Friday, March 31, 2023

The Prayer of the Faithful. . .

Growing up with the long General Prayer, it was certainly known ahead of time -- printed in the hymnal and all -- but it was not quite the Prayer of the Faithful.  After all, the faithful had not formed the petitions and they were general and repeated so perhaps they became the prayer of the faithful by default.  I well recall the desire both from the liturgical movement (those voicing the prayers) and the folks in the pew for petitions which were more reflective of the changing concerns of the day and of those assembled.  It was not without some anticipation that the idea of bids and of the spontaneous petitions of the faithful erupting from the assembly.  Of course, that did not quite work and certainly did not improve the prayers.  They may have been in the voices of those assembled but they were stilted and hesitant.  In the end they were replaced by the written petitions of the one leading the prayers (or purchased from some source or eventually downloaded from official and other websites).  Our own church body has prayers of the faithful written for every Sunday, in both responsive and ektene format, for the one and three year lectionary -- got that covered I guess!  But still, I am not sure we have improved the praying or the prayers.

In the earliest Church the prayer of the faithful happened about the same point in the liturgy as it does today, following the homily (even before the Creed became part of the ordinary) and it is well attested by the early fathers.  The prayers were antiphonal -- presider and people and then deacon and people.  Eventually they became more formal and less spontaneous and the people responded with an acclamation.  This continued into the 9th century.  As the Kyrie litany at the beginning of the liturgy expanded, the petitions here diminished -- along with the expansion of those petitions in the canon of the mass.  So it was a restoration of an earlier practice.

The problem is not so much the history.  The problem is the writing.  The problem is also in the praying.  The writing is often so confused that the poor people are not sure what they are being asked to give their amen to or the one offering those petitions has not bothered to read them in preparation for the liturgy.  In either case, it is a disservice to this important part of the liturgy and one easily rectified by careful preparation.  Even if you are using a pre-printed source for the prayer of the faithful, it is wise to read them through and edit them to fit the needs of the people assembled and to fit the reading of the prayer by the one offering the bids.  It does not hurt to offer vocal inflections that mirror what is being prayed and one of the problems I have found (while sitting in the pew or assisting as others lead the bids) is that the voice is wooden, without much inflection at all, and, quite honestly, sounds as if the one praying is bored with his own words.

In Lutheran Service Book there are plenty of individual collects, larger prayer forms, responsive and ektene examples, and good introductions for praying.  The problem is that for too many pastors, the hymnal is not something well read, well known, or well used in his own devotional life.  Don't be a stranger to the book that is supposed to be a central piece in the devotional life of the individual as well as the assembly.  So if you are reading, do your homework.  Work to make the petitions reflective of the assembly and what is going on in the overall life of your people.  Work to rehearse the prayers so that how you say the words does not impede the praying of the faithful but encourages it.  Work to prepare them ahead of time so that, if people ask, you can print them off for the faithful to use at home as well as in the Divine Service.  There ends my thoughts for today.

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