the evildoers, and let peace be victorious.

The text does not say who the evildoers are, but it clearly states that there are evildoers. Jesus said that too. In our liturgy we do not ignore that there are evildoers, but we pray for their conversion. In the Hebrew Old Testament the heart is not only the place of emotion, but rather the place of sanity. This might be an interesting detail here.

The German siegreich (here translated as victorious) sounds very heavy and massive. Some might consider it too militaristic and triumphant. But again: There cannot be a win without another’s loss. Peace cannot overcome war without putting the war into the loser’s corner.

— This is the text that we worked on in Austria. As I have heard, the German-speaking parts of Switzerland will adopt it without changes. The liturgical commission of the German Bishops’ conference revised it a bit and will publish a version on their own.

The Austrian version with its melody can be downloaded here. Some additional information in German can be found on the website of the Liturgisches Institut Salzburg.

6 comments

  1. Has/will USCCB issue something similar for use in the U.S.? Would it be permissible to use the Austrian intercession? Also – what’s the status of the Covid 19 pandemic intercession? Still in? Sorry if these questions are “silly” or insignificant, but as one “in the trenches” I’d love to hear the “PrayTellerati” responses and advice.

    1. The COVID-19 intercession is up to the local bishop to order and approve the use of by parishes and oratories in his diocese.

      https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year-and-calendar/triduum/good-friday-intercessions-covid19-pandemic

      The actual Ukraine petition above is in German, and for the Austrian bishops to order and approve for their dioceses. It’s not applicable to elsewhere as such.

      The intercessions of Good Friday are not quite same as those of other liturgies that vary, especially with respect to particularized topical content.

  2. “…it might look a bit redundant to explicate women and men. But this phrase reminds us that there are female soldiers warding off the evil as well as male nurses protecting the weak. This is worth mentioning when we have gender roles from earlier times in mind.”

    Bombs don’t discriminate between women, men and children. Modern warfare is even more indiscriminate than ever. Civilians–non participants–are targeted as well. In other words, there are no non-participants. This point is being driven home every day in this conflict. More still, Russian oligarchs afloat in their yachts off the waters of Spain are participants. So are we, in the sense that we participate in a global economy that supports this sort of devastation.

    Perhaps this is a short hand for original sin. All are implicated, even those who resist and object. Which isn’t to say, we should stop resisting and objecting!

    (To be clear, I’m not suggesting that all are equally at fault. Rather, that the hidden effects of evil are widespread and in a sense, inescapable.)

    One hallmark of evil is that it isn’t just.

  3. This is a beautiful prayer, well-conceived and executed. Thank you for sharing it.
    We will be using it!

  4. A timely prayer. I cannot wait any longer for there to be a pastoral liturgical response from the Bishops, National or local.
    I will use this prayer with two amendments
    replacing “the dread of violence” with “in dread of violence”, seems a more active and ongoing expression to me and, dare I say it, better use of English.
    Also, I will change “throw down” to ‘cast down”, this language evokes the power of the current translation of the Magnificat which is so important for us to pray earnestly in these more violent, authoritarian, and politically uncertain times.
    Happy Easter to one and all.
    Remember, the heart of the Easter Message (see the appearances before Ascension) is simply ‘Do not worry”.
    God bless, Aidan-Peter CJ

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