Too often they turn into either little exhortations on the issue of the day, or a kind of substitute announcement. An example of both of these rolled into one petition(!) would be: "For all those suffering due to abusive practices of mining companies, who pollute the ground waters in [country x] with illegal dumping of [chemical y], for which there will be a meeting of the parish's development and peace group on Monday at 7 pm, we pray to the Lord."
First of all, the Lord knows when the meeting is. We don't need to include it in the prayer. And the Lord knows about company x and chemical y. Can we not just pray for the suffering of the world?
George Weigel has an excellent column in the Denver Catholic Register, suggesting that at least at some masses, the petitions be routinized. His formula goes like this:
For the holy Church of God throughout the world, let us pray to the Lord.
For Benedict, Bishop of Rome, and the bishops in communion with him, let us pray to the Lord.
For this local Church of [name of diocese], for [name of bishop], its chief shepherd, and for the priests and deacons of [name of diocese], let us pray to the Lord.
For this parish of [patron of other name], its pastors and its people, let us pray to the Lord.
For an abundance of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, let us pray to the Lord.
For the unity of all Christians, for the relief of those suffering persecution for their Christian faith, and for the conversion of their persecutors, let us pray to the Lord.
For the civil authorities, that we may be governed in justice and truth, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who are sick, and for all those with special needs, let us pray to the Lord.
For our beloved dead, let us pray to the Lord.
That, I suggest, covers the most important bases. Such a scheme also locates the local parish within the broader Christian community of the diocese, and locates the diocese within the ambit of the universal Church: facts about which Catholics in America often need reminding. And such a formulaic schema avoids politics while making clear that we should pray regularly that the politicos recognize both the responsibilities and limits of their power.We pray to the Lord.