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Experiencing the Mass: The Opening Prayer

Saturday, January 21, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for today:

Dear Readers: Since the Church is presently engaged in a Eucharistic Revival, we thought it would be helpful to post excerpts from his booklet called Experiencing the Mass, for the next few weeks. (This is not a sales pitch. However, the booklet is available for order on this website for $5 per copy if you would like have a copy.)

The Collect (“Opening Prayer”), the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion... are addressed to God in the name of the entire holy people and all present, by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ. It is with good reason, therefore, that they are called the “presidential prayers.” The [presider] invites the people to pray. All... observe a brief silence so that they may be conscious that they are in God’s presence and may formulate their petitions mentally. Then the [presider] says the prayer... through which the character of the celebration is expressed....

The collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit....

The people, uniting themselves to this entreaty, make the prayer their own with the acclamation “Amen!”[1]

The Introductory Rites end with the “Opening Prayer,” originally called the “Collect” because it “collected” the prayers of the people.

It is always a Trinitarian prayer, “usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ the Son in [the unity of] the Holy Spirit.”[2]

It is always the prayer of the whole Church. It is always spoken in the first person plural: “We...”

This is true of the Mass itself. The Mass can never be used as a private devotion. Although “daily celebration is earnestly recommended,” ordained priests are forbidden by Canon Law to celebrate Eucharist alone “unless there is a good and reasonable cause for doing so.” However, authentic interpretation of the mind of the Church, always kind and nurturing, allows presbyters who experience strong need for or devotion to Eucharist to celebrate alone if they simply cannot find anyone to celebrate with them. The Church points out, however, that even then it is still “an action of Christ and of the [whole] Church,” never the private prayer of the presbyter. The Mass is by nature a communal celebration.[3]

As the prayer of the whole Church, the Opening Prayer provides a model of what to pray for and how. The Opening Prayer is typically composed of two parts. The first presents, often in a single phrase or under the form of thanksgiving, “some aspect of the mystery of God which the Church proposes that day for our meditation.” The second part asks that all present might live out, now and forever, the mystery we are thanking God for.[4]

Examples: the Alternate Opening Prayer for:

• the First Sunday of Advent:

Mystery: Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love, and out minds are searching for the light of your Word.

Request: Increase our longing.... give us the strength to grow....

the Second Sunday of Advent:

Mystery: Father in heaven, the day draws near when the glory of your Son will make radiant the night of the waiting world.

Request: May the lure of greed not impede us.... May the darkness not blind us....

the Third Sunday of Advent:

Mystery: Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church....

Request: Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us....

the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

Mystery: Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth....

Request: Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice....

The Archbishop concludes with the wish that when the presider speaks in the name of all, each one present in the assembly will be deeply conscious and able to say, “It is I who am praying in the name of the Church, and the Church is praying in me.”

Does that make it exciting to hear, “Let us pray!”?

Questions for reflection and discussion:

  • What makes the “Opening Prayer” — and all the “presidential prayers” — different from private, devotional prayers?

  • In the “Opening Prayer,” what should we listen for?

  • In the “Opening Prayer,” who is doing the praying?

  • In the “Opening Prayer,” what determines what we are praying for? What is the petition based on?

[1]General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, nos. 30, 54. [2]Ibid. no.54. It is good to note that no official, liturgical prayer of the Church is ever addressed to the Virgin Mary or to a Saint. In private, and even public devotions, we pray (the word means “ask”) Mary and the Saints to intercede for us. But the Church in her liturgy prays only to God. [3] Canons 904, 908. It distorts our understanding if we ask an ordained priest to offer “your Mass” for an intention. It is not “his” Mass. Canon 901 says, “A priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead.” But essentially, every Mass is offered by Christ and the whole Church for all the intentions for which Jesus offered himself on Calvary. The Mass does not add to or repeat that sacrifice, but simply makes it present on the altar. The presider’s intention in offering the Mass has no more value than the intention of any other person present. This statement is not meant to detract from the value of the presider’s intention, just to keep it on an equal level with the intentions of the whole assembly. See Hebrews 7:22-28; 9:24-28; 10:7-14. [4]La Messe, pp. 85-86. This is verified especially in the “Alternate Opening Prayers” for Sundays.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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