The Armchair Liturgist: Naming People in the Prayers

I’ll confess right out that I don’t like the practice of naming individuals in the prayers of the faithful. General intercessions mean just that: they are general, not specific. That said, I don’t feel strongly enough about it to buck the expectation in many places that people be listed by name.

In my previous parish, I printed the last intercession something like this:

6. For the faithful departed, especially
          Sat 4 only      deceased members of the Smith family
          7:30 only      Elvis Presley
          9:30 only      Richard John Neuhaus
          11:30 only    Diana Spencer
          Sun 5 only     all deceased parishioners,
for whom this Mass is offered, we pray

We opted for this system because the pastor insisted we say the Mass intention out loud, and because it was easy to pencil in names of people who died over the weekend right after “especially.” Though once or twice a new lector read all of the weekend’s Mass intentions at one liturgy. We also had a list of about two dozen sick parishioners who rotated every two to three weeks being listed by name in their own intercession.

Then we would get close family requests: a sick son or daughter, a deceased parent. Younger kids in the grade school were always concerned about their grandparents and wanted to pray for them–when they were sick, or even just when they were travelling to Arizona or Florida or Vegas.

So, sit in the armchair, if you dare, and render judgment. Should we pray for people by name at Mass? Parishioners only? Close relatives, too? I once had a friend request a prayer for the deceased parent of an ex-spouse. They remained close, it seemed. I wasn’t sure how to proceed with the inclusion. If I typed just the person’s name, no parishioner would know who it was. If I appended “ex in-law of N.,” then I wondered if the designation would be a distraction, “Why are we praying for a divorced person’s in-law?”

Have fun, liturgists!

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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17 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Naming People in the Prayers

  1. Todd,
    Please don’t call me “liturgist.” I break out in hives! ;-p
    I compose the parish Sunday GI’s. For sick and injured, never any names, but now and then a mention of the Parish Book of the Sick.
    Regarding recently deceased, one reason that comes to mind, particularly in a clustered parish like ours (four churches) is that it is not uncommon for folks to first “hear” of someone’s passing in that intercession. So, for that reason and for the subsequent opportunity to pray for that soul, I have no problem with adding a litany of names to that one intention only.

  2. Liam says:


    Your formulation is substantially the correct and usual form I’ve heard for decades, where specific intentions are a subset of the general intention. I see zero problem with it, and great good of it. God calls us each by name; to call his departed children by name in the GI is not a disservice to God’s worship.

  3. AndyMo says:

    Aren’t all Masses offered for a specific person or group (as well as the edification of all the faithful, of course)? That’s pretty much the reason for a funeral Mass in the first place.

    Here’s the perfect opportunity for “active participation,” that much abused phrase, when the people get to consciously unite their prayers for the individual for whom the Mass is being offered.

  4. Tony Barr says:

    ‘For whom this Mass is offered’ is a phrase which irks me somewhat, alongside other commonly used phrases as ‘we gather together’. We don’t gather together. Gather means ‘to come together’, or even more simply ‘to gather.’

    What’s with the phrase ‘For whom this Mass is offered’? To me, it’s too pre-Vatican 2, too Tridentine. In those days, priests ‘offered Mass’ while the congregation knelt there in relative silence. But not so any more, it’s a joint effort by presider as a member of the assembly.

    ‘For whom we celebrate this Eucharist’ is my phrase of choice. A bit niggly perchance? Yet an entire philosophy may be embedded in a scant phrase of 6 words. So tell me ‘get a life’ and then we’re talking!

    Dan Browne flirts with the emerging science of noetics. Begin to apply these dynamics to the liturgical assembly and the power of collective prayer and worship, then ‘Mass’ becomes a sharply-focused enterprise, with the intensity of Tesla photon particle beam.

    I ramble,but with a purpose. The entire planet is embraced in the General Intercessions, exclusively because of the focused intention of the assembly, We all make the prayer happen, we all ‘celebrate this eucharist’ together.

  5. Liam says:

    Actually, the word choices are pretty clearly not nearly as totemic as people once imagined.

  6. Anne says:

    “‘For whom we celebrate this Eucharist’ is my phrase of choice.”

    I sort of cringe at that phrase as well. Our Eucharist is offered for many intentions. Why not something like “ today’s Mass I ask you to join me in praying for…”?
    Actually, if a name is published in the bulletin,IMO,that should be enough.

    I know…I too need to “get a life”!

  7. Mollie says:

    I agree with Liam that naming people does no harm and can do good. It’s limited in my parish to what you describe, Todd — the sick, the recently deceased, and “for whom this Mass is offered.” I think reading the names both builds and reflects the parish/worshiping community. I have learned of illnesses and deaths in people’s families from hearing names in the intentions at Mass. I have also had the experience of meeting someone in person after I’ve been praying for them by name (while they were on the “sick” list), which really makes me appreciate the strength and importance of the community. And isn’t informing others of our needs part of the reason we voice our intentions?

  8. David says:

    We are not celebrating the Mass or the Eucharist for a particular intention, in the context of a “Mass intention”, the priest is offering the Mass for that particular intention, we may as an act of charity offer it for that same intention but that choice is ours.

  9. Anna says:

    I agree with others that mentioning the names of the ill and recently deceased is a good thing for the community.

    Our pastor has us say, “In our prayers today we are asked to remember X (Mass intention). I hadn’t really thought about it before, but after hearing some of the other options mentioned, I kind of like it. :-)

    Our pastor also includes in the GI a request to remember in prayer all the other weekend Mass intentions and then lists them. I’m not so sure how I feel about this practice, but it is growing on me. This practice does tend toward Todd’s dislike of the ‘laundry list’ approach.

  10. Matthewj says:

    I don’t like the word “especially.” It seems like it’s saying “we’re praying for all the dead, but this dead guy/gal is the real star of our prayer.”

    Instead I’d phrase it like:
    “Let us pray for (name[s]) and all the faithful departed, may they see the mercy of God.”

    That way they’re included with all the faithful departed but are not made the star of that prayer – and then the Priest continues on and offers the Mass for them.

  11. Todd says:

    We spent a decent amount of time discussing the wording as a staff. Parishioners were insisting on the verbal announcement of every Mass intention and the pastor concurred.

    At the time, we had three priests, plus a few retired guys cycling through the Sunday Mass schedule, and it didn’t seem wise to expect we would get consistency during opening remarks, or worse, during the Eucharistic Prayer.

    For the most part, our lectors did a good job with this. The wording never varied–that was my call to ensure a certain consistency. I thought it communicated what I was asked to oversee. I wonder how they do it now that my 2nd successor is in place.

  12. AndyMo says:

    What’s with the phrase ‘For whom this Mass is offered’? To me, it’s too pre-Vatican 2, too Tridentine. In those days, priests ‘offered Mass’ while the congregation knelt there in relative silence. But not so any more, it’s a joint effort by presider as a member of the assembly.

    Well, Mass is offered for a specific intention. Since our Eucharistic theology has remained unchanged even through Vatican II, priests still offer the sacrifice “in persona Christi capita ecclesia,” in the person of Christ, the head of the Church. To reduce the priest to just another member is not what we believe. Quite simply, without a priest, you can’t have Mass.

    The sacrificial nature of the Mass, including the intention for which it is offered, has been de-emphasized in the wake of Vatican II, which is scandalous. The Eucharist is not just meal. It is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which has historically been offered for specific intention.

    Again, I bring up the example of the funeral Mass. No, its purpose is not merely to “celebrate the life” of the deceased, as it is so banally described by some. The primary purpose is to offer the sacrifice for the benefit of the deceased. It’s all about that all-too-Tridentine (and Catholic, for that matter) purgatory.

    • AndyMo says:

      Actually, allow me to be (not so) pedantic about my own post. The primary purpose of the funeral Mass, as with all Masses, is to offer praise and thanks to God. The sacrifice comes in a close second.

  13. Todd says:

    Actually, Andy, the Church teaches that the Eucharist is primarily about our participation in Christ’s worship of the Father. The secondary purpose of the Mass is the sanctification of the faithful. That this happens by means of both a ritual meal and by sacrifice, while vital and important, is secondary.

    The sacrifice of the Mass is more than just a recreation of Good Friday (or Holy Thursday, for that matter). It is about the Paschal mystery, entire and whole, or as much about that as we can fathom.

    That said, the offering at Mass, the sacrifice is truly the Body’s, if our aspiration to the imitation of Christ is to be taken seriously.

    Again, for my part, the language is what I was handed. I complied with the request of the pastor and parishioners.

  14. Tony Barr says:

    Ah, Todd, how sad that so many of our pastors are not fine-tuned to the nuances of our post post-Vatican 2 liturgies. In fact quite a few of them know diddly squat about liturgy, and can hide behind their canonical supremacy.

    However, as liturgists, we are all so unbendable (arrogant?) as to know that we are (generally) always right.

    Viz a viz an earlier comment, I must maintain my stance that the pastor, whose role is to preside, does so only as memeber of the assembly. All liturgical ministers enjoy the same privileged status as being part of the assembly. No one is above it or beyond it; only together are we able to profess that we are truly the body of Christ. Yes, many parts, but only one body.

    And yes, I did get a life today; I was able to persuade a homeless 26-year old addict to enter treatment. I did so as a member of the assembly who takes the dismissal seriously.

  15. smf says:

    I like the idea of the mass intention being mentioned at some point. One priest I know always mentions it at the start of mass. “Today is the feast of St… and our mass is offered for…”

    Another priest always includes it in the intercessions, something like “and we pray for John Doe husband of Jane Doe for whom this mass is offered. R”

    Sometimes making the prayer particular and specific is called for. When there is some really important cause for prayer it should be made known. Plus, sometimes it is easier to pray for someone or something specific than just some vague notion.

    On the other hand, most of these should be just what the name sometimes used implies “general intercessions” which have some general application. Thus you could pray for everyone traveling to have a safe journey rather than for every specific person in the parish who is traveling.

    Finally, while I think it is normally most appropriate for members of the parish or their family to be on the various prayer lists, there is no reason that others can not be included as well when there is a sincere desire to pray for them. I have seen a parish put various public personages on their prayer list in such a way that did not seem particularly fruitful. On the other hand, when a local musician (music director for a protestant church, teacher, piano tuner, jazz musician, and very nice guy) known and liked by the entire community became terminally ill, I think every church in town put him or his family or both on their prayer lists. When he died his name even went in the bulletin with the list of recently deceased parishioners and family of parishioners being prayed for. In that case it was truelly a heart felt prayer and intention on the part of many

  16. RP Burke says:

    Interesting and curious how our parish does it. We have written petitions that vary in their adherence to the technical expectations in GIRM and their particularity (yesterday one was for the neophytes on Pentecost, for example). But then the pastor, generally a stickler for doing things right, adds his own petitions after the lector (we have no deacon) for the special intention of the Mass and for the intentions people write in a prayer book that is brought to the sanctuary before Mass begins. A recent death in the parish is sometimes mentioned during the second extra petition (the rules say that the deacon or lector read the petitions and the celebrant merely introduces and adds a concluding general prayer at the end).

    So, normally, the only specific name that is mentioned is the paid-for intention, if there is any (as one Mass every weekend is, by diocesan rule at least, for the people of the parish generally), and occasionally a recent decedent.

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