Today is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, one of the wonderfully-Epiphany-appropriate holy days of the church year. When you look at our Collect of the Day (yesterday at Evening Prayer and today at both offices, plus the Communion if you’re able to attend one) you’re looking at a prayer that hardly changed a bit in centuries. Here it is from 1662:
O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may shew forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The only changes are of spelling and grammatical construction, such that it flows better for the modern reader. So today, let’s look at what the Collect says and prays, rather than compare and contrast old and new traditions.
God has “caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world,” and he has accomplished this “through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul.” In our modern evangelical culture which is very focused on the ongoing work of missions and evangelism it may strike us as a bit odd to see such a triumphalist attitude in our prayers. But it is a worthwhile reminder: thanks to the efforts of Saint Paul and the other Apostles, the Gospel really has spread all over the world. It’s also worth noting the method mentioned – preaching. If the Gospel is to continue to advance around the world, we must continue to preach it.
This, too, may feel like an odd prayer at first. It is a prayer that we could “show forth our thankfulness.” Compare it to the General Thanksgiving in the Daily Office, however… it is a prayer for an active thankfulness. Our thankfulness is:
- rooted in remembering Paul’s conversion,
- directed towards God,
- and expressed by following Paul’s doctrine or teaching.
The first is in recognition of the holy day. The second is a reminder that we worship and glorify God alone; we aren’t thanking the departed Saints directly. The third is a recognition of Paul (and other Saints’) contribution to the present Christian life, namely, their teachings.
When you read the Scripture lessons for this holy day, multiple epiphany connections can be drawn. The dazzling appearance of the risen Christ was a literal “light to the world”, or at least to Paul (then Saul). The prayer of Ananias shed the blinding scales from Paul’s eyes, giving him new vision – literally, an epiphany. The subsequent Gospel preaching of Paul across the Mediterranean world was a light to the nations.
Happy holy day!