One of the most famous prayers in Anglican liturgy today seems to be “The Collect for Purity” which is found near the beginning of the Communion service. It seems like every “introduction to Anglicanism” article or series of articles eventually turns to this prayer as a quintessential example of a collect, and the enduring nature of liturgical prayer and worship.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
So I probably don’t need to tell you that this was originally a “vesting prayer” said by the celebrant alone before the actual Mass began, and that Archbishop Cranmer moved it to the beginning of the Communion liturgy itself when he first wrote the English Prayer Book. Besides, you don’t need me to harp on about the history of liturgy too much, lest you think I’ve lost my edge when it comes to giving practical advice 😉
Ye who are used to modern liturgies (1979 Prayer Book and newer) are probably accustomed to praying the Collect for Purity with the whole congregation. For many people, this is the one Collect they definitely have memorized. You may be surprised to learn, though, that before the modern era of liturgical revision, this Collect was still said by the priest alone. The first directional rubric in the 1662 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy, for example, concludes with this sentence:
And the Priest standing at the north side of the Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling.
It is interesting to note that in our own (2019) Prayer Book the rubric attached to this Collect reads:
The Celebrant prays (and the People may be invited to join)
which indicates that the “primary” fulfillment of this rubric is that the Celebrant says it, and the “secondary” option is that the congregation might be invited to say it too.
If you take that rubric prioritization along with the historic rubrics – that the Priest prays it alone at the holy table (or altar, as many commonly say today) – this gives us a suggestion for how we should go about praying this Collect in our worship services today.
The people were standing for the Acclamation immediately before this, so what if we all kneel to pray this prayer? That would make sense, especially with the Summary of the Law or Decalogue following, to hear those spoken over us by the priest while we kneel. If you’re the celebrant, you too should consider (with the historic prayer books) turning toward the altar and kneeling for the Collect for Purity. Even if the congregation remains standing for it, the extra time and motion involved in you kneeling for the prayer and then standing up to address them in the following penitential rite will be a significant action that reinforces the message of this prayer – namely, that we need cleansing in our hearts by the Holy Spirit in order to love God perfectly and magnify his holy name in a worthy manner.
Worshiping God is kind of a big deal. Praying that he would help us to worship, even enable us to worship, is not a prayer we should take lightly. Go kneel before the altar, use your body’s posture and motion to express the seriousness of this prayer!