Mass intentions move from universal to personal

By Tim Hedrick, Contributing Writer

Why do we have general intercessions each week? What is their purpose?

Prayer can have one of four focuses: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving or supplication. Prayers of adoration focus on praising, venerating, worshipping or expressing our love for God. An example of this in the liturgy is the Gloria, when we give glory to God for everything he has done for us and for our salvation, but especially for the gift of his son, Jesus. Prayers of contrition express our sorrow for the times that we fail to follow Christ. A liturgical example of this is the Penitential Rite. Prayers of thanksgiving express our gratitude for everything that God has done for us. While the entire Mass is a prayer of thanksgiving, the Eucharistic prayer is a specific example of a prayer of thanksgiving. Finally, there are prayers of supplication that present our needs, personally and communally, to God. The most obvious example of this is the general intercessions, also known as the intentions or prayers of the faithful. This is an opportunity to present the needs of the world and church to the Lord in prayer. We approach the Lord confidently in faith in response to Jesus’ command, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7).

How are the intercessions selected? Who writes them?

While some of the church’s liturgies have specific intentions, most are chosen for the particular liturgy within a particular community. Whoever is responsible for planning the liturgy (the pastor, the deacon, director of liturgy or liturgy committee) is responsible for writing the intentions. They should always be written in light of the theme of the Scriptures, the present liturgical celebration, world events and the needs of the local community.

Is there a particular order to the intercessions?

The intercessions should move from general, universal intentions to specific, personal intentions. The petitions usually begin with a prayer for the universal church. For example, there will be a prayer for the Holy Father, priests, religious, believers or non-believers throughout the world. Next, the intercessions pray for world and government leaders such as the president, legislatures, etc. After that, the intentions focus on those in need, including prayers for the poor, homeless, hungry, people who struggle with addictions, protection for military soldiers, social concerns, such as abortion, etc. Then the needs of local community, such as the new battle of New Orleans, children preparing for the sacraments and the recently baptized, are included. Lastly, we usually pray for the sick, those who have died or for the particular intention of the Mass. Communities also should pause to silently remember their own personal intentions.

How many intentions should there be each week?

There is not a hard-and-fast rule about the number of general intercessions for a particular Mass. While it is permissible to have more or fewer, there are on average about six to seven intentions each week.

Who should read the general intercessions?

If a deacon is present, he normally offers the intentions. If there is no deacon, either the priest or a designated lector can offer the intentions.

What is the proper structure for the intentions?

Most of the prayers of the faithful are structured with the intention first, followed by a call to prayer such as, “We pray to the Lord,” and a response from the community such as “Lord, hear our prayer” or “Hear us, O Lord.”

How does someone have a Mass offered on behalf of a deceased loved one?

In many parishes, one of the last general intercessions each week is the intention for the Mass being celebrated. Usually the Mass intention is for a deceased family member or friend. If you are interested in having a Mass offered for someone, stop by the parish office to talk with the person who is responsible for scheduling Mass intentions. After finding an open date, ask that your intention be offered, and make a customary donation of $5 to the church.

Why is there a donation? Isn’t that selling Mass intentions?

No. Making a donation is offering a gift of praise in name of the person being remembered. Furthermore, although the United States is an affluent country, many countries throughout the world are not as prosperous. While priests in our country are paid a regular salary, in many countries, the priests do not receive a salary at all. They rely completely on the Mass intention stipends to sustain them. Because priests here are given adequate salaries to cover their personal expenses, all donations for Mass intentions in the Archdiocese of New Orleans go directly to the parish and are used to help pay the priest’s salary.

Why would a date not be available for a particular intention?

In order to prevent abuse of stipends from Mass intentions, church law prohibits multiple intentions for a Mass. The only exception to this to rule is that a parish is allowed to have two weekly Masses with multiple intentions, with the understanding that parishioners are notified of this fact.

Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at thedrick@nds.edu.

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