For example, Bishop Damien Mead has made an appeal to our Diocese to make a special intention in the Leonine prayers for the relief of the suffering of the persecuted Church. What does this really mean? Will we just be able to pray away the suffering just by having good intentions?
We must remember that prayer is not an exercise in asking for wishes from a genie: God is not like that and it is an offence against the First Commandment to think in this way. Prayer is our first duty to God and to our neighbour for the alleviation of his suffering and the growth of his happiness. We know full well that there will always be suffering and persecution in this world. Our Lord promised both quite categorically. He showed that, in the ascent of the soul to God, we will suffer much because we will encounter much that is not Him. Since we can only ever be happy in Him, we will be in pain without Him. As long as there is both Love and Death, there will be Suffering.
In praying for others, we make a conscious effort, not only to wish their pain away, but to go further and choose to suffer with them. Until their pain is ended, we suffer too because we know that their pain is not ended. This is one of the marks of true love. The suffering we feel here is the sheer futility of not being able to end someone else's pain. That's such a valuable thing, and it is that intention that God holds so dear. Of course, how He answers that prayer is up to Him, but it is worth knowing that the suffering we have now, no matter how awful it is, may well be the vehicle not only of our own ascent to God by participating in the suffering of Christ, but also that of others. We may be judged by God as individuals, but we are saved by Him as the Body of Christ.
Intention, then, is more than just an add-on to our Christian way of life, it is vital. Our prayers need to be said with right and examined intention. Often just choosing to say a particular prayer realises that intention, but we do have to be careful with the words. Words express our intentions and, yet it is probably impossible for us to express those intentions accurately. Our prayer books do help us in ensuring that we allow our intentions to be aligned with others. We do have to be careful and know what we are saying before we start praying.
An alteration or difference in words can interfere with the intention, but then it can not. Take, for example, the Anglican Ordinal of 1550. What is the intention behind the ordinal? Well, in the preface, we read:
"It is evident unto all men, diligently readinge holye scripture, and auncient aucthours, that from the Apostles tyme, there hathe bene these orders of Ministers in Christes church, Bisshoppes, Priestes, and Deacons, which Offices were evermore had in suche reverent estimacion, that no man by his own private aucthoritie, might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and knowen, to have such equalities, as were requisite for the same. And also by publique prayer, with imposicion of handes, approved, and admitted thereunto. And therfore to the entent these orders shoulde bee continued, and reverentlye used, and estemed in this Church of England, it is requysite, that no man (not beynge at thys presente Bisshop, Priest, nor Deacon) shall execute anye of them, excepte he be called, tryed, examined, and admitted, accordynge to the forme hereafter folowinge."We see clearly that the intention is very much to ordain Bishops, Priests and Deacons, as were generally understood by those terms from the ancient Church, and that the orders should be continued. Indeed, this preface is used in all the books of Common Prayer and within the ordination services themselves. It sets out clearly, from the start, that the intention is to continue that which has gone before. But suppose you didn't accept this to be true...
Well, of course, if it isn't true, then any "Sacrament" distributed by such an ecclesial body holding this doctrine would merely be aping the truth, wouldn't it? It would all be a sham, There you'd be in your valid mitre, and valid cope and valid stole, et c., and they'd be playing dress-up, copying you but just pretending.
However, we then run slap-bang into the problem of intention. What happens if the ape is praying your prayers, indeed choosing to pray your prayers with the same meaning understood, nay believing the same words in your prayers. There must be some common bond here forged by that common intention, some similar approach to the Divine Master, some commonality upon which a bond can be built between you and the ape. The ape ceases to be an ape but rather your sibling in Christ whether heretical or not. His intention and your intention are identical in the eyes of God: you are of one mind.
Intention is of course completely interior to the individual and only visible to the eyes of God. In the funeral service, we pray
"Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee."Our End is to stand before God either to accept Him and be perfected fully and bound for Heaven, or to be shown that we have always rejected Him and still reject Him and thus find our wish to live apart from Him granted - eternally so! Our choice and our intention matter. The will is part of the human soul, and the exercise of the will is in choice. Our freedom to choose is very much part of who we are, of what it means to be an individual human being. As I say, intention is more than just an add-on to our Christian way of life, it is vital: it is indeed part of who we are. And yet, our choices do divide us: they can divide us as far apart as Heaven and Hell.
If we seek to divide, then we simply cannot intend that commonality of suffering with others and thus not intend love. Yet there are those who would look down on others because they fail to follow Ritual Notes as precisely as another, or to disassociate from another because of a clause in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are plenty of folk who seek to engage in polemics for the sake of appearing superior or orthodox ad condemning others as Not-We. If we take pride in being different, then we cannot intend to mourn with those who mourn, nor rejoice with those who rejoice - we cannot love and that is fundamental. The Ritual Notes-perfect Mass may be wonderful to experience, but if the intention is to set itself up above all other Masses, then it ceases to be a Mass and is nothing more than dress-up and play
In practice, I do doubt this happens as, surely, any priest will have solemnly prayed
"I intend to offer this Mass and the consecration of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the use, order, and discipline of the Holy Catholic Church; to the honour of Almighty God and of all the Church triumphant; to the benefit of myself and of all the Church militant and expectant; and for all those who have commended themselves to my prayers both in general and in particular; and for the good of the whole state of Christ's Church, Holy and Catholic. Amen"Yet, in the grand scheme of things Ritual Notes will pass away, as will Fortescue, as will Dix, as will all the exteriors of our faith. Only our interior intentions will make a difference: the secrets of our hearts, how we have loved, and how we have suffered with those who do suffer. The suffering of one child is of more Eternal significance than a thousand catechisms, creeds, councils and confessions. The suffering of one child is dearer in the eyes of God, and for all our human knowledge we often cannot see it so. With the end of Faith comes knowledge of God and with knowledge of God, catechisms, creeds, councils and confessions vanish away. The Truth within them shall not.
It is through intention that we really cannot dismiss Christians who do things differently from us. We can disagree fundamentally with another Christian group, but we cannot call them un-Christian until they demonstrate themselves to be un-Christian through an act of hatred. If two people deliberately and consciously choose to say the same prayer with the same words, then they have the same intention, regardless whether one is Catholic and the other Heretic. If both actively pray the Lord's prayer, then they will both find themselves faced with the worship of God the Father, the submission to His authority, the sincere desire to do His will, not only the recognition that He provides for us but we must also ask Him for what we need, the recognition that we need forgiveness and that we MUST forgive others in our intention, and finally that we actively hate Evil and beg to be removed from it. If Catholic and Heretic pray this prayer properly with the same meanings and intentions, then they are literally singing from the same hymn sheet. It builds a bond that transcends even the Catholic-Heretic divide.
Of course, it may be necessary for Christians to walk apart for the sake of integrity to doctrine for such integrity allows a focus for good, honest intention. We must all answer to Our Creator for the choices that we make. What we believe may be right or wrong, but it is with the honesty of our intention that we must make our answer. An honest mistake is better than a life of loyal lip-service. We have a duty then to God and ourselves to inform our consciences fully, allow our faith to be tested, and never, ever to forget the potential of another human being to be a child of God. There is no shame in believing another to be wrong, mistaken or ill-advised in matters of Faith. There is plenty of shame, however, of being so proud of not being wrong, mistaken or ill-advised and forgetting that the very act of making a choice is a fundamental part of being human. There is plenty of shame in the sneer of snobbery that points out with glee the deficiency of another's work.
Those who ape with honest intention are sometimes more human than the ones whom they are aping.