What are we praying for?
The priest says (or sings), “Let us pray.” Wait a minute, weren’t we already praying? Yes and no. Many people think that the Mass is always the same week after week. Every Sunday has a unique set of 3 special prayers called the Orations. The opening prayer sets the tone for the Mass that week by praying for something special. This week it says: Father, keep before us the wisdom and love you have revealed in your Son. Help us to be like him in word and deed, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Collect your Thoughts
This first prayer is also known as the Collect. It is meant to gather up or collect all the needs of the congregation and present them to God. That is the reason for the brief silence – to give you a chance to pray quietly. The “Let us pray” indicates that this is the time to bring to God whatever is on your own heart that day. What do you want out of this Mass? Tell it to God. Then the priest takes all those prayers and offers them to God with the prayer provided for that day.
We already know what God wants for us. The Bible makes no secret of this. Our first reading says: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy (Lv 19:1). Our Gospel says: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) [Readings]. God wants us to be like him. But what do we want? God wants us to voice our own individual needs, and the Mass provides space for this.
You’ll notice also at this moment that the priest opens his arms wide in a posture called the Orans position. This gesture goes back to ancient times. It shows an openness to receive what God has to offer, and a willingness to offer ourselves in response. This gesture is used throughout Mass only when the priest is praying on behalf of the entire congregation. Every time the priest uses the gesture, the people always finish his prayer with Amen. Literally, it means “I bind myself.” The priest prays for you, and you listen attentively and say “Me too.”
Call and Response
Throughout Mass we follow a simple pattern – the priest speaks first and the people respond. It happens at the sign of the cross, the penitential rite, and now at the opening prayer. You will notice it again at the readings of Mass, the Offertory, and later during Communion. This pattern is crucial to our theology – God invites, we respond. Many Protestant groups will speak of the importance of us choosing God. They quote from passages like Joshua 24:15, and they disagree with infant baptism. Catholics believe, on the other hand, that God has chosen us first, and we have to respond to His choice. We see this happen when Adam is created and invited to be friends with God, when Noah is asked to build the Ark, Abraham is called to form a covenant with God, David is invited to be King, Mary is asked to be the mother of God, and the Disciples are called to follow Jesus, and when you were baptized as an infant. God takes the initiative and invites us into friendship with Him. In our turn we respond Yes or No. Mary said Yes, Judas said no. In the Mass the priest takes the initiative acting on behalf of God to invite us into a deeper relationship with Him. Our responses at Mass are so much more important than just keeping the Mass going. You must say Yes to God; your salvation depends on it. Mass is a time to practice our Yes by responding clearly, promptly, and with our whole heart: I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38) AMEN!