This week the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, gives us an example of how to ask God for what we need.
All baptized Christians are encouraged to pray for their own needs and the needs of others. At Mass, we have this opportunity during the universal prayer, which we formerly called the prayer of the faithful or general intercessions.
There are three key characteristics of this type of prayer: 1. It is a petition addressed to God. It is not the expression of adoration or thanksgiving alone, nor is it in praise of some saint, or a summary instruction about religious obligations or the nature of the Mass. Prayers of adoration and gratitude take place at other times of the Mass. 2. It is a petition to God chiefly for blessings of a universal kind on behalf of the whole church, the world and those “beset by various needs.” However, it is also proper to pray for those who are actually in the assembly. 3. It belongs to the whole congregation (“with the people taking part”). The assembly responds to the invitations to pray and doesn’t simply give a single “Amen” at the end.
There is a particular order for the intercessions, beginning with the needs of the church. Then we pray for public authorities, followed by those in special need and finally for the needs of our local community. At Masses for special occasions, like weddings or confirmation, the intentions might be more directly related to those participants, but should also include the more universal needs.
Intercessions should be stated clearly and briefly, and express the prayer of the whole community. So we avoid language or phrasing that might be inflammatory or politicized or that would be divisive in the community.
The prayer begins with an introduction and invitation to pray by the priest celebrant and is addressed to the people. Intercessions or statements of need are presented by the deacon, or if there is no deacon, by a cantor or a reader. They usually take the form: “Let us pray for our Holy Father, that God might grant him long life and good health, we pray” or, “that leaders of nations might be attentive to the needs of the poor and most vulnerable, we pray.” We then respond by an invocation like “Lord hear our prayer,” or “Hear us loving God.” The celebrant then closes with a prayer.
This weekend’s universal prayer may include intercessions for our Holy Father and the bishops gathered for the Synod on the New Evangelization, for discernment in our country during this political process and for the gift of peace in Syria and other nations in distress. In every case, during the universal prayer and at other times during the day, we exercise our baptismal right and responsibility to pray on behalf of others who may or may not be able to pray for themselves.
Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.