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I'm not so sure why this entered my mind now, but it relates to an experience I had while reluctantly attending Midnight Mass last Christmas.

First a little background is needed: I was raised as a Roman Catholic, but haven't entirely believed in its doctrines for years. What started off as hard atheism gradually evolved into agnosticism. My reasons for this are explained briefly elsewhere.

As I sat in the pew on Christmas Eve the sheer number of people attending mass astounded me. Watching them in prayer filled me with a curiosity I hadn't felt before. Even though I didn't share the beliefs of the congregation I began to wonder what exactly it was that they were worshipping. There must be some note of truth in the teachings of the church that would allow for the kind of devotion one sees in situations such as these. What exactly is it that makes people devote themselves so heartily to one system of belief? Surely not all of them could believe everything existed as it was taught in the Bible. Not everything preached on its pages is worth putting one's heart into. What, then, could this power be that calls to so many people?

Eventually the idea came to me that perhaps what this faith gave to them was hope. Hope for something greater than man; something noble worth aspiring to. It doesn't entirely matter whether or not the reasons for these aspirations is false. The fact that something, whether it be a religion or a philosophy, can inspire the kind of motivation necessary to better oneself is the truly important thing. Religion may not hold anything for me, but for these people it does. And as long as people strive for something better, an ideal or a prayer, shouldn't that be what counts?

I didn't come to any conclusions that night, and I'm not sure that any definitive conclusion can really be made. Then again, I suppose that's why I remain an agnostic.

In the Roman Catholic Mass, the prayers where the congregation intercede for all humanity, also known as the General Intercessions.

While the wording of these prayers is not fixed, the general instructions of the Roman missal suggests the congregation should pray for 4 different things: the needs of the Church, for public authorities and the salvation of the world, for those oppressed by any need, for the local community (In the United States, in many churches, the priest may often open it up here to suggestions from the floor, and you'll hear individuals in the church offer up prayers (AKA intentions) for a particular family member, cause, or event.) In specific celebrations such as marriages or funerals, the series of intercessions often refer specifically to the occasion.

Historically, the general intercessions in the Mass were said for the church, the state, the poor, enemies, travellers, prisoners, but they were discontinued in the 6th century, except for an annual litany on Good Friday. They were restored to the Mass with the Novus Ordo of 1969.

You can recognize this part of the Mass by the following:

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