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General Intercessions


General intercessions are also called universal prayer, prayer of the faithful, or prayers of the people. Christian tradition has always given an important place to intercessory prayer. St. Paul exhorts to the offering of "prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving for all: for rulers and all in authority, so that we may be able to live quiet and peaceful lives in the full practice of religion and of morality" (1 Tm 2.14). Intercessory prayer is a natural part of the liturgy in which the Church, in the name of Christ, continues to offer the prayer and petition which he poured out in the days of his earthly life. Already by the 2nd century the origins of the General Intercessions appear. St. Justin Martyr writes (c. 155) that "on the Lord's day, after the reading of Scripture and the homily, all stand and offer the prayers" (First Apology 67). Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Liturgy called for the restoration of these General Intercessions which in the course of time had disappeared from the Roman Mass (Sacrosanctum Concilium 53).

At Mass. The structure of the General Intercessions has three parts. First, after the Homily the one presiding invites the people to pray. Second, the deacon (or another person) announces the intentions to the people and they pray for that intention in silence or by a common response, recited or sung. Third, the one presiding concludes with a prayer (Gen Instr Rom Missal 47). As a rule the sequence of intentions is: (1) for the needs of the Church; (2) for public authorities and the salvation of the world; (3) for those oppressed by any need; and (4) for the local community (ibid. 46).

Liturgy of the Hours. The Church praises God throughout the course of the day by celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours. The tradition does not separate praise of God from petition and "often enough praise turns somehow to petition" (GenInstrLitHor 179). Consequently, the General Intercessions have been restored to Morning and Evening Prayer, however with some nuance to avoid repetition of the petitions at Mass. The intentions at Morning Prayer are to consecrate the day to God (ibid.181); those at Evening Prayer stress thanksgiving for graces received during the day. The intentions found in the Hours Book are addressed directly to God (rather than to the people, as at Mass) so that the wording is suitable for both common celebration and private recitation (ibid.190). Although "the Liturgy of the Hours, like other liturgical actions, is not something private but belongs to the whole body of the Church" (ibid. 20), it must be acknowledged that it is still often prayed privately. In every case, however, the petitions should be linked with praise of God and acknowledgement of his glory or with a reference to the history of salvation, as in the Lord's Prayer (ibid. 185).

Bibliography: Consilium, De Oratione Communi seu Fidelium: Natura, momentum ac structura. Criteria atque specimina coetibus territorialibus episcoporum proposita (Vatican City 1966). p. de clerck, La "prière universelle" dans les liturgies latines anciennes: Témoignages patristiques et textes liturgiques (Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen 62 Münster, Westfalen 1977). d. connors, ed. Issue on "General Intercessions," Liturgical Ministry 2 (1993) 133. j. b. molin, "Quelques textes médiévaux de la prière universelle," in Traditio et progressio (Rome 1988) 333358.

[t. richstatter/eds.]

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