The Advent Collect: a breakdown

Starting yesterday, this week’s Collect is the great Advent Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This majestic prayer is, in my opinion, one of the best Collects in our tradition.  In the classical Prayer Book tradition, this Collect was also appointed to be prayed following the Collect of the Day through the entire season of Advent, making it not only the Collect of the Day, and for the week, but for the season itself.  Just looking at it, you can probably see why – it captures the themes of the season so well, it’s hard to improve upon it.

But let’s take a look at this Collect more closely.  Like most collects, this prayer has multiple Scripture references built into it, much of which is not necessarily linked to the official readings of the First Sunday in Advent.

Reference #1: Romans 13:12
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light

This phrase is straight-up quoted in the Collect; there is nothing subtle about this reference.  It is bolstered further by the fact that Romans 13:8-14 is the traditional Epistle lesson for the first Sunday, though in the modern lectionaries it’s there only on Year A.  (Right now, Year C has just begun, so next year we’ll all be hearing this match-up at last.)

This is the primary exhortation of the season.  Our active preparation for Christ’s arrival is one of cleansing: we put away our evil deeds and pursue the illumination of the light of Christ.

Reference #2: 2 Timothy 4:1
…Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingdom…

This is only a brief quote.  The Collect notes Christ’s role of Judge at the end of the age upon his return.  This is the primary backdrop and context for the exhortation we just received; only in light of Christ’s return and right to judge do we endeavor to be faithful citizens of his kingdom.

Reference #3: Philippians 2:5-8
…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself…

These verses form one of the clearest statements in Scripture that back up this Collect’s claim that Christ formerly “came to visit us in great humility”.  This reference does double duty.  Primarily it adds to the context of this life, in which we receive the exhortation to cease from evil and do good, preparing for the return of Christ.  But by specifically referencing the first, humble, advent of Christ, it gives a nod to the liturgical anticipation of Christmas that the Advent season also provides.

It may be prudent for us to note that the first purpose of Advent is actually to prepare us for the second advent of Christ.  The theme of “getting ready for Christmas” is secondary; the “basic” level that helps us grasp what is primary.

Reference #4: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

The return of Christ was already referenced in 2 Timothy; what these verses add is the further point that we will “rise to the life immortal” on that Day.  It is interesting to note that the very words of the Collect “rise to the life immortal” point us in an interpretive direction that rule out the popular teaching of “the rapture”, which uses these verses as a proof-text for the idea that God’s people will literally float away into heaven someday.  Instead, our gathering up into the air will be the beginning of our “life immortal” – the resurrection life on earth, inaugurated by Christ’s return to judge.  The populist rapture teaching separates the resurrection of God’s people from the return of Christ as Judge by 7 years or more… a belief rendered incoherent by this Collect, not to mention the united witness of the Bible.

Stir up, O Lord

The Collect of the Day from Sunday that we’re repeating this week is a classic:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they may plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works, as they await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to restore all things to their original perfection; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

In the classical prayer books, before 1979, this was the Collect for the Last Sunday before Advent, a spot now occupied by “Christ the King Sunday.”  On a cultural level, this Collect earned that Sunday the nickname “Stir Up Sunday”, because, landing just about one month before Christmas, it coincided with the time-frame in which people would “stir up” and bake their Christmas Cakes which would then ripen in the pantry for the following month, periodically re-soaked with brandy.

Curiously, I mentioned this to my parents, and they’d already made our family’s Christmas Cake!  It’s as if they heard the “stir up” collect in its modern week-earlier position 😉

Thematically, this Collect is a sort of wake-up call, heralding the approaching season of Advent: “stir up” is very similar to “keep watch”.  The call to good works as the fruit of faithful Christian living also forms part of the crucial link between Trinitytide and Advent in the historic lectionary and calendar.  In the modern system, it still serves as a pre-Advent Collect, just two weeks ahead instead of one.

Structurally, this Collect is unusual.  The “request” portion of the Collect is tiny: “Stir up … the wills of your faithful people.”  The bulk of the prayer is dwelling on the “reason” portion: good works, as they wait for Jesus’ return, who will restore the perfection of creation.  All sorts of implications could be teased out from this:

  • The “application” of this Collect is kept blatantly simple: we are to be stirred up to active Christian living.
  • As Advent approaches we should first spend more time meditating on the reason for our good works.
  • The “end” of the Christian life ought to loom large in our hearts and minds.

If you have a mid-week service (Communion, Evening Prayer, or otherwise) then perhaps this Collect could be a point of spiritual reflection as you teach, preach, talk with others, or simply pray it again with the congregation.

The Last Epiphany?

The Collect of the Day for this past Sunday, repeated throughout this week, is:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever  Amen.

In the classical Prayer Books, this was the Collect for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany.  One might ask why this Collect should be re-purposed to almost the opposite part of the year.  What is an Epiphanytide Collect doing in November?  One might also look at the text more carefully, notice the eschatological content (its emphasis on the return of Christ, the last judgment, and our preparation for that), and wonder what it was doing in Epiphanytide in the first place.  Isn’t this more like an Advent theme?

It turns out this Collect did double-duty.  Depending upon the date of Easter, Epiphanytide and Trinitytide vary in length: when Easter is early Epiphany is shorter and Trinity longer; when Easter is late Epiphany is longer and Trinity shorter.  The 6th Epiphany Sunday, in the old calendar, was the last possible Epiphany Sunday before the Pre-Lent Sundays kicked in, meaning it was only rarely used.  And so instead the traditional calendar appointed the 6th and 5th Epiphany Sundays as extra Trinitytide Sundays to insert in November if and when the 24 Trinity Sundays ran out.

And so, very appropriately, this Collect, with its lessons (most noteably Matthew 24:23-31) served both purposes.  The Collect’s eschatological emphasis and Jesus’ discourse of the latter days in Matthew 24 served both as an anticipation of the Advent season at the end of the Trinitytide sequence, and as the “last” Epiphany.  In the historic lectionary, Epiphanytide was not the ‘ordinary time’ we have today; its lessons were not sequential but topical, exploring various epiphanies of the divinity of Christ.  The last of these epiphanies was this one, in Matthew 24, the final revelation of Jesus upon his return in great glory to judge both the living and the dead.

So enjoy this Collect today, and for the rest of the week.  Its connections way back to Epiphany and its anticipation of the coming Advent season serves us well at this time of year.

The Week’s Collect

Now that Saints Simon & Jude’s Day is behind us (assuming you celebrated it yesterday), you might be wondering what to do about the Collect of the Day for the rest of the week?

The custom, as you probably know if you’re following these posts, is to repeat the Collect of the Day from the Sunday Communion service in the Daily Office for the subsequent week.  The custom, as far as I understand it, is that most Major Feast Days, like Sts. Simon & Jude, only impact their day and the evening before.  That means that today, and for the rest of the week, we return to the Collect of the Day for the Sunday that we skipped.

If you’re using the draft Prayer Book of the Anglican Church in North America, then here’s the Collect of the Day for the rest of the week:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

If a mid-week Communion service is held early this week, it would be advisable to use the omitted Sunday’s lessons to sort of “make up for” what the Saints Day overrode.  Bear in mind, though, that All Saints’ Day is on Thursday, so its Collect will step into the Office on Wednesday evening through Thursday.  More on that later, though…!

A Minor Saint: Alfred the Great

The Prayer Book tradition has always included “black letter days”, that is, commemorations listed in a calendar of various saints of old.  They are distinct from the Major Feast Days: those each have their own Collect and Lessons in the Prayer Book, at least one special reading in the Daily Office, and are expected to be observed by all.  The commemorations in the calendar, variously called “lesser feasts” or “minor saints days”, however, are optional.  The early Prayer Books didn’t even contain resources by which these days could be observed in the liturgy, they were simply points of reference and remembrance.

As time has passed, standard resources for the observance of these lesser feasts have come together.  Typically, the idea is to have a small selection of Collects and Lessons for different types or categories of saints (one for Bishops, one for Martyrs, one for Monastics, etc.).  Over time, however, more and more of the minor saints received unique sets of Collects and Lessons.  The Episcopal Church, USA, ended up with many of these in its volume, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  So far, it seems that the ACNA is moving back toward the simpler approach by providing 9 thematic Collects and Lessons for these minor saints days.

Let’s say you want to observe today’s commemoration, King Alfred the Great, at a Friday Eucharist service.  He is known for his work in fixing up the church in his realm, and renewing Anglo-Saxon society, so the categories Reformer of the Church and Renewer of Society both fit, as well as the generic “Of Any Commemoration” options.  The Collects are the end of this document, and the Lessons at the end of this.

As an aside, if you want the new Prayer Book to print the Collects and Lessons together to cut down on unnecessary page-flipping, please join my cause and send them an email!

Or, if you want to make use of what the Episcopalians came up with a little over ten years ago:

O Sovereign Lord, you brought your servant Alfred to a troubled throne that he might establish peace in a ravaged land and revive learning and the arts among the people: Awake in us also a keen desire to increase our understanding while we are in this world, and an eager longing to reach that endless life where all will be made clear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wisdom 6:1–3,9–12,24–25 (wisdom literature about wise kings and rulers)

Psalm 21:1–7 (a king who trusts in God) or 112:1–9 (the blessedness of the righteous)

Luke 6:43–49 (good and evil fruit; wise and foolish builders)

Mindful of death in the evening

One major hallmark of historic Christian piety surrounding eventide is the mindfulness of death.  Going to bed, the lights going out, going to sleep, is both culturally and biblically a metaphor for death.  Countless evening hymns and prayers make reference to death, keeping the singer or pray-er mindful of his or her mortality.

Modern and post-modern culture does not encourage us to be mindful of death, rather, we are told to put death out of our minds entirely.  Don’t worry about it, don’t obsess over it; it is morbid, we are told, to think about death.  As a result, even at Funeral or Burial services we pressure ourselves and one another to think about life instead – it’s  Memorial Service or a Celebration of Life, rather than mourning for the dear departed.

But the Prayer Book tradition continues faithfully on the track of historic Christian awareness of death.  For example, the Wednesday Evening Collect, for Protection, reads thus:

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night.  Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Even though death is not the central theme or subject of this prayer, its reality is present and unavoidable.  God is identified as “the repose of the dead” and Jesus specifically is invoked as the one “who died”.

Don’t breeze past prayers like these.  It is not morbid to reflect upon your future death.  It is wise, it is healthy, it is biblical!  We do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s returning, and we hardly ever get forewarning of the the day or hour we finish this life either.  It is good to be prepared, to have a last will & testament, to have funeral wishes written down, to be at peace with our brethren, to be ready to meet our Maker.  Let these death-aware devotions each evening bring that moment of sobriety into your spiritual life… the world certainly won’t!

Lighten our darkness, we beseech you…

It’s Tuesday, and that means the Collect for Aid against Perils is appointed at Evening Prayer.  If you’ve only ever used the 1979 Prayer Book you may be unaware that the Collects in the Daily Office were not as numerous in previous books.  There were always three: the Collect of the Day, followed by two others (Morning and Evening Prayer having different pairs).  Additional collects and prayers were typically permitted or expected, but the basic three were static and unchanging.  The Collect for Aid against Perils is one of the two original Evening collects.  As the Evening Prayer rubrics of our Prayer Book now note:

It is traditional to pray the Collects for Peace and Aid against Perils daily.  Alternatively, one may pray the collects on a weekly rotation, using the suggestions in parentheses.

Whether you opt for the modern weekly rotation of Collects or stick with the traditional two every day, it is worth taking note of moments like this in which old and new practices line up with each other.

The Evening Before…

In Jewish accounting of time, the “day” begins and ends at sundown.  This concept survives in Christian liturgy; the “Eve of” a Holy Day is the beginning of that Holy Day.  Christmas Eve is the beginning of Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve is the beginning of All Saints’ Day, and so on.

It can be easy to forget, but Sundays are Holy Days, or feast days, too.  Therefore, as the rubrics in Calendar of the Christian Year explain:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebration of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

So when you pray Evening Prayer later today, make sure you read the next Collect of the Day: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in continual godliness…”  This isn’t just a nit-picky point to make sure you “get your prayers right”, but can also help you prepare for church tomorrow morning!  If you pray this Collect tonight and again at Morning Prayer before the Communion service tomorrow, then by the time you hear it (or say it yourself) in church it’ll be fresh on your mind already.  Just like with music or preaching, a prayer that is prepared is easier to share!


Note: this blog will not be updated tomorrow, or on subsequent Sunday mornings.  I’m rather assuming that you, like me, have got enough to do already at that time!

Grant thy faithful people pardon and peace

The Collect of the Day from Sunday September 30th, which is to be repeated in the Daily Office throughout the week, is as follows:

Merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace; that by your grace we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever  Amen.

If you’re a regular pray-er of the Daily Office, you may already be intimately familiar with this prayer; it is the “Collect for Forgiveness” that is read by a lay person in the absence of a priest or bishop after the Confession.  (Even if you are a priest or bishop, if you’re paying the Office by yourself it might make more sense to read this prayer after the Confession, as you have nobody else to pronounce pardon and absolution to!)

Unless you’re using the Sunday Propers again for a mid-week service in the next couple days, it’s probably too late to point out this Collect’s double function to others in your congregation.  But you can, at least on your own, take some time this week to reflect on the Gospel of Christ’s forgiveness.  The blessed state of pardon and peace, of cleansed souls such that we can serve Christ with a “quiet” (or peaceful, unfettered, un-distracted) mind… this is the great work and gift of God.

May we all seek pardon and peace from God first, and await his consummate blessings that flow from that divine starting point.