Many recent tragedies have drawn the minds and hearts of the Church to prayer. Wars and strife in the Middle East and in Africa have caused much destruction and untold suffering, affecting both Christian communities and the general populace. The resulting migration of displaced peoples and other refugees now affects the European continent. These tragedies also call to mind similar events in Mexico and Central America in recent years, where many people have sought asylum and a better life in the United States of America.
With increased awareness of the need for a more integral ecology, Pope Francis has led the Church toward a more active participation in caring for the environment. In 2015, he established the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation; this day of prayer, which has been celebrated by Orthodox Churches for some time, takes place every year on September 1. There is always the need to pray also for favorable weather conditions, both in the regular planting and harvesting of crops and during emergencies (i.e., drought, fires, floods, storms, earthquakes, etc.).
The Church never ceases to pray for the poor and for God's creation, and it is useful to recall in these times the various liturgical resources already at the disposal of priests, worship offices, and other liturgical ministers. In particular, the section of Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions in the Roman Missal can be very helpful.
"Masses for Various Needs and Occasions are used in certain situations either as occasion arises or at fixed times" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], no. 373). Such Masses are appropriate on weekdays in Ordinary Time, and may also be used on obligatory or optional memorials for a good cause or pastoral advantage. They may not be used on "Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls' Day), Ash Wednesday, and the days of Holy Week" (GIRM, no. 374). Within the limits of liturgical law and the calendar, the diocesan bishop may direct that an appropriate Mass be said for a special occasion or grant permission for a broader use. More detailed instructions are given in the GIRM, nos. 368-377.
The Scripture readings in these Masses can be taken from either the usual weekday Lectionary (to preserve the lectio continua) or from the selection of readings for the particular special Mass (to draw the faithful deeper into the purpose for which the Mass is chosen), found in volume IV of the Lectionary for Mass.
The Liturgy of the Hours does not have texts specifically created to be votive Offices, but it provides for the various Offices to be used in that way "for a public cause or out of devotion" (see General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours [GILH], nos. 245, 252; Liturgy of the Hours, appendix III). It is also possible to use the existing Office of the day, but supplemented with an alternate reading drawn from appropriate selections in volume IV of the Lectionary for Mass (see GILH, no. 46), and perhaps adding particular intentions for the specific occasion (see GILH, no. 188). To conclude a votive Office, a prayer from appendix III of the Liturgy of the Hours could be used; note that those prayers have new translations in the Roman Missal which are found among the Prayers for Various Needs. Other options for "customizing" an Office in particular circumstances are found in the GILH, nos. 246-252.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father. (Mt 5:44-45)
Violence and destruction wrought by the so-called "Islamic State" militants, along with associated terrorist acts in Africa, have resulted in the death of many Christians and the dispossession of their property. In addition, ongoing difficulties in the Holy Land have led to the dispersion of the Christian community there.
For any given celebration, the most appropriate Mass formulary is to be chosen with an eye toward the specific intention the gathered community wishes to pray for. The Mass "For Persecuted Christians" (no. 19) can be used in general circumstances involving Christian persecution. Other choices include:
- Praying for an end to war and strife – the Mass "For the Preservation of Peace and Justice" (no. 30) or the Mass "In Time of War or Civil Disturbance" (no. 31)
- Praying for enemies and those who persecute the innocent – the Mass "For Our Oppressors" (no. 42)
- Praying for those held prisoner/hostage by terrorist or enemy forces – the Mass "For Those Held in Captivity" (no. 43) or the Mass "For Those Held in Prison" (no. 44)
Migrants and Refugees
You shall not violate the rights of the alien or of the orphan… remember, you were once slaves in Egypt, and the Lord, your God, ransomed you from there. (Dt 24:17-18)
In the past couple of years, the continent of Europe has received large numbers of migrants and refugees as a result of Middle Eastern and African conflicts. In addition, the migration of persons into the United States from Mexico and Central America is ongoing, in some cases due to violence in Latin America, and in others due to the search for economic opportunities in the U.S.
The Mass "For Refugees and Exiles" (no. 32) is most appropriate for general use in these circumstances. Other possibilities include:
- Praying for improved conditions in the homelands of refugees – the Mass "For the Progress of Peoples" (no. 29) or the Mass "For the Preservation of Peace and Justice" (no. 30)
- Praying for those refugees who seek humanitarian assistance, especially with food, water, etc. – the Mass "In Time of Famine or for Those Suffering Hunger" (no. 33; formulary A is most appropriate)
Care of Creation
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever. (Dn 3:57)
The terrible effects of damage to the environment have been known for some time, and Pope Francis has renewed the Church's attention toward reversing that damage and working for an integral ecology. Likewise, there are any number of calamities—local, national, and global—caused by weather and geologic forces. Prayer is always a key component in addressing these issues, along with humanitarian assistance and other actions of social justice.
Although the Missal does not provide any specific Mass formularies focusing on the environment, the most appropriate one that can be used might be the Mass "For the Sanctification of Human Labor" (no. 26; see especially the second Collect of formulary A). This formulary requires the use of Preface V of the Sundays in Ordinary Time, entitled simply "Creation." The preface speaks eloquently of God's creation of the world, and the need of humanity to praise God by caring for that creation. Other formularies are:
- Praying during the planting and harvesting of crops – the Mass "At Seedtime" (no. 27) or the Mass "After the Harvest" (no. 28)
- Praying for overall good weather – the Mass "For Fine Weather" (no. 36)
- Praying for divine assistance during an emergency – the Mass "In Time of Earthquake" (no. 34), the Mass "For Rain" (no. 35), or the Mass "For an End to Storms" (no. 37)
(A Collect only is provided for the last four suggested formularies; other antiphons and prayers may be drawn either from the Mass "In Any Need" [no. 48] or the usual Mass of the day.)
"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ" (Gaudium et Spes, no. 1). Since the liturgy is a privileged place to entreat God for his mercy and his assistance in caring for the earth, for the stranger in our midst, and for those who seek to harm us and our communities, more frequent use of the Church's special prayers can only help all concerned to work more fervently for a world of justice and of peace.
From the August-September 2015 Newsletter of the Committee on Divine Worship
© 2015 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops