Liturgy Matters — Prayer of the Faithful

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Judy-Bullock-2013-wWhat is the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful?

The Prayer of the Faithful or Universal Prayer is the part of the Mass that follows the Profession of Faith/Creed, and is the last element of the Liturgy of the Word.  There is evidence that this prayer was a part of the liturgy at least through the first centuries of the Church.  Over time, except for Good Friday, this prayer was eliminated from the liturgy. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council restored it to the Roman Rite.

The name “Prayer of the Faithful” refers not only to the ownership of the intentions by all the baptized, but also to the fact that those preparing for Baptism are dismissed prior to this prayer until after they have been baptized.

Why is there a Prayer of the Faithful within the liturgy?

This prayer is a direct response to what we have heard in the proclamation of Scripture and to the homily. We are urged to exercise our baptismal responsibility, our priestly role, to pray for others. The expectation is that we are to act on what we have heard.

Our “priestly role” is not referring to the ordained priesthood but to the Priesthood of the Baptized.  This descriptive phrase summarizes our baptismal responsibilities to “put on Christ,” to pray and serve others, and to spread the message of the Gospel — to evangelize.

What is the form of the Prayer of the Faithful?

The priest begins this prayer with an introduction, setting the tone for the intentions to follow and calling on the people to pray. The intentions or petitions are then announced by the deacon, cantor or some other person who knows the needs of the world and those of this community.

A brief pause after each petition allows the rest of the assembly to reflect on the intention, to take it to heart. Then the invitation is given to respond to each with a plea to God to help us make these petitions become a reality.

Addressing the Father, the priest then summarizes the intentions in a prayer and the assembly responds with an “Amen.”

What is the content of these petitions?

The directives for Mass advise that each intention “should be expressive of the prayer of the entire community.”  The categories include:  the needs of the church; public authorities and the salvation of the whole world; those oppressed by any kind of difficulty; and the local community.

What may be misunderstood about the content of these intentions is their universal character. Though there are many opportunities in the Mass to call to mind our personal, individual intentions, this Universal Prayer is not the time for praying for ourselves. The intentions are not meant to have an agenda or to pass on information. Even when an intention is very specific it begins with the world view. For example, “For all those suffering with cancer, especially those undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, (brief pause) we pray to the Lord.”

What is most important for us to remember about this prayer?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the Prayer of the Faithful is our responsibility in it. Urged to action by the words in Scripture, we act on our Christian commitment. As a member of the faithful, with the help of God, we are called to do what we can to make these intentions a reality.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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