On Sundays, after the Creed, we pray together as the People of God. This is the place in the liturgy in which the underlying belief in the priesthood of all believers comes to the fore. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And St Paul teaches this to Timothy in his first letter, writing, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” The early church took this seriously, and all of the baptized believers were called to pray and participate in worship.
However, up until the 1970s, most liturgical traditions had the priest or deacon pray these prayers on behalf of the people. Thankfully, the participation of all the people together with the clergy was gradually restored. This led to a restoration of the Prayers of the People as actually being led by lay people, and inviting the participation of the congregation. At the time this was restored, it was quite controversial for folks in many liturgical churches.
There is always a slow pull in every parish toward one of two extremes. One is a clergy dominated worship, the other is a “congregational” worship with no ordained leaders, or one which downplays leadership. The Book of Common Prayer, which we use, attempts to bring these two realities together. It is an attempt to have spiritual leadership by the ordained celebrant, which is flexible and invites the participation of all baptized believers.
The liturgy is like a script in a play. It allows for the various parts to come together as a whole production. The actors don’t read each other’s lines, they each learn their own and play their part. In this sense, the bishop, priest, deacon, and people all have parts to play, and it is important for each to play their part.
When we come to the Prayers of the People, we envision a time in which each baptized believer brings with him or her the needs, concerns and thanksgivings of the family, community, and workplace in which he or she is a part.
Some of us are keen on the international situation, and can bring international needs to prayer. Some are focused on local business, or education, or social needs and can bring those concerns. Others are always more aware of the good things in our lives, and can bring those thanksgivings. The Prayers of the People is for the People to pray together, bringing all the various needs that we are aware of to the attention of the parish and to God. You are called by Christ himself to bring along any items of prayer that we all need to remember together.
Whether silently or aloud, bring your requests and thanksgivings to worship, and give them to God as a priest for your family, community, and world.
Next Tuesday: Prayers of the People: How To