During his Wednesday audience before 7,000 people gathered in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Pope Francis continued a series of reflections on the celebration of Mass. This week, he spoke about the part of the Mass called the “Collect,” or the “Opening Prayer.” The Collect is the part of the Mass that takes place after the Gloria sung or recited. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal describes it:

Next, the priest calls upon the people to pray [“Let us pray…”] and everybody, together with the priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression. By an ancient tradition of the Church, the Collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit…  (GIRM #54)

The Pope is asking that priests “observe this moment of silence” in a way that is, perhaps, not so “brief.” The reason for the Pope’s request is found in the name of the prayer: the “Collect.” Literally, it is a time for people to “collect” their thoughts in preparation for the celebration and participation in the sacred mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Here’s a great description of what it means to collect one’s thoughts: “to become mentally composed, especially after being distressed, surprised, or disoriented; to become calm or organized in one’s emotional state or thinking, as in preparation for a conversation, speech, decision, etc.” In a world where it is so easy to become distressed, surprised, or disoriented (at least spiritually and morally), the Collect is the time for us to offer all of it to the Lord and pray for peace in our hearts that will allow us to be attentive to God’s word and approach Holy Communion with prayerful and thankful hearts. It’s the time for us to present our individual intentions and needs to God, and reflect on the questions: “Why am I here? What am I looking for?”

Pope Francis gave us his own understanding of the purpose for the silence of the Collect: “Silence is not reduced to the lack of words, but in being open to listen to other voices: that of our heart and, especially, the voice of the Holy Spirit.”

He continued: “Here lies the importance of listening to our soul in order to open it up for the Lord. Perhaps we come from days of challenges, joy, pain, and we wish to say this to the Lord, invoke his help, ask that he be close to us; we have family and friends who are sick or going through a hard time; we wish to trust the fate of the Church and the world to God.”

The Collect puts together all of these intentions brought forward during the moment of silence. The priest then invokes God with a spoken prayer that begins by praising God for what he does for the world, then prays for His divine assistance. The priest’s prayer is offered on behalf of all the faithful who are present – it represents each one’s personal intentions and need for God’s help.

According to Francis, this prayer is only effective when it truly represents what has been offered in silence beforehand. He said, “We need the brief silence beforehand, that the priest, gathering the intentions of each one, expresses in a loud voice to God, in the name of all, the common prayer that concludes the rites of introduction, making, indeed, a ‘collection’ of individual intentions.”

The prayer that the priest will use this Sunday, the second Sunday in Ordinary Time, is a perfect example of what the Pope means:

“Almighty, ever-living God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth. Mercifully hear the pleading of your people and bestow your peace our times through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”

When the priest prays here for God to “hear the pleading of your people,” he is referring to the pleading of each person during the moment of silence. With one voice, he is offering up the needs that were expressed with many different voices. He is asking the Father to be attentive to the prayers, pleas, intentions, and needs that were offered during that time in the silence of each person’s heart.

The Collect fittingly concludes with the response from among the faithful: “Amen” – “so be it.”

As we begin to observe this moment of silence more faithfully, we will recognize our need to step away from the cares, thoughts, and worries of life, entrusting them all to the Lord “who governs all things both in heaven and on earth.”