By Dr. Peter Kwasniewski
N THE SPIRIT OF THE Reform of the Reform, one might well question the role of the Prayer of the Faithful (or General Intercessions) in the new Mass. A motley collection of petitions, usually poorly written and even more poorly read, disturbs the natural flow of the liturgy as it proceeds from the readings into the Profession of Faith, which is the natural response to God’s revelation of Himself, and into the Offertory. The homily already threatens to disturb the liturgical flow, because it represents more the temporal human axis of liturgy, but a good homily need not last for more than a few minutes, and if it is truly good, it has whetted the soul’s appetite for the Bread of Life through pondering the Word of God. With the solemn chanting of the Creed, the eternal divine axis of the liturgy decisively reasserts itself, as the soul exercises the gift of faith and prepares to bring gifts to the altar, where the Lord will transform them into the gift of Himself. Seen from “above,” looking at the structure and flow of the liturgical action, the intercessory prayers mark a most awkward caesura in the liturgical action.
It is different in the Good Friday liturgy because this liturgy is already radically different from the form that evolved for the other days of the year. The public intercessory prayers have all the more power and force for being specially and solemnly recited on Good Friday, the day on which we recall the historical event of the Lord’s sacrifice and death. One is almost knocked over by the power of the Good Friday liturgy; one only waters down its forcefulness by borrowing its features and distributing them widely, albeit superficially, throughout the year.
One can make a similar argument regarding the low Mass and the Requiem, which served as models for the Novus Ordo. As long as they were done in their own limited context, the low Mass and the Requiem perfectly served their purposes. As soon as certain features of the Requiem low Mass became the standard Mass, the balance was destroyed. If the reformers were so concerned about the hegemony of the merely recited Mass and the daily Mass for the Dead, they should have found intelligent ways to limit these practices rather than effectively allowing them to take over completely. Nowadays, almost every Mass is a low Mass, and the Mass for the Dead itself has been “lowered” to such an extent that it seldom seems to be what it actually is. Even the qualities that were precious in the low Mass and Requiem were destroyed, ironically by taking the “low” elements and lowering them as far as possible without vitiating the validity of the Mass as such.
Returning to the intercessory prayers: it is unnecessary to establish a separate part of the liturgy for them as long as one retains (as one should) the Roman Canon, with its beautiful intercessions for the Church, the Pope, the Bishop, priests, and the people, and, after consecration, for the faithful departed. There is a pause at the Memento, Domine, famularum famulorumque tuorum for remembering those for whom we have promised to pray and “all those dear” to us. Once more, the Placeat tibi is intercessory, and rightly so: it brings to a full close the majestic action of the sacrifice begun at the Suscipe, Domine and tracing an arc whose apogee is the elevation and whose perigee, if I may so speak, is the Domine, non sum dignus, when the glorified Lamb of God, of infinite holiness, is besought to heal our souls, that he may enter and make His dwelling there. The end joins to the beginning in a cycle that is not Nietzsche’s despairing eternal recurrence but the joyous certainty of faith: He who created the world at the beginning, He who re-created it by His incarnation, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will give to His faithful servants the reward of everlasting happiness.
A graduate of Thomas Aquinas College (B.A. in Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy), Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is currently Professor at Wyoming Catholic College. He is also a published and performed composer, especially of sacred music. The current article was first published as: Dr. Peter Kwasiewski, "The Distracting Prayer of the Faithful" (Corpus Christi Watershed, May 16, 2013).