There are many occasions when our prayer is simple and direct, uncluttered by carefully chosen words and phrases, times when we place ourselves before the loving God and seek his fullness. Such personal prayer might take place during the Eucharist or in the privacy of our own room. Wherever it occurs, it will be a silent, individual matter.
Each Sunday, after we have joined together in our profession of faith in the recitation of the Creed, we turn to an informal gathering of prayers to which we give varied titles, Prayers of Intersession, Prayers of the Faithful or more simply, the Bidding Prayers.
It is a time in our celebration when we bring to mind some particular intentions relevant to those of us present in the form of an invitation by the Celebrant or lay Reader to the congregation to pray for a particular cause.
So what is it we should pray for, how might it be phrased, what is the purpose of these few moments before the Offertory begins?
I would suggest that, convenient though it might be, a source book of Bidding Prayers sidesteps the primary intention of this occasion. The community that has come together to celebrate the Eucharist has needs, joys and pains, anxieties and successes. Surely that is the ground for our Bidding Prayer?
How are they to be formed? In some parishes, it is those in the pews who are invited to seek the prayer of the community for a particular need. For many, such spontaneous prayer is a challenge and there is not the confidence to take up the offer. That is understandable but with gentle encouragement, it can be achieved. So we resort to a written form, usually led by the Reader for the Sunday, with an introduction from the Celebrant.
Who has the task of writing the text of our Bidding Prayers? This is an activity that, with some thought and preparation, we all can share in and that ought to include the younger ones attending Mass with their parents. It could be an occasion to talk together in preparation for celebrating together.
And what should we pray for? It is a time for reflection on local needs and concerns, to make others aware that they are not alone, that we too care for them as fellow walkers on the journey. Our sharing with them in the joys and sorrows, the excitement and difficulties that go to make the daily pattern of our existence is important and supportive. Our Bidding Prayers should not be a list of ‘asks’ but also a time of ‘thank-you’. The story of the cured lepers is easily forgotten.
It might, and on occasions should, include incidents of national or international significance. Given the troubled world in which we live events happen beyond the boundaries of our small communities that none the less deeply affect us. Terrorist attacks, for instance the recent one in London, cannot be ignored. Nor can the consequences of natural disasters where damage and loss of life is considerable. Our prayers for others in time of need, reminds all of us of our interdependence. From our offering of prayer comes the need to give help and hope to those in need. Too often the content of our Bidding Prayers seems to be disconnected from the Liturgy we are celebrating. Unless our liturgical actions have a real connection with the life we are living, they are hollow.
When a wedding is being celebrated with a Nuptial Mass or a Requiem Mass is being offered following a death, then the fashioning of the Bidding Prayers takes on a real significance. They bring a particular and almost informal contribution to the gathering in the words of the people rather than the formularies of an accepted text.
To be asked to write the Bidding Prayers for such an occasion is a sign of the trust and the confidence of a family or individual making the request. It is not a task that should be undertaken without due care and concern. We should respect both persons and families and choose our words with sensitivity and care.
A few years back I was asked to write the Bidding Prayers for the Requiem Mass of our organist and choir master, Brian Hobbs. I wrote the first line ‘We come to celebrate the life of Brian’, and then realised the implications. It was hastily re-written!
Just don’t forget that whatever is written has also to be spoken, it has to be heard by a number of people and appreciated on first hearing. The space between words and the tone of voice is important. And take your time with it, there is no rush.