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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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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!

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