Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Making our prayer inclusive
by Father Jan Larson
(From the October 20, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
The Church’s liturgical prayers are inclusive, able to include all kinds and classes of people. This is no more evident than during the Easter Triduum, the culmination of the entire liturgical year. The intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy, in use during the very first centuries of Christian history, are clearly inclusive. At that liturgy we offer 10 intentions. We pray for the Church, for the pope, for the clergy and for the laity, for those preparing for baptism, for other Christian churches, and for the Jewish people. We pray too for those who do not believe in Christ, for those who do not believe in God, for all who serve in public office, and for anyone in special need.
These intentions present us with a model for our own prayers of intercession, for often we might find ourselves reluctant to include some people in our prayers. Our prayer for the dead is one example. We might think that the dead we pray for in our liturgy are deceased baptized Catholics. But the prayers of the Mass are more inclusive than that. We pray for the baptized (those “marked with the sign of faith”), but as well for “all who sleep in Christ.” We pray in other Eucharistic prayers that God bring “all the departed” into the light of God’s presence, all who have left this world in God’s friendship, all whose faith is known to God alone. No one is excluded in these prayers, unless we make a personal choice to exclude people.
To be inclusive in our prayer means more than to use inclusive language – language that does not give the impression to others that we are leaving people out. Too many people, for example, are still content with the use of the word “men” to refer not to males, but to humanity in general, and yet increasing numbers of women and men find this an unnecessary exclusive use of our English language. The current translation of the scripture readings that we hear at the liturgy is a first attempt at being an inclusive translation, but we have a long way yet to go. Being inclusive in our prayer is easier if we become inclusive in our attitudes and in our spirituality.
When we pray for the dead at the liturgy do we find ourselves remembering only deceased friends or loved ones? Are we comfortable praying for strangers? Do we pray for people we don’t like? A few years ago, in an astounding display of insensitivity and disrespect for the dead, the grisly photos of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons were published, as if part of some carnival spectacle. Not that long ago some people were clamoring for the release of the death photos of Osama Bin Laden. Would we be comfortable praying for these unsavory characters, and for the loved ones and friends who mourn them?
Do we include convicted criminals in our prayers? Since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in our country, at least 1,271 people have been killed in our name. The universal Church has always been there to support these people in prayer. Have we individual members of the Body of Christ been there with our prayer? Jesus, after all, told us to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” His compassion and forgiveness are boundless, and so we can then pray at our liturgy, “Be mindful of our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the peace of Christ, and all the dead whose faith only you can know. Lead them to the fullness of the resurrection and gladden them with the light of your face.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)