When we looked at the logic of the season of Lent last week, as highlighted by the Collects and Gospels for each Sunday, I implied that our Collect for the First Sunday in Lent is the same as in the historic Prayer Books; this is not entirely true. Our Collect functions the same way as the traditional Collect, and both make reference to the Gospel story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but how exactly that is applied to us has changed. In the 2019 Prayer Book, the Collect is going to look rather like this:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ…
The premise of the prayer is temptation of Jesus by the Devil, followed by the reality that we, too, are assaulted with demonic temptation. God, in his mercy and perfect knowledge, knows our weaknesses and so we pray for experiential knowledge: that God is “mighty to save.” The historic Collect goes in a very different direction:
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest…
The premise of this prayer is fasting of Jesus during those forty days, followed by a prayer that we would be enriched by our own fast during Lent. Or rather, our abstinence. Abstinence is a particular type of fast: to fast from something is to reduce its place in your life or your consumption or participation in something, while to abstain from something is to remove it from your life or to cease consuming or participating in something. Eating smaller meals and cutting out snacking is fasting; giving up meat or chocolate or alcohol for Lent is abstinence. Abstinence, in whatever specific form it takes, is one of our chief weapons in the subduing of the flesh to the Spirit, and this Collect prays that we would become more able to obey God’s commands “in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
Notice the modern Collect is focused more on experiential knowledge – knowing that God is our powerful Savior – while the traditional Collect is focused more on our obedience. Surely both are necessary, and belong together, for a sincerely Christian life. As such, I find I can’t make a personal judgment as to which one is “better” than the other.
The traditional Collect, by referencing the spiritual discipline, links back to Ash Wednesday more than the modern Collect does, so if you’re concerned about liturgical coherence from holy day to holy day then the old tradition preferable here. But, on the other hand, perhaps one would prefer to see a balance: Ash Wednesday delivering the focus on our call to Lenten discipline and the First Sunday pointing us more to the example and power of Jesus rather than reiterating the disciplines we’re undertaking.
It’s all a matter of perspective and emphasis; certainly there is a place for both traditions. And, as I said at the beginning, both function in the same way: they are making sure we are getting started into Lent on the right foot.