Prayer Over the People

Date: March 11, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.


Question: Why is there not a formula of the solemn blessing for the Lenten season Sundays as well as ferial days? -- D.Z., Beijing


Answer: The principal reason is because, during Lent, the historic Prayers over the People have been restored to the Roman Missal after an absence of over 30 years.


Since the missal provides these texts each day it would seem to exclude the need for specific solemn blessings for the Lenten season. There is, however, a solemn blessing for the Passion of the Lord which could be used on Palm Sunday or Good Friday.


The 1970s missal did contain some of these prayers in an appendix among other prayers and blessings for use during the year.


The 2001 missal restores a distinct Prayer over the People for each day of Lent as well as retaining the section of prayers for other times of the year.


On weekdays of Lent there is a rubric that says that the Prayer over the People is optional. On Sundays the prayer is also there but lacking the rubric “for optional use.”


The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says the following about solemn blessings and prayers over the people:


“166. On certain days and occasions this blessing, in accordance with the rubrics, is expanded and expressed by a Prayer over the People or another more solemn formula.


“185. If a Prayer over the People or a formula of Solemn Blessing is used, the Deacon says, Bow down for the blessing. After the Priest’s blessing, the Deacon, with hands joined and facing the people, dismisses the people, saying, Ite, missa est (Go forth, the Mass is ended).”


The section with other prayers follows immediately after the order of Mass and contains solemn blessings and Prayers over the People for specific times and seasons of the year. Some special feasts and celebrations have proper solemn blessings. The overarching rule is that these may be used “at the discretion of the priest at the end of the celebration of Mass, or of a Liturgy of the Word, or of the Office, or of the Sacraments.”


Since the general rule leaves the use of these prayers and blessings to the priest’s discretion, the absence of an indication that they are optional on Sundays would not translate into an obligation to use them, although it would indicate a strong encouragement to use them every Sunday. Likewise, the fact that they are printed for each day of Lent also motivates their daily use.


According to eminent scholars, the tradition of these orations has its roots as far back as the third century. The deacon’s invitation to the people to bow the head for the blessing is also very ancient, even though the present Latin formula does not appear before the year 800.


It is not fully understood why these prayers became reserved to the Lenten season in the Roman liturgy, since many of the ancient sources contain similar prayers for all seasons of the year. Perhaps it is because Lent and the Easter triduum have usually retained the older traditions.


Apart from the evident difference that the solemn blessing uses three prayers rather than the single prayer over the people, there are also some stylistic differences. The solemn blessing is usually addressed directly to the faithful, imploring God’s blessing upon them. Let us take as an example the solemn blessing for the Passion of the Lord.


“May God, the Father of mercies, who has given you an example of love in the Passion of his Only Begotten Son, grant that, by serving God and your neighbor, you may lay hold of the wondrous gift of his blessing. R. Amen.


“So that you may receive the reward of everlasting life from him, through whose earthly Death you believe that you escape eternal death. R. Amen.


“And by following the example of his self-abasement, may you possess a share in his Resurrection. R. Amen.


“And may the blessing of almighty God ….” “The Mass is ended .…”


The Prayer over the People, however, is mostly addressed directly to God for the faithful. Other characteristics of these formulas is that the personal object of these blessings is not usually designated as “us” but rather as “your people," "your servants," "your faithful," "those who bow before your majesty," "those who make supplication to you," "those who call upon you.”


A further characteristic is that the spiritual graces implored for in the prayer are sought not in a general way as in other prayers but for the indefinite future with phrases such as "always," "perpetual protection," "constantly," etc.


One example of these characteristics is found in the prayer used for the first Sunday of Lent:


May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray,

come down upon your people,

that hope may grow in tribulation,

virtue be strengthened in temptation,

and eternal redemption be assured.

Through Christ our Lord.


Another example is a text currently used on Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent, although already present in the seventh- and eighth-century Gelasian and Veronese Sacramentary manuscripts:


“Be gracious to your people, Lord, we pray,

that, as from day to day they reject what does not please you,

they may be filled instead with delight at your commands.

Through Christ our Lord.”


* * *


Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the many questions that arrive.


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