Just as the Jewish synagogue service included a series of petitionary prayers for the community, so at an early period a series of prayers for various intentions came to conclude the liturgy of the word in the celebration of the Eucharist. Due to a number of complex and unfortunate liturgical changes, these prayers disappeared from the Roman Mass till restored by the post-Vatican II revision of the liturgy.
The prayer is known by several names. It is called the "Prayer of the Faithful" since in the early Church the catechumens not allowed to participate in the remainder of the liturgy, were formally dismissed before this prayer. It is more properly called the "General Intercessions" or "Universal Prayer" since the prayer entreats God on behalf of people and then needs everywhere. In England it is termed the "Bidding Prayers", a phrase deriving from a series of petitionary prayers at times joined to the sermon in the Church of England.
The general intercessions form a logical conclusion to what has just been celebrated. Having heard and been nourished by the word of God, the assembly responds by remembering and praying for the Church and the world. The structure is threefold: an initial invitation to pray, the petitions and their response, and a closing prayer.
The priest, standing at the presidential chair, addresses the people and invites them to pray. Ordinarily the intentions are:
1) for the Church;
2) for the world and the nation;
3) for those oppressed by any kind of need;
4) for the local community.
The intentions are to announce petitions and are not to be statements of praise, adoration, or thanksgiving. They should be brief, concrete, and specific, with one idea in each intention. The intentions are normally led by a minister other than the presider. They are preferably given by the deacon at the ambo or standing next to the presider. If another minister announces the intentions, this is done at a convenient place, ordinarily the ambo.
Since it is often very difficult to invite spontaneous petitions in larger assemblies, some parishes have petition boxes where their members deposit written intentions. These are then formulated and summarized for public use at the next week's liturgy.
The people respond to each intention with a short formula whose wording should obviously not change throughout the intercessions. This response may take the form of supplication, e.g. "Hear us, O Lord," or of acclamation, e.g. "Glory to God on high." The priest concludes the litany by requesting God to look favorably upon the prayer of all assembled. As such this oration summarized what has preceded. The prayer is addressed to God the Father in accord with traditional Roman usage. It concludes with "through Christ our Lord." To distinguish this prayer from the major presidential prayers no uplifting of the hand is directed by the rubrics.
[Source: Sunday Bulletin, St. Paul Roman Catholic Cathedral, Saskatoon, SK, Canada; June 1, 2008]