The Liturgy of the Word concludes (generally) with the Universal Prayer, also called the Prayer of the Faithful, or even the General Intercessions. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal offers the following brief explanation on the meaning of this part of the Mass:
In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all.(GIRM, 69)
We will return to this concept of the baptismal priesthood when we consider the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but I think it is worth noting its mention at this point of the Mass. As Christians, our Baptism unites us with Christ the Head in a special way, but it also unites us with His Body, the Church. As a result of that, prayer as a Christan encompasses both dimensions – vertical with God and horizontal with our brothers and sisters. In the Universal Prayer, we show a special concern for the needs of the entire Body of Christ.
The GIRM lays out the basic schema for how these prayers should be directed: 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. (GIRM, 70)
I have sometimes wondered how much attention the faithful pay to this part of the Mass, but I have had several experiences over the years that demonstrate that many are indeed aware. On a few occasions, I have received feedback of disappointment that a certain petition was not included in the Universal Prayer. For example, when there is a tragedy that happens in our world, and it is not mentioned, I have been criticized for not taking that tragedy seriously. Another example is displeasure expressed about certain prayers that touch on controversial topics, such as abortion or upholding the Christan view of marriage, seeing such prayers to be too “political.” Finally, I have heard people complain about having the name of the person remembered at that Mass pronounced incorrectly.
In response to all of those concerns, and others, let me suggest two words to consider before we let ourselves be offended with this part of the Mass: assume grace. As human beings, we can be very quick to assume motives for other people, drawing conclusions based on how we may feel or have been impacted by something. We certainly do not like when others do that to us, so why are we so quick to do so to others? If a prayer you had wanted to be heard is not included, what is preventing you from offering up that prayer at this point? Your baptismal priesthood gives you the authority and responsibility to do so. When united with the prayer of our brothers and sisters, whether spoken or not, the Lord hears those prayers, so they are not in any way ignored by Him. And if a particular petition makes you feel a little uncomfortable, perhaps that is an invitation from the Lord for healing and conversion in your heart.
Remember, one of the devil’s primary tactics is to divide, and he will not miss any opportunity to do so, especially as we are united with one another during the most sacred celebration of the Mass.