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Liturgy: Ad-libbing the Prayers of the Faithful

And More on the Eucharistic Prayer

ROME, JULY 21, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: At daily Mass in two local parishes the priests will offer the list of prayers to the faithful, and then ask the congregation to verbally add their prayers. This has led to some profound prayers underlining some of the current local, national or international concerns of the faithful; but more often or not it is the same people offering the same intentions daily, many of them spoken too quietly for others to hear. On occasion the offered prayers have contained political bias, or suggested a lack of knowledge of Church teaching. It is precisely because of some of these problems that I understand the prayers of the faithful are to be limited to the celebrant? -- D.P., Innisfil, Ontario

A: Norms regarding the prayers of the faithful are found in the Introduction to the Lectionary, Nos. 30-31.

No. 30 states: "In the light of God's word and in a sense in response to it, the congregation of the faithful prays in the universal prayer as a rule for the needs of the universal Church and the local community, for the salvation of the world and those oppressed by any burden, and for special categories of people.

"The celebrant introduces the prayer; a deacon, another minister, or some of the faithful may propose intentions that are short and phrased with a measure of freedom. In these petitions 'the people, exercising its priestly function, makes intercession for all men and women,' with the result that, as the liturgy of the word has its full effects in the faithful, they are better prepared to proceed to the liturgy of the Eucharist."

No. 31 continues: "For the prayer of the faithful the celebrant presides at the chair and the intentions are announced at the ambo. The assembled congregation takes part in the prayer of the faithful while standing and by saying or singing a common response after each intention or by silent prayer."

As can be seen, there is no mention of spontaneous intentions being offered. And this is usually inadvisable for the very reasons you mention: the danger of rambling, and the offering of political or even theologically incorrect intentions.

Yet, this is not an absolute rule. There are some communities with a long tradition of intercessory prayer who have learned to formulate brief concrete intentions according to the indications given in the ritual, above all on weekdays or in small groups.

Generally, however, and especially on a Sunday, the intentions should always be prepared beforehand and approved by the pastor or celebrant. It is praiseworthy to follow the general order indicated in No. 30: asking for the universal Church, the local community, etc., although special intentions are usually prepared for particular occasions such as confirmations and ordinations (see the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 70).

The tendency to pronounce abstract intentions should also be avoided. For example, instead of asking generically for "human rights" the request should be for those who suffer persecution or injustice.

If the priest wishes to offer the people an opportunity to add their own intentions it is probably better for him to say something like "Let each one add in silence his own personal intentions" and then observe a moment of silence before reciting, with hands extended, the concluding prayer.

The minister reading the intentions of the universal prayer is usually the deacon, followed by the instituted lector and any member or members of the faithful.

However, even when a deacon or instituted lector are present, there may be occasions, such as weddings, first Communions, confirmations, funerals and other special occasions, when pastoral reasons allow for several members of the faithful to recite the intentions of the General Intercessions.

An important point to observe here is that the people's "exercising the priestly function" is not limited to those who read the intentions.

Indeed the intentions are not actually prayers as such insofar as they are not directed to God.

The "prayer" of the prayer of the faithful consists in the response or silent prayer made by the people after the invitation "Let us pray to the Lord."

Thus the exercise of the common priesthood lies in the very fact that each member of the assembly participates in offering intercessory prayer for all men and women. Interceding before God for our fellows is an eminently priestly function in which all baptized Catholics may participate albeit always in communion with the sacred priesthood.

* * * *

Follow-up: Eucharistic Prayer for the Celebrant(s) Alone?

Related to the reasons why the Eucharistic Prayer is reserved to the priest alone (see July 6) some readers have asked for clarifications on some technical aspects.

Several correspondents asked about priests making additions, adjustments or "corrections," or inserting various personal prayers or community songs, within the Eucharistic Prayers.

These fall under the general heading on unwarranted additions for which there is no justification. We have already commented on this phenomenon in the light of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum."

One reader asked when the Eucharistic Prayer begins. Properly speaking, it begins with the "Lord be with you" of the preface and not after the Sanctus as was once commonly held.

This is clearly seen in the way that the new Latin missal prints the Eucharistic Prayers always beginning with the "Dominus Vobiscum" even in those (the Roman Canon and Third EP) that have no proper preface of their own.

A Michigan reader asked if the Eucharistic Prayer for Children could be used at a regular Sunday Mass.

These Eucharistic Prayers are specifically reserved for celebrations mostly attended by children, and therefore are usually reserved for weekday Masses at schools. They are designed for the mentality and level of understanding of children in or around the age of first Communion.

Therefore, apart from the fact that the use of such Eucharistic Prayers at a regular Sunday Mass is illicit, some parishioners might be justly offended by being treated as 8-year-olds.

A priest from Toronto asked about the proper way of mentioning the bishop or bishops in the Eucharistic Prayer.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 149, addresses this point:

"If the celebrant is a Bishop, in the Prayers, after the words 'Papa nostro N.' (N., our Pope), he adds, 'et me, indigno famulo tuo' (and me, your unworthy servant). If, however, the Bishop is celebrating outside his own diocese, after the words 'Papa nostro N.' (N., our Pope), he adds, 'et me indigno famulo tuo, et fratre meo N., Episcopo huius Ecclesiae N.' (me, your unworthy servant, and my brother N., the Bishop of this Church of N.).

"The diocesan Bishop or anyone equivalent to him in law must be mentioned by means of this formula: 'una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Episcopo (or Vicario, Prelato, Praefecto, Abbate)' (together with your servant N., our Pope, and N., our Bishop [or Vicar, Prelate, Prefect, Abbot]).

"It is permitted to mention Coadjutor and Auxiliary Bishops in the Eucharistic Prayer, but not other Bishops who happen to be present. When several are to be named, this is done with the collective formula 'et Episcopo nostro N. eiusque Episcopis adiutoribus' (N., our Bishop and his assistant Bishops).

"In each of the Eucharistic Prayers, these formulas are to be modified according to the requirements of grammar."

The GIRM does not, however, specify what is to be done when a bishop, other than the ordinary, presides at a concelebrated Mass.

In this case both the local ordinary and the celebrant should be mentioned.

It is also customary only to mention the Pope's name, leaving out the numeral and to omit honorific titles such as cardinal.

It does not seem that the bishop emeritus (that is, retired) is usually mentioned unless he conserves the government of the diocese until a successor is named.

Masses celebrated while the Holy See is vacant omit the words "famulo tuo Papa Nostro N." (N. our Pope). A bishop's name is also omitted when the diocese is vacant or one celebrates while at sea or in other situations where there is no resident bishop.

Because ecclesial unity is formed through the pope and the bishop it is not correct to extend the prayer by specifically naming priests such as "N. our pastor."

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