Universal Prayers

In July 2018 I wrote about the Universal Prayers at Mass, often times referred to as the General Intercessions or the Petitions. But it would seem that a bit more liturgical catechesis is apropos as we transition to greater use of the Parish Petition Book.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is the document that directs what we do, and how we're to celebrate, the Mass. When our responses at Mass changed in 2012, it was because a new Roman Missal – as well as a new GIRM – were issued and implemented.

Paragraph 71 of the GIRM (2012 edition) offers specific guidelines for the Universal Prayers we offer at Mass – both weekend and weekday; it directs:

The intentions announced should be sober, be composed with a wise liberty and in few words, and they should be expressive of the prayer of the entire community.

They are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the Deacon or by a cantor, a reader, or one of the lay faithful.

The people, for their part, stand and give expression to their prayer either by an invocation said in common after each intention or by praying in silence.

As part of a Universal Church, the GIRM intends to provide specific guidelines so as to allow a uniformity amongst celebrations of the Mass throughout the world. As members of the One Body of Christ, we are all called to worship in a way that is unitive, rather than particular to each local community.

One of the great benefits of utilizing a Parish Petition Book is that it allows the parish community to accurately embrace the GIRM directives while also allowing the many particular prayer requests to be part of our Sunday worship. And the Petition Book does this in a far more inclusive way than having individuals vocalize particular requests at Mass.

While individual vocalization of petitions by the community at large is not envisioned by the GIRM, those who opted to vocalize a petition represented only a small part of the entire parish community. Some people are natural extroverts and think nothing of expressing a petition – but there is also a significant part of the community who are horrified by the thought of having to speak in public. One of the reasons the GIRM does not envision publicly expressed petitions at liturgical celebrations is that, although everyone's petitions are of equal value, inhibitions limit many from participating and feeling included.

Use of the Petition Book gives everyone the ability to express their petitions, and to request prayerful support from the faith community. Rather than people feeling limited by fears, everyone feels free to make a contribution. Writing a petition doesn't force someone to speak in front of others, it's more inclusive – placing everyone's prayer request on equal footing.

An advantage to the Petition Book is that the number of people keeping your particular need in prayer is far greater. Instead of just those individuals who were at the one Mass where a petition was vocalized keeping the intention in prayer, every intention in the Petition Book receives a much wider audience! The prayer pages will be scanned and made available so that others, throughout the week – not just on Sunday – but throughout the week, may pray for those written petitions. In the near future we'll start scanning the Petition Book pages on Mondays, and sending them out as part of the Parish Prayer Chain (which is already quite active). Additionally, we'll be posting the same Petition Pages to a page on the website where anyone (whether parishioner of Sacred Heart or someone half-way around the world) can retrieve them and lift up the numerous particular needs in prayer.

To help us visualize (so to speak) the various needs listed in the Petition Book, we'll be incorporating a bit more silence throughout the various weekend petitions. We may start by saying something like: For the sick, and for all those experiencing physical limitations and then there'll be a pause wherein we can call to mind some of those needs about which we've read in the Petition Book – and then the petition will continue. These silences, which will be a part of most every petition, will allow us the opportunity to be cognizant of the needs about which we've read in the Petition Book, and over which we've prayed during the past week.

Some may speak of personal preference for how petitions were previously vocalized. What's important to remember is the Liturgy is not our personal prayer, prayed according to our particular likes or dislikes, and augmented by additions or deletions which we may deem apropos. The GIRM provides us the framework within which we celebrate the Mass, and the norms expressed in paragraph 71 of the most recently issued GIRM are calling us to make this reorientation in the way we place our needs before the Lord at Mass.

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