The following comes from an Archdiocese of Washington blog post by Monsignor Charles Pope:
One of the parts of the Ordinary Form of the Mass that was “restored” from antiquity is the “Prayer of the Faithful.” However, there is (in this author’s mind) a certain disappointing quality to the intentions as they are used today. They are either overly particular and ideological or, at the other end of the spectrum, perfunctory and flat. Peter Kwasniewski, writing at New Liturgical Movement, summarizes the problem very well:
It is surely no exaggeration to say that throughout the world the quality of these intercessions has tended to be deplorable, ranging from trite and saccharine sentiments to political propaganda, from progressivist daydreams to downright heretical propositions to which no one could assent without offending God. Even when the content is doctrinally unobjectionable, all too often the literary style is dull, flaccid, rambling, or vague. … [There is] problematic content, poor writing, and [a] monotonous manner of delivery.
MUCH can be done to improve the quality of the Prayer of the Faithful, which has remained an amateur outing at best and an ideological hornet’s nest at worst.
Perhaps a little benefit can be obtained from reviewing the norms and the history of this portion of the Mass.
The General Instruction in the Roman Missal (GIRM) has this to say about the Prayer of the Faithful:
In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world. As a rule, the series of intentions is to be
1. For the needs of the Church;
2. For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
3. For those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
4. For the local community.
History – These intentions were very common in the early Church, at about the same point in the Mass that we have them today. They followed the Homily (note that in earlier days, as a rule, the Creed was not said). All the Fathers of the Church make mention of them. In the beginning, this prayer was recited antiphonally by the priest and the assembly. Over time the deacon took a more prominent role; he announced all the intentions and then the faithful responded, Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) or some other acclamation. You can read the Kyrie Litany of Pope Gelasius HERE.
These intercessions endured well past the close of the patristic period (until about the 9th century). Their disappearance seems to coincide with their evolution into a Kyrie Litany and their transfer to the beginning of the Mass. Here, they eventually came to be regarded as an unnecessary appendage and were phased out. In the West they were retained only on Good Friday, though they endured in certain areas longer. In the East they were never dropped. Today they have been restored to their original place in the Mass.
In the end, I think these intentions deserve better than we have given them. I realize that enthusiasts of the Traditional Latin Mass (of which I am one) may say, “Just lose them entirely.” But that is not realistic; they are here to stay, at least in our lifetime. Maybe we can do better and make use of multiple sources: ancient, Eastern, and new, though elegant.