Opening prayer serves to focus our attention

    What is the purpose of the Opening Prayer?
    Every liturgy has a focus and a theme given by the church in the readings, prayers and the liturgical calendar. This focus helps us to concentrate on some essential aspect of our faith so that we do not become overwhelmed by the vast mystery and awe that is so inherent in God himself. Perhaps the most guiding aspect of this theme comes from the readings themselves or from the liturgical calendar, if it is a particular feast. But the first true outline and hint of this focus comes from the Opening Prayer that follows the Penitential Rite and Gloria, after the priest invites us to prayer with the words, “Let us pray.” This Opening Prayer is traditionally known as the “Collect” and it can be chanted or recited by the celebrant. This Opening Prayer gets its proper name because it collects the prayers of all the faithful gathered to pray and offers them to God through the prayer of the priest.
    Why does the priest pause after saying, “Let us pray”?
    The priest pauses after the invitation to prayer in order for us to recollect our own thoughts and intentions and to offer them to God. If the prayer is a collection of our own prayers, then we must be able to formulate them ourselves, and this pause gives us the opportunity to do so. Here, we can bring to our God our petitions, our thanksgiving and our praise, but most importantly, we should bring our entire self to God so that we can make a complete self-gift to him as he has done for us.
    Why is the opening prayer chanted sometimes?
    The church allows and encourages the chanting – or singing – of the Mass prayers, readings, responses and acclamations. The choice to sing or not to sing certain parts of the Mass is to be made out of the degree of solemnity with which the Mass is going to be celebrated, following the church’s liturgical calendar of feasts, solemnities, memorials, etc.
    Why does the priest hold his hands apart when he prays?
    The traditional posture of the priest when he prays the Opening Prayer is with his hands held apart. This posture is usually called the “orans” position – or the position of prayer. This position is an ancient one, depicted in many works of ancient art. It is a position of offering our prayers up to the Lord and surrendering ourselves to his will. Undoubtedly, this posture also echoes the cross in which our Lord’s outstretched hands express the ultimate surrender to the will of God, thus effecting our salvation. It also symbolizes the gathering of people, the church, in prayer.
    Why does the priest bow his head when he says the name of Jesus?
    Sometimes, in praying the Mass, we find that the priest bows his head at certain points. The head is bowed at the mention of the name of Jesus, the Blessed Mother and the saint being celebrated that day.
    Why do we respond with “Amen”?
    The word “Amen” has always been viewed as an acclamation of assent and belief. Here, we acclaim together that we believe what we have heard and are confident that the Lord will hear our prayers and answer them according to his will and our benefit.
     Ian Bozant is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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