What should I do when the Priest says, "Let us pray"?
For the memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, I thought we might explore the Collect prayer used at the Mass honoring this saint and imploring her intercession. Before we can consider the prayer, let us review some principles about the Collect prayer at Mass.
The Collect prayer at Mass is the lengthier prayer that follows the priest’s words, “Oremus” or “Let us pray.” After this prayer, the people sit for the Liturgy of the Word. I used to think that the words “Let us pray” referred to either a direction given to the altar server to bring the missal to the priest or an announcement by the priest that he is going to say a prayer on our behalf. I think most Catholics would agree with one of these. Yet, they both lack a proper understanding of what we should be doing in the Mass.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) explains that the words “Let us pray” is an invitation to pray in silence. Everybody, “together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions” (GIRM 54). This presumes that there is a pause for silent prayer between the invitation to pray and the Collect prayer. During this time of prayer, we recognize God’s presence, and we offer our own prayer intentions. This might be for a difficult decision, a loved one battling cancer, expressing gratitude for his blessings, or asking for help to grow in holiness. Now that there has been a pause for this silent prayer, the priest then collects all our prayers and offers them to God as one community in Christ. His prayer, the Collect prayer, brings together all our prayers and through this act of collecting our prayers offers them to God. The Collect prayer expresses the “character” of that particular Mass (GIRM 54). The people agree with this character, this way in which the priest is collecting our prayers and offering them in a way reflective of today’s focus, by responding with “Amen.” “Amen” is a Hebrew word that indicates our agreement.
Now that we know how to enter into the mystery of this moment of the Mass, let us consider the Collect prayer for the memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
O God, by whose gift Saint Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and revered Christ in the poor, grant, through her intercession, that we may serve with unfailing charity the needy and those afflicted. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.
First, notice that God is the primary recipient of the prayer. Yes, Catholics have saints, and we
ask them to pray for us, but they never replace God or distract us from God. Their “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). It is God’s grace, the gift of God’s life in us, that made it possible for Saint Elizabeth to grow in holiness. The Church then provides us with something
about her that is being set before us as an example for our own pilgrim journey: “Saint Elizabeth of Hungary recognized
and revered Christ in the poor.” A
daughter of the Hungarian king, she was born in 1207 A.D. and had a deep prayer life and desire to grow the Kingdom of God on earth. Sharing in Christ’s mission, she provided for the needs of widows, orphans, and others with a great need. She served the lepers at a hospital she established. Saint Elizabeth shared her grain with others during a time of famine. In each moment she encountered a person made in the image of God, and in each moment of encounter she served her Savior. It is clear why the Church offers us this saint who “recognized and revered Christ in the poor.”
We then ask Saint Elizabeth of Hungary to pray for us and for God to provide us with the same grace that we may imitate this great work. The prayer asks, “that we may serve with unfailing charity the needy and those afflicted.” What does unfailing charity look like? What does it look like in my context? Who are the “needy” and “afflicted” that surround me? I hope I know because when I say “Amen” to this prayer I am indicating a desire to do this, to imitate the great Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
A deeper question, one I should wrestle with throughout the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in preparation for the week, “How do I understand my petition I offered during the silence in light of this petition that I become one who serves with unfailing charity the needy around me?” What insights does God offer for this question when I encounter him liturgically in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist?
Whether it is the feast of a saint, a Sunday in Ordinary Time, Advent, or Easter, the essential principles remain. The Collect prayer is an invitation to offer my own petition in the silence, to recognize in the prayer the focus of that Mass, to join with the priest in offering the petition within the Collect, to wrestle with how my individual petition or prayer is to be understood in light of the Collect prayer and the Mass of that day, and to agree by vocalizing with a Holy Spirit filled “AMEN!”
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Pray for us.