Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Bidding Prayers

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council Sacrosanctum Concilium laid down the desire of the Fathers for the restoration of intercessions:

53. The “common prayer” or “prayer of the faithful” is to be restored after the gospel and homily, especially on Sundays and holidays of obligation. By this prayer - in which the people are to take part - intercession will be made for holy Church, for the civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the salvation of the entire world.

This paragraph made reference to Saint Paul’s admonition at 1 Tim. 2:1-2. This paragraph is found – with only slight alterations – in the General Instructions on the Roman Missal.

Such intercessions are, therefore, of Apostolic origin, and were everywhere known by the time of Saint Augustine. The Solemn Orations of the Good Friday Afternoon Liturgy were the only survival of such intercessions in the Roman Missal for centuries. In the East, however, they were preserved in the unvarying Litanies, or Ektenia that are prayed throughout the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. From the East, such intercessions made their way during the first millennium into the various Rites in England and, centuries later, were incorporated into the Services of the Church of England, long after they had ceased being a usual feature of the Roman Rite.

Anciently, the intercessions formed part of non-Eucharistic prayer service (sometimes called a Synaxis). But when such services came to be usually celebrated immediately before the Eucharistic Liturgy, the intercessions gradually fell into disuse. This was because intercessions made during the Eucharistic Liturgy often repeated those found in the Synaxis. Such was the origin of the Roman Mass being described in two parts: the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful.

What is found in almost all the ancient examples of these intercessions are common intentions, which were summarised and made explicit by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

It was never envisaged by the Council - nor was it part of the ancient practice - that such intercessions vary on a daily basis, nor that there be any inclusion of extemporaneous prayer. It might easily be argued that the Council Fathers wished that these intercessions would become fixed in people’s consciousness, by being prayed week after week.

Upon this simple concept outlined by the Council Fathers, there have been many accretions over the last 50 years. Not uncommonly, we find intercessions anaemic in their theological content and not specifically Christian in their outlook. We commonly find the intercessions to be linked to the Propers of the Mass, and the lections of the Mass of the Day, as if “theme” were all-important. But this was never intended by the Council Fathers.  Furthermore, a new and more noble translation of the Roman Missal for the English-speaking world has highlighted the often unsacral, even trite expression of these intercessions. But even the formulae found in the Roman Missal are so terse as easily to be described as bland.

It is an empty exercise to criticise without suggesting an alternative. The following set of General Intercessions has been adapted from various sources (including a set of Intercessions found in a 1965 Interim Rite Missal) and edited by the author of this post. Please do not use it liturgically without seeking proper ecclesiastical authority. These intercessions are intended to be distinctly different. The language is more formal; the petitions sometimes longer; the application intended for weekly and unvarying use.

Dear Brethren, we humbly beseech God the Father Almighty, through his only-begotten Son, to pour out abundantly the gifts of his mercy upon us his people, whom he has gathered here.

That it may please you to protect, keep together and to govern your Holy Church and to illuminate the Pope, and all bishops, priests, and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of your Word.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

That it may please you to lead all nations in the way of righteousness and peace, directing all leaders of government, that they may truly and impartially minister justice, in the punishment of wickedness and vice, and in the maintenance of true religion, and virtue.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

That it may please you to help and comfort the sick and all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation; to protect travellers, and to shew your pity upon all prisoners, captives; the desolate and the oppressed.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

That it may please you to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, so that in your good time we may enjoy them.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

That it may please you to bring into the way of Truth all who have erred and are deceived, to strengthen those who hold firm; to soften the hearts of persecutors and slanderers; to comfort and help the weak-hearted and to raise up those who fall.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

That it may please you to give us a heart to love and fear you, and to infuse us with the grace of your Holy Spirit, so that we might amend our lives according to your holy Word.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

That it may please you to grant to all the Faithful Departed the Unending joy of your Presence.
Lord, in your mercy: We beseech you, hear us.

We humbly beseech you, O Heavenly Father, mercifully to look upon our infirmities; and for the glory of your Name grant, that in all our troubles we may put our entire trust and confidence in you, and evermore serve you in holiness and pureness of living, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.