16 February 2009

The Intercessions

The original form of the intercessions in the liturgy were quite different from the normal pattern today. A deacon would call out the bid, and invite the people to kneel. Silence would be observed as each member of the royal priesthood would offer their intercessions privately. The subdeacon would then call the people to stand. The priest would "collect" the prayers of the people into a single prayer, which came to be called the collect, and they would all "Amen" this. The pattern would be repeated. Bid. Kneel. Private prayer. Stand. Common Prayer. Amen!

This pattern still survives in the liturgy for Good Friday with the so-called Bidding Prayer. Dix notes the sad consequence of its loss as a regular feature of the Divine Service:
"But all Christendom was then still at one on the way in which the public intercession should be offered - by a corporate act involving the whole church, in which nevertheless each order - laity, deacon and officiant (bishop or presbyter) - must actively discharge its own separate and distinct function within the fulfilment of the 'priestly' activity of the whole Body of Christ. It offers to God not only itself in its organic unity, but all the world with its sorrows and its busy God-given natural life and its needs. There is here a very revealing contrast with our own practice in this matter of liturgical intercession - the long monologue by the celebrant in the 'Prayer for the Church Militant' and the rapid fire of collects at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer. With us the deacon's part has completely disappeared, and the people's prayer and biddings - originally only led and directed - has been reduced to a single word, 'Amen.' If the truth be told, many of the more devout of our laity have come to suppose that intercession is a function of prayer better discharged in private than by liturgical prayer of any kind, so unsatisfying is the share which our practice allows them. The notion of the priestly prayer of the whole church, as the prayer of Christ the world's Mediator through His Body, being 'that which makes the world stand,' in the phrase of an early Christian writer, has been banished from the understanding of our laity." (Shape, p. 45)
LSB did not print the Bidding Prayer in the hymnal, but it is included in the Altar Book (page 406-409). The rubrics before it note:

The Bidding Prayer may replace the Prayers in the Daily Office or the Prayer of the Church in the Divine Service.

The assistant's bid invites the congregation to silent prayer, and the presiding minister is advised to pause briefly before collecting the thoughts of the congregation in each collect.


Our order does not include anymore the instructions to kneel and to stand. But the "brief pause" is actually essential for the prayer to return to the fullness of its ancient form: the people's intercession. Thus "brief" here must mean more than simply a few seconds. It means long enough for the people to intentionally frame and offer their intercession for the thing just bidden.

We have grown weak in prayer. We must own up to it. But here in the liturgy is hidden a prayer that itself unlocks the key to the unity of corporate and individual prayer and binds them together as one. What joy it would be to recover its fullness among us, that of us too it might be said: Ecclesia orans!

2 comments:

Past Elder said...

A little flectamus genua wouldn't hurt anybody.

smith_ad19 said...

While in Japan on Good Friday a couple of years ago, my only choices were attend the Papal Mass and attend the Protestant Potluck Dinner. How about that?

Anyway, so I went to Mass and there was the kneeling and the standing. At the time, I thought it was a bit gymnastica ecclesia. However, I have come to see the simplicity of the kneeling and standing during the Bidding Prayer. Thanks for the post.