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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

While a few critics complain about the “novelties” of Vatican II, in truth the reformed liturgy signifies the salvage of many elements from antiquity, such as: the expansion of the responsorial psalm, the restoration of the prayer of the faithful, the return of the shared sign of peace, the option to share the cup and for communion in the hand. (The value of traditional elements aside— the first Mass had the apostles recline at table with Jesus, Aramaic or Hebrew was spoken (not Latin) and our Lord neither faced the wall nor wore fiddleback vestments.)

The Prayer of the Faithful goes by various names, including the General Intercessions and the Bidding Prayers. They disappear from the liturgy around the ninth century as tropes were added to the expanded Kyrie litany at the beginning of Mass.  As with the earliest liturgies, the restored Prayer of the Faithful permits a large degree of variation and extemporaneous composition.

We must be careful that we do not see the petitions as standing apart from the rest of the liturgy.  These intentions are offered within the “whole” celebration of the Mass.  We are bringing them into the Eucharistic celebration.  The Mass is our most significant and complex form of prayer or worship as it includes every type of oration.  The highest form is Adoration or praise of Almighty God.  Next there is Contrition which is intimately connected to Repentance and Reparation. Sorrow for sin makes possible absolution and faith.  Reparation is only possible in Christ as he makes true satisfaction for sin by his saving Cross. Thanksgiving is the name of the prayer from which we get the word, Eucharist.  We acknowledge that God has been good to us and that everything is his gift.  The Prayer of the Faithful, while connected to these prayer forms is properly the prayer of Supplication.  It may be the first type of prayer we learn as it is appreciated even by children in their many “gimme” requests to parents and later to God.  The trouble is that some adults never move away from the “ice cream God” to praise Lord for just being God. Too many get angry or fall away from the practice of faith when they do not get what they want. Petition prayer requires humility and submission of the will to divine providence.

While they provide a wonderful opportunity to target or focus our prayers, they can also become “matter-of-fact” or desultory— said without conviction.  They might also be taken to the other extreme as offensively ideological or political.  I have been party to liturgies where the celebrant asks, “And now for what else should we pray?”  It could get quite embarrassing.  “That we would move beyond the sin of patriarchy so as to better value the gifts of women and ordain them to the priesthood, we pray . . . .” Ah, nope!  “That we will all stop eating our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom and give up meat, we pray . . . .” Ah, not likely. 

At a conference on penal reform promoting the release of rehabilitated criminals, a convicted murder on death row spoke to us about his conversion and desire to live and to make an effort at restitution. Handcuffed to an officer he attended the Mass that followed.  The priest invited unvetted petitions and we were all shocked to hear:  “For all convicted killers that they will rightly be sentenced to the death chamber, we pray to the Lord . . . .” Ah, I hope not and silence ensued instead of the response. Immediately, one of the sponsors added his supplication: “And for any senile and hard-hearted brothers that they will know when to shut their mouths!”  That was over 40 years ago, not something one forgets. 

Today, especially, I would urge against inviting petitions from the community. We would likely hear prayers for particular political campaigns and for favorite football teams to win their contests.  Our attention should be upon that which emerges from the core of the faith, avoiding the trivial. We should also be careful of that which might be divisive, unless it is constitutive of the Good News, as with the sanctity of life.

There are recommended patterns but I have often wondered about them as the Eucharistic prayers already make clear supplications for the Pope, the local bishop, clergy and the deceased. The local church joins with the universal Church in prayer. The Roman Missal gives the following direction:

(1) For the needs of the Church;

(2) For the world;

(3) For those in need; and

(4) For the local community.

The pattern is simple.  Charity would always make us mindful of the poor, the suffering, the sick, the oppressed, etc. The priest makes an invitation to prayer that is followed by brief silence. Just as at the beginning of the Mass, the congregation should summon to mind the particular needs they are prayerfully bringing to the Mass. A few pre-written intentions are vocalized with a short pause after each.  The priest offers a concluding prayer.  The petitions are often offered by a deacon or reader. Various responses to the petitions are recommended as with “Lord, have mercy” or “Lord, hear our prayer.”   

One must also wonder about how the petitions are offered.  Here in Washington, DC at St. Matthew’s and at the Shrine there are regularly liturgies that seek to reflect our diverse immigrant population.  Petitions will be made in various languages.  Are we trying to convey that we are one people united in the Lord who are enriched and not divided by our diversity?  Does it matter whether we have a line of speakers or just one?  We must remember that we are not so much talking to each other as we are addressing the Lord in prayer.

Various Eastern liturgies weave their petitions into a litany within the Eucharistic prayer or anaphora, itself.  Could we take the hint and while it may remain after the Creed, formally set the petitions to music that a cantor and congregation might chant? I would not be surprised if this should happen as an effort to make the liturgy more beautiful. 

The main point should never be lost in the petitions.  What remains most significant is that we want our sins forgiven and we want to be saved.  Everything else pales in comparison to this. A basic rule for litanies is that the petitions should not be mini-homilies but short and sweet— to the point.  The petitions should remain general and not become overly particularized.  Personal intentions remain silent.   

Over the years a number of the archbishops of Washington have prescribed prayers for vocations, for racial and ethnic justice and for a respect for the sanctity of life. During the pandemic crisis we prayed not only for the sick and dying but also for the Church and our society, remembering the exhortation of Jesus to his friends— Be not afraid!

PROFESSION OF FAITH

Creeds were formulated in the Church by her bishops coming together in council. They invoked the protection of the Holy Spirit in making statements of faith against various heresies. A succession of early councils dealt with the challenges of the day: Nicea 325 AD (Arianism), First Constantinople 381 AD (Arianism & Pneumatomachianism), Ephesus 449 AD (Nestorianism), and Chalcedon 451 AD (Nestorianism & Monophysitism). Arianism posited Christ as a creature or demiurge (assistant maker of the world) but not necessarily human and definitely not fully divine. Pneumatomachianism denied or questioned the divinity of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. Nestorianism undermined the inner unity of the incarnation of Christ as both God and man; this debate took place in the context of the Marian title “Theotokos” or God-bearer, translated in the West as Mary, Mother of God. Monophysitism argued that Christ was solely divine in nature (really a variation of Gnosticism wherein Jesus only pretends to be human).

An early heresy has people questioning whether the merciful Father of Jesus is the same as the (apparently) harsher God of the Old Testament. The Church says YES. “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” The Credo (I believe) or Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed defines Christ as a divine Person (of the same stuff as the Father) with a complete human nature, including a human soul with intellect and will. “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” As a man Christ could offer himself as an oblation for sin. As God, he could make an offering with infinite measure. Jesus is fully human. What is not assumed is not redeemed. Jesus is fully God because only God can save us. This is ultimately how the universal Church answers the question of Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” The divinity of the Holy Spirit is also called into question. Some suppose it is merely the ghost of Jesus. But NO, the Church says he has risen and is whole and complete. The proof of the Holy Spirit’s divinity is found in the formula of baptism given by Jesus. Again, it would make no sense to baptize in the name of a creature because a creature cannot save you— only God. Thus, there is one God in three co-equal divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We recite in the Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” God in knowing himself generates from all eternity the Word. Between the Father and the Son is generated infinite Love, the Holy Spirit.

The Creed finishes by speaking about the Church’s identity as established by Christ. Peter and his successors are made the ROCK of this Church and our Lord assures us that it will endure until his return. “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” The Church is not dispensable or just for fellowship. It is the great sacrament or vital divine mystery wherein we have a saving encounter with Christ.

Sometimes when the emphasis is catechesis, the Apostles’ Creed is substituted. It is an early baptismal creed traced to the apostles for affirmation in baptism and reception. It has 12 articles and is the creed we recite regularly in praying the Rosary.

We stand to respect the CREED much as we would in the secular respect shown the American flag when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Further, in both cases the oral statement pays homage to our honored dead. In regard to the pledge this refers to patriots who have died to insure our freedoms and the survival of the nation. In reference to the Creed it respects the saints and martyrs who have died for Jesus in fidelity to his eternal kingdom.

If anyone ever challenges what you believe, do not get into an argument. Simply recite the Creed. This is our faith.