“Let us pray.” These are the words that the priest says immediately following the Gloria (when there is one), inviting the faithful to unite with him as he prays what is Opening Prayer, or more technically called the Collect.
There are a few things worth mentioning as we consider the Collect. The GIRM (remember, when I use that acronym, I am referring to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal) explains that the Collect is one of the “presidential prayers.” “These prayers are addressed to God by the Priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ, in the name of the entire holy people and of all present.” (GIRM, §30) This is an important point that can sometimes go overlooked. When the priest is reciting prayers at Mass, more often than not, he is doing so in the name of all who are present. When we hear the Opening Prayer, we can sometimes zone out and not pay much attention, treating it as though we are listening to Father pray. It’s as though he is saying: “Listen to me pray.” No, we unite ourselves with the priest who is praying on our behalf, praying for us and with us to God. “”Let us pray.” I will develop this point further when we get to the Eucharistic Prayer, but it is important for us to have that understanding of these prayers in general.
But what is the significance of this prayer? Two sources are helpful in our understanding this prayer. First, we can look at what the GIRM says:
Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression. (GIRM, §54)
Another source I sometime refer to when reflecting on the prayers of the Mass is a little booklet I found online called Explanation of Prayers and Ceremonies of Holy Mass, which is a collection of reflections taken from conferences given by Dom Prosper Guéranger, a former Benedictine Abbot of Solesmes. Though these reflections were written about the Mass celebrated according to the Missal of 1962, many of the elements still apply very well. Here is what he says about the Collect, that it is:
the Prayer in which he sums up the desires of the Faithful, and presents them under the form of a petition. The word Collect comes from the Latin colligere, which means to bring together things previously existing apart. The importance of the Collect is great. Hence, holy mother Church urges us to listen to it with all respect and devotion.
What both of these explanations offer is that this is a time during which we bring our various intentions to the liturgy to be offered up in one prayer of petition to the Father. Thus the pause after the priests says: “Let us pray.” Recall how when describing the Penitential Act, the pause seems hardly adequate to call to mind our sins, so too here. I think it presumes that we have done a little bit of preparation for this moment, perhaps as we pray before Mass. In addition to examining ourselves regarding our need for conversion, we can also consider the various intentions we want to bring to this Mass – people to pray for, situations that seem unresolved, gratitude for blessings received, etc. In that brief moment, we present those intentions we have already thought about to the Lord through the priest who collects the prayers of everybody and offers them up on our behalf in one prayer.