Saturday, January 14, 2006

"Lord, Hear Our Prayer": The Politics of the "Prayers of the Faithful"

If somebody in charge ever put me in charge of Liturgy, I'd do two things:

1. Seriously consider having the person who did such a thing committed, and

2. Dump the "Prayers of the Faithful." (Along with "Eucharistic Ministers" and the "Kiss of Peace," come to think of it.)

Not that group prayer is wrong!

On the contrary...there's nothing I treasure more than joining my brothers in Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Or praying, with a group, the Most Holy Rosary.
Public prayer is a good thing. But the "Intercessions" or "Prayers of the Faithful" seem to be getting out of hand.

How long has this custom been around?

I don't know. But for as long as I can remember, after the Credo (or sermon sometimes, at a daily Mass) somebody — priest, deacon, or layman — rattles off a list of what I am sure are, for the most part, sincere petitions to the Almighty, after each the congregation dutifully responds: "Lord, hear our prayer."
As far as I can tell, these "intercessions" aren't part of the Roman Missal...nor are they given much attention by the hierarchy. They're made up by somebody in charge of making them up. And too often for my taste, they make me squirm. And I don't like squirming at prayers directed (supposedly) to God.

What do you mean "supposedly," Kelly?

I mean that sometimes — and once is once too often — they're not directed to God at all, but rather to make some point or another to the congregation at large. That's just not right.

For example:

A friend relates this story. About a year after 9/11, she and her fellow worshippers listened as the priest intoned something like: "For our troops, let us pray to the Lord," and obligingly responded in the accepted manner. After prayers offered for the sick of the parish and for a recently deceased parishioner (which, by the way, I'm not objecting to, per se) the priest invited the faithful present to add his or her own petitions.

Big mistake!

A lady, evidently chagrined by the priest's apparent support of war (he did mention "troops," didn't he???) loudly invoked the Lord to protect "those of us who deplore this country's aggression in battle" or something to that effect. This, in turn, elicited another plea for "Our Commander-in-Chief" which niggled another into praying for "those who have been cheated out of elected office"...well, you get the point.

Why not just stop the faithful from participating?

Why not indeed? Well, gee...if you're going to call them "the Prayers of the Faithful," it hardly seems right to leave the "faithful" out, does it?
Of course, there are a myriad of books published that offer intercessions based on the Readings of the Day. But even then, the most innocuous of "petitions" can ruffle feathers. Ah...I remember...

[insert "dream" harp music here]

...a day when the First Reading — from 1 Samuel, if I'm not mistaken — relayed the story of Eli confronting the barren, unhappy Hannah in prayer. Accordingly, an intercession was prayed for "couples who desire children." Pious enough, right? Well maybe...except for the person who confronted the priest after Mass, demanding to know why prayers weren't offered for "those couples who had too many children, children they couldn't afford to have, while the Church insisted on its stubborn refusal to consider birth control, yada yada yada."

To get back to my friend's story about the "troops"...

The anti-war petitioner happened to be a....[sigh] "Eucharistic Minister" that day. The guy who prayed for "Our Commander-in-Chief" stood in line for the Precious Blood just behind the one who besieged the Lord to intervene on behalf of those cheated out of their rightful elections. The "Eucharistic Minister" urged the communicant to drain the chalice, thereby preventing her Foe-In-Prayer to consume a drop.
(And did I mention that during the "Kiss of Peace," the antagonists-in-prayer studiously avoided each other...even though they were all in the same pew?)

Boy, does God love us or what?

I've seen, far too many times, attempts to turn the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass into a political battlefield. And I dislike it intensely.'s not about us! It's about God, may He forgive us.

And so, ahem, may I offer this petition?

"For the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to remain just that, without Almighty God, to say nothing of Kelly Clark (yeah, okay, sometimes it really is All About Her, sheesh) subjected to the unwanted political opinions of her brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray to the Lord...Lord, hear my prayer!"