Every Mass, every celebration of the Eucharist, is offered for multiple intentions. These prayers, called intercessions, have been a part of the liturgy since earliest times. Thus our eucharistic prayers today make it clear that any Mass is offered for the universal church, the local church, for the pope, the bishops, for priests and deacons, and for all the faithful. After the homily and creed are finished, the Universal Prayer (also called the Prayer of the Faithful, Bidding Prayers, or General Intercessions) may also specify additional intentions. In fact, care needs to be taken that these Prayers of the Faithful do not become too lengthy or overburdened with too much content. After all, there are a lot of things to pray for, and no particular liturgy can possibly express every prayer intention.
How might a worshiping community best express its many prayer intentions? Trying to cram them all into the Prayers of the Faithful does not work. This is particularly true of our prayer intentions for the sick. Sometimes a community may have a long list of names of sick people to pray for, and the reading of such a long list in the Prayers of the Faithful not only makes for a tedious intercession, but also violates the nature of these prayers. They are “universal” or “general” intercessions, not “specific” intentions. It would be better to pray, in a general way, for all the sick, and to limit lists of names of people to the parish bulletin.
Another wonderful way to handle the many prayer intentions of the community is to have a parish book of intentions, located near the entrance to the church. Parishioners are then invited to write their various intentions in this book. Then one of the Prayers of the Faithful might be: “For all our personal intentions, and for those written in our parish petition book....we pray to the Lord...” Such a book is also a way for any parishioner to discover what are the specific needs of the community, and then to include those intentions in one’s own personal prayers.
Another longstanding custom is to have Mass celebrated for a special intention. This usually involves an intention for someone who is sick or has died, and often includes a card that is given to the sick person or to friends or loved ones of the deceased. Arranging for such a special Mass intention normally includes an offering of money to the priest or to the parish. Such private Mass intentions are often misunderstood. Sometimes the misunderstanding is that the Mass will be offered for only this one intention, but every Mass has an unlimited number of intentions. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that giving money for a Mass intention in some way “buys” or assures some spiritual grace or favor that benefits the intention. But official church documents describing such Mass offerings indicate that the ones who benefit from the Mass offering are the institutional Church and its needs, and the donor. There are, fortunately, no guarantees made of any graces directed to the donor’s special intention. The most important reason for giving a money offering is that such a gesture enables the donor to more fully participate in the liturgy. Thus it is important, but not always the case, that the one who asks for a “Mass card” and who makes a money offering would intend to be present and fully participating at the liturgy that includes his or her special intention.