Friday, July 20, 2012

When PotF turns into TMI

I am back on blogger! I was busy finishing my dissertation, moving, and starting a new job all last year, but I am feeling the urge to reconnect with strangers on the Internets, so here we go.

I have begun attending an Extraordinary Form High Mass in my new town. I go to the OF for daily Mass and when I'm out of town. I love the EF for Sunday Mass because it feels different enough from daily Mass to warrant the extra half hour. Horrible Catholic that I am, I found myself getting impatient with Sunday Mass when I started going to daily Mass regularly. It all just felt like there was unnecessary padding.

I like the meditative aspect of the EF. I have a busy workweek and spend a lot of my free time thinking about my next experiments, so I find it quite refreshing to spend time in silent prayer. I am not good at doing silent prayer in my house, with my laptop beckoning.

One of the things I appreciate, about all the Masses in my new town, is that the Intercessory Prayers (aka Prayers of the Faithful) in Mass are very nicely written.

In my old town, a layperson would read off some lovely, rather long PotF. The priest would then start taking requests from the congregation. At one parish, the majority of these were "For a special intention, we pray to the Lord." A small percentage were general, such as "For all those struggling with addiction..." or "For those traveling..." It was always a little awkward when some people spoke over each other, or if they forgot to say "We pray to the Lord," and the priest had to say it for them. My least favorite prayers (and yes, I rank prayers according to how they please ME) were both prayers to God AND news bulletins for the congregation. My favorite of these were 1) short and 2) involved people I might actually know or have seen at Mass, such as "For Marjorie, who isn't here today because she is having heart surgery..." or "For Mrs Tuttle, who moved from here several years ago and just lost her husband this weekend..." The most embarrassing were evolving prayers for chastity from the newly dating couples that then ceased when the couples were married. The most annoying were long, detailed stories that really could have been summarized in one phrase.

"We pray for Elizabeth and Jane, who have both recently experienced disappointment in love, the first from a young man who seemed interested and then went out of town with no explanation given, and the second from a man whom she detests and whom she thought detested her, and he does but also loves her despite himself and his loathing for her admittedly problematic family, and anyway, we just pray they don't become spinsters and that their mother stops being rather a trial and that their younger sister repents of her libertine ways, let us pray to the Lord," could easily be condensed into "For God's blessings on the Dashwood family."

It was a temptation for me, judging other people's prayers. I shouldn't have, I knew I shouldn't have, and sometimes I succeeded in not doing it very much. I am very grateful that now I only pray for things that are phrased in a short sentence.

The Internet holds a greater temptation for me, because of the numerous prayer requests on Catholic blogs. I skim the really long stuff just to see what the point is, say a quick prayer, and move on. Unfortunately, the more detailed the post is, the more chance there is that I may end up reacting out of negative emotion rather than Christian fellowship and charity.

"Please pray for Catherine, who is struggling in her relationships and has a life-threatening cold" gets a nice prayer.

"Please pray for my darling mistress Cathy. She is in passionate love for her adopted brother, who is the love of her life, but she married another man out of greed and childishness because her dear brother was too poor and uneducated for her at the time. She loves him, though he has raised her nephew to be an illiterate reprobate who tortures and kills animals. Despite his declared intentions to destroy the life of everyone around him, including his emotionally and physically abused wife (the sister of Cathy's husband), Cathy longs to run away with him. She got pneumonia when she ran round the rainy, freezing moor hoping to commit adultery. Please pray for her speedy recovery and happiness." This prayer will get a very different gut reaction from me. Rather than sympathy, I feel horrified shock. I find it hard to say nice prayers for strangers when I am in horrified shock.

I should keep these feelings to myself, and I certainly mustn't put an outraged comment on a blog post that is just a prayer request, but I can't help but wish that either the friend who'd sent in the prayer request OR the blogger who posted it had eliminated at least a little bit of the TMI that was bound alienate at least a few Catholics.

Then again, perhaps lurid details make a blog's readership pray more urgently. Who can say? Tragically, the universe does not revolve around me, so if most of the Catholics out there are inspired by long prayer requests, then we should keep on doing them!

My general attitude, though, is that God knows the details, and I don't have to. In fact, it's better that I not know them. So please, if you want prayers, but you think if some people know the full story that they might get upset, just ask for the prayers, whether in Mass or on the Internets, and give the poor Newsies a day off.

1 comment:

  1. Pedantic ClassicistJuly 20, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    Nice; reminds me of that one "Messy Mondays" video about Church Youth Groups where they call out people who gossip THROUGH prayer requests.

    "Hey guys, you might want to be praying for Rhonda--she's expecting!--but I can't tell you who the father is but.... you might want to be praying for Ryan, too!"

    So, if it's any comfort, it looks like this kind of thing happens among Protestants too.

    O I C wot u did thar on some of ur examples.

    Hmmmm, one does hear long tales through Prayers of the Faithful...

    "Let us pray for Sam and all his good friends as they embark on their journey today, and for all travelers and pilgrims. May they stay ever true to each other, and never give in to the temptation to claim the ring for themselves and strangle the others."

    Priest: ummmm.. we pray to the Lord....?