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    A View from the Pew

    Missing the Mark: The Universal Prayer 

    Missing the Mark: The Universal Prayer

    As a rule, I find that we frequently miss the proverbial mark in The Universal Prayer (Prayers of the Faithful). The intent of the prayer conveys the depth of what we yearn for as we lift our corporate plea for God’s grace. However, I rarely find that these prayers ‘express the prayer of the entire community’ (RM, 71). Rather, I generally hear generic petitions that evoke a feeble ‘Lord, hear our prayer’ from a worshipping community.  Infrequently sung by a presider, deacon or cantor, the Universal Prayers often seem verbose, superfluous and repeatedly tell God what we need God to do for us and the people for whom we pray. Does anyone else find that just a tiny bit audacious?

    Additionally, the intentions contain too many prayers within each prayer and place far too many groups of people into one intention. The sick may suffer but may not be near death. The poor may endure paucity but may live in their own home. Not all the homeless suffer substance abuse. Yet, the people who author the prayers of the faithful oft times lump groups of people into one prayer and presume to know what everyone needs both collectively and individually.

    For example:

    For the poor, the homeless, the addicted, and those begging on the street, that we not turn away from them in shame or disgust no matter how distasteful and offensive their circumstances might be, and instead may we earnestly attempt to lighten their load by taking it upon ourselves.

    Hm. Might the intention evoke a more potent prayer this way:  

    For the poor. (Pause) We pray: Lord, hear us.

    For people with no home. (Pause) We pray: Lord, hear us.

    For those who suffer from substance abuse. (Pause) We pray: Lord, hear us.

    I guarantee a drop dead silence of entreating awareness if the prayers remain brief, poignant and relevant. Singing the prayers really packs a powerful punch, especially for solemn feasts and particular celebrations, even if the assembly only sings the responses to the spoken prayer. (See STL 171, and Music in Catholic Liturgy, p. 72-73)

    And did you know that an option for corporate silence as a response can take place after the litany of prayer? Try this adaptation on for size and see what happens:

    For all peoples who experience isolation from sacramental life because of particular circumstances. (Silence)

    For those seeking leadership as public officials. (Silence)

    For the sick without anyone to care for them. (Silence)

    For Jack and Mary Smith, whose daughter Sara died this week. (Silence)

    For Sara Smith. (Silence)

    Profound, authentic prayer takes a bit of work on the part of church leadership. Diverse prayers and responses highlight different church seasons; pay attention to the myriad of ways the Universal Prayers could be presented. In my opinion, we habitually and apathetically take this prayer very much for granted.

    I would pay money to hear people’s thought bubbles while a meager version of this prayer drones on and on. “Where did I put that piece of music for the preparation rite? Lord, hear our prayer.” “Did I shut the coffee pot off before I left the house? Lord, hear our prayer.” “I hope I can scoot out of the parking lot early today; I’ve got to make it to that appointment on time. Lord, hear our prayer.” Come on: admit it, especially if you serve at more than one liturgy one a weekend, your mind wanders at the mercy of a poorly deployed prayer. Okay, I’ll go first: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

    The Roman Missal instructs that the presider begins the prayer with a brief introduction, followed by invitations to pray (1) for the needs of the church, (2) public authorities and the world, (3) those who suffer any difficulty,  (4) the local community. The Roman Missal further instructs that the prayers ‘should be sober, composed with wise liberty and in a few words, and they should be expressive of the prayer of the entire community.’ (RM, 71)

    I gave a workshop for a group of deacons several months ago. Out of curiosity, I asked them, “How many of you compose the Universal Prayer with a ministry that gathers the prayers of your community and give voice to them on Sunday morning?” No hands went up; the thought never occurred to any of them. What a powerful and effective extension of the Ministry of the Word this model could be in parish or school community.

    Does your parish benefit from a prayer ministry? How about creating a third arm of both the prayer ministry and the ministers of the Word led by the deacon or the director of faith formation? Develop a Universal Prayer ministry that gathers the prayers of the people, composes the weekly prayers based on the four suggested components and includes particular prayers from the local community. Now we’re talking. Or should I say, now we’re praying!