Q: Is it permissible to omit the Prayer of the Faithful at a daily Mass or funeral? It is permissible to have the kiss of peace just before the offertory? — J.R., San Antonio, Texas
A: In reintroducing the Universal Prayer to the liturgy in 1963 the Second Vatican Council stated the following inSacrosanctum Concilium, No. 53:
“Especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation there is to be restored, after the Gospel and the homily, ‘the common prayer’ or ‘the prayer of the faithful.’ By this prayer, in which the people are to take part, intercession will be made for holy Church, for the civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the salvation of the entire world.”
Two years later, in 1965, the Holy See was asked this question: “Whether in Masses celebrated with the people, the prayer of the faithful is obligatory on ferial days?”
The response in the Vatican’s typical laconic style was: “It does not oblige on ferial days.” It later confirmed and amplified its response in other documents, with specific reference to Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Therefore, although the Prayer of the Faithful may be profitably used on a daily basis, it is obligatory only on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
It is noteworthy, however, that the most recent documents do not make this distinction between festivities and ferial days but simply describe the structure of the prayer. This allows for their use on all suitable occasions without mandating an obligation.
Thus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says:
“69. In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world.
“70. As a rule, the series of intentions is to be: a. For the needs of the Church; b. For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world; c. For those burdened by any kind of difficulty; d. For the local community. Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion.
“71. It is for the priest celebrant to direct this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he invites the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with a prayer. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community. The intentions are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the deacon or by a cantor, a lector, or one of the lay faithful. The people, however, stand and give expression to their prayer either by an invocation said together after each intention or by praying in silence.”
With respect to Masses for the dead the GIRM says:
“385. In the arranging and choosing of the variable parts of the Mass for the Dead, especially the Funeral Mass (e.g., orations, readings, Prayer of the Faithful), pastoral considerations bearing upon the deceased, the family, and those attending should rightly be taken into account.”
This would mean that, while the Prayer of the Faithful may be licitly omitted at the funeral, it is important to give full weight to the pastoral needs of the bereaved before deciding to do so.
With regards to the second question, the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No. 71, avers: “The practice of the Roman Rite is to be maintained according to which the peace is extended shortly before Holy Communion. For according to the tradition of the Roman Rite, this practice does not have the connotation either of reconciliation or of a remission of sins, but instead signifies peace, communion and charity before the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. It is rather the Penitential Act to be carried out at the beginning of Mass (especially in its first form) which has the character of reconciliation among brothers and sisters.”
Even after this document, and especially during the 2005 synod on the Eucharist, the possibility of moving the sign of peace was hotly debated. At the end the bishops simply asked for further study.
From what I have been able to glean, an in-depth study was carried out but with inconclusive results. In general, liturgical experts opposed changing the position, and the world bishops were divided. So far no official decision has been taken.
The principal difficulty with respect to this proposed change, at least as I see it, is underlined in Redemptionis Sacramentum.To change the position to the offertory would entail a change the meaning of the rite itself, away from the peace that comes to us from Christ upon the altar, toward one of reconciliation or remission of sins.
However, if this were done, what sense would there be in making an act of reconciliation at the beginning of Mass? Should we not be reconciled with our brothers in order to partake of the table of the Word as well as the table of the Eucharist?
It is true that some Eastern liturgies do have the rite of peace in the context of the offertory. But in these rites the bread and wine have already been solemnly prepared before the celebration, so that the meaning of sharing Christ’s peace is similar to that of the Roman rite.
The venerable Ambrosian rite used in the Archdiocese of Milan also has the exchange of peace at the offertory, but this is a relative novelty even for this rite.
Some Catholic groups have also received permission for this change from the Holy See within the context of a particular spiritual journey that does not necessarily apply to everybody.
Therefore, in conclusion, except in those cases where the Holy See has granted a specific dispensation, it is not permitted to change the place of the exchange of peace.
It is always permitted to omit it as it is an optional and not an obligatory rite.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.