Liturgy Matters - Part VI
After we have listened to our readings, and the sermon, and declared our faith in the words of The Creed, we turn to God in prayer. The intercessions are exactly that - the place we bring the needs of the world, the needs of the Church, the needs of the local community, the sick and the suffering, and the community of saints. It is Michael Perham, in 'New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy', who notes that we have already had the prayers of penitence, and still to come is thanksgiving prayers in the Eucharist, but that here is the place we bring our petitions to God. They are usually - quite rightly - lay-led, for these are the prayers of the people. The words and the silences are both important: both the words of prayers we bring before God on behalf of the community, and the way in which we enable others to pray their own prayers in 'the spaces. The wonderful joy of different people preparing intercessions is we are all tuned in to care about and notice a variety of needs, and find ourselves drawn to different causes, the plight of different nations, with a heart for particular issues. It enables us as a community to be wide-ranging the needs we bring to God. Mostly - and again I think quite rightly - the prayers pick up on the themes of the readings and Gospel.
Do our prayers make a difference? I believe they do. As Timothy Radcliffe says in 'Why Go to Church?', it is not about having to convince God to care or act about poverty, justice and all those big themes. Rather, such prayers are 'one of the ways in which God cares for our dignity', for he chooses to act through the prayers of his people. Prayer also inspires us to action, so that it is right to both pray about major concerns, but also seek to help in practical ways also - practical action is also a form of prayer, and certainly an answer to prayer. Again Radcliffe argues that when we pray for something it opens our eyes to its giftedness. Much of what God gives to us, we take for granted and do not recognise. Prayer enables us to see what God has done, so we may be thankful.
Usually the president opens the prayers and ends with a collect, or a traditional ending, which serves to gather the community as one again. Sometimes you will find I use the traditional ending 'Merciful father / Accept these prayers' etc. But sometimes I use the alternative shorter form of collect for the day in special services. This means the longer collect brings our first movement, The Gathering, to a close, and the shorter collect brings the second movement 'the Liturgy of the Word' to a close - it seems a rather tidy way to do it! But wherever possible, the prayers should be lay-led, and not led by the President. As Perham points out, 'praying often begins when the leader stops talking'!
On that note, we fall silent until our September edition, when we have finally reached the high-point of the drama - the third movement, the Liturgy of the Sacrament: the heart of the Eucharist and the heart of our faith.