Prayers of the People: Interceding for the World’s Shalom

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Liturgy operates in two modes: the regularity of ordo and the repetition of a familiar range of authorized rites and prayers; and elements of novelty that change at each convening of the liturgical assembly. The novel, the secondary of the two and always rooted in its familiar place in the liturgical ordo, reflects the changing context in which the assembly carries out its mission and ministry. In the 1979 BCP, the moment of intercessory prayer is one that allows for the novel; this, because the world’s needs are ever new and changing. To pray energetically for the world in a fresh and heartfelt way lies close to the heart of a priestly people, whose worship joins us to the one Priest, God’s leitourgia, who is our Head.

The 1979 BCP specified categories of the world’s need that should always be addressed in intercession (BCP, 383) and provided 6 optional forms for that purpose because the church of that era was not skilled in this approach to prayer, such intercession having been previously reserved to the priest. All six forms are permitted but not prescribed, themselves subject to further adaptation, in the hope we would learn through practice to develop our own ways, reflective of the local context, to lead the people into prayer

…and they are, in fact, prayers of the people. The work of the intercessor is to bid the people to prayer, not to read the “parish prayer list” to which all the rest of the assembly listens. These guidelines are offered for the drafting of prayers that have some hope of evoking the attention and provoking the intention of the entire liturgical assembly to engage in intercession.

The Rev. Dr. James Farwell is Professor of Theology and Liturgy and Virginia Theological Seminary and Faculty Consultant for Liturgy for the Center for Liturgy and Music.