The conversation in the combox in Jason’s last post about vain repeition turned to the topic of prayer, and I thought this would be a good time to add a quick follow-up, since prayer was on my short list of things to cover.
I’ll admit what a terrible person I am: I have never been a fan of corporate prayer. I remember, as a young child, dreading the part of the service when I knew the “long prayer” would be coming. I tried to sit still and, ever the good little girl, I even tried to listen to our pastor. I was never quite sure of my role in this activity. If I agreed with what was said, would I be set? What if I didn’t agree? What if my mind drifted due to the length of the prayer? What if the person who offered the prayer uttered something completely ridiculous? (Like the guy I once heard pray for people “who aren’t people.” What?) Well, regardless of the answers, it was still my least favorite part of the service. I did feel bad about that, if that makes it any better.
My dislike for corporate prayer continued as I got older. This time, it was in regard to group situations when we took turns at praying. I consistently felt that prayer could easily become a matter of who performed the best in these types of settings- that is, who sounded the holiest, who prayed the longest, who was the most eloquent. The trouble I had with prayer in public situations relates very much to what Jason mentioned in his last post in terms of needing to feel “on” all the time, or to be clever.
Considering all the reservations I felt about corporate prayer, it is oddly one of the things I fell in love with as we began to attend Mass. I have especially come to appreciate the time of General Intercessions, otherwise known as the Prayers of the Faithful. Why? Because they are offered in a concise manner and they cover a lot of ground. Every week we pray for the Pope and our Bishop, our country and related concerns, especially in regard to protecting life, our local parish and its particular concerns, and a few other things. Each item is offered up by the person who is praying and our answer after each one, as the congregation, is “Lord, hear our prayer.”
I like the participation aspect during this prayer time, as opposed to being a passive listener, but what I most appreciate is the form of the prayer. While the intentions
change from week to week (aside from praying for Benedict our Pope and Paul, our Bishop), the form remains the same. This, to me, seems to act as a protective fence around the prayer time, causing the focus to remain on the intention, not the one who is offering up the words. I have also noticed that these form prayers work wonders in smaller group settings like Bible studies, where prayer time can easily run off the rails if left unchecked. (I won’t digress, I won’t digress, I won’t digress…)
Never in a million years would I have thought that something so seemingly small would change the way I view corporate prayer. When the focus can be rightly set on what is being said instead of who is saying it, it becomes much easier to join with the community to offer up our prayer together.