A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return

If there is a single prayer that summarizes a “theology of Sundays” it is this collect.  The Lord’s Day is associated with many things – God’s reign over all creation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the many spoils and great redemption wrought through that victory.  It is from that resurrection power that Christian derive courage, boldness, and obedience to live for him both today and in anticipation of the last great Day.  The worship on this day therefore leads to the works throughout the week, and in so doing we sanctify time itself (cf. Question 298 in the Catechism, To Be A Christian).

Among this list of collects, this one is the only one that is not the same in the 1979 Prayer Book.  That prayer for Sundays in Morning Prayer was short both in length and in theological and devotional content.  Ironically, the prayer we have appointed instead was written originally for the 1979 Prayer Book, where it was found as Occasional Prayer #69.

O God our King,
by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week,
you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life:
Redeem all our days by this victory;
forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will;
and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect for Peace at Morning Prayer

This prayer, like its counterpart in Evening Prayer, addresses the trouble of enemies. Perhaps the first question is who are our enemies? As in several of the Psalms, this is a nebulous concept, a fill-in-the-blank opportunity, and we should take care how we treat it, even in the silence of our hearts. The scriptures teach us that the enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those are the forces that turn us away from God; those are the real threats against whom we need protection, and against whom we must fight. We must fight because peace is not found in avoidance of conflict, but in steadfastness despite conflict. Through “the might of Jesus” we pray for God’s defense “in all assaults”, not from all assaults. The goal or purpose of these prayers is that we “may not fear.” That is where our peace is found.

This Collect for Peace is one of the standard Morning Prayer Collects, appointed daily in the classical Prayer Books. Derived especially from the Psalms and the Gospel of John, and from the meditation of St. Augustine of Hippo, this prayer was used in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries as a post-communion prayer. In the Sarum Rite it was also appointed for the end of Lauds, whence Archbishop Cranmer carried it over to our Morning Prayer liturgy.

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord,
to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom:
Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies;
that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries,
through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Why the Collect of the Day in the Daily Office?

The first collect after the Suffrages has always been the Collect of the Day. The 1979 Prayer Book made this optional, but ours restores its requirement. The use of the Collect of the Day outside of the Communion liturgy seems to have originated with Archbishop Cranmer himself. This is, in a sense, a Reformation answer to the tradition of Daily Mass: rather than expecting the people to watch the priest celebrate the Sacrifice of the Altar throughout the week, the primary concern was that the people would come and hear the Word of God read throughout the week. The inclusion of the Collect of the Day was therefore an acknowledge of prior tradition both by acknowledging the liturgical calendar in the daily services and by bringing to peoples’ minds the previous Sunday’s prayers and lessons miniaturized in its Collect.

The purpose of using the Collect of the Day here in the Daily Office is either to bring to mind the Communion service on the previous Sunday or the present holy day. The majority of the Office is quite static, unmoved by liturgical season or other occasion; this Collect is its primary link to the sacramental life of the Church.

Although the Collect of the Day no longer relates directly to the readings in the modern Communion lectionary, its repetition from the previous Sunday or present holy day still serves as a tangible link between the Daily Office and the Holy Communion.

The Collects at Morning Prayer

After the short call-and-response prayers of the Suffrages, the worshiper comes to a set of collects: first the Collect of the Day, then at least one from a list of seven, and a Prayer for Mission. The devotional aim is to move from shorter to longer prayers; where the Suffrages summarize, the Collects dig deeper.

So, traditionally, there are three Collects in a row: the Collect of the Day followed by two set Collects according to the time of day (in the Morning it’s for Peace and for Grace, as the rubrics note). By 1662 additional prayers were added to these, though not required in the rubrics. In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two Collects got expanded to the seven choices we have today, plus a choice from three Prayers for Mission.

Proper 12: a Collect that could be a Sermon

Yesterday’s Collect of the Day, to be used throughout this week, is robust enough a prayer it could easily be a sermon in miniature.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and to give more than we either desire or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask,
except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It follows the classic formula for a Collect: Address, Petition, Purpose, Praise.

The Address: One could technically break this into two parts (Address & Attribute), since God is addressed and then described.  This prayer describes him as more ready to hear and give than we are to pray and desire/deserve.  This prayer asserts that God is better than us, kinder than us, more merciful, and loving.  Divine condescension is more in our favor than we expect, or even want.  This may be an echo of Isaiah 65:24, where God promises “Before they call I will answer.”

The Petition: This is simply a prayer for mercy.  Like the Address & Attribute, this simple request is followed by a more elaborate “purpose” to explain the request and ground it in God’s being, or, more importantly for this form of prayer, linking the request back to the attributes of God previously detailed.

The Purpose: Forgiveness and “good things” are the purpose of God’s mercy in this case.  We all sin, and we typically have secret sins that we keep to ourselves and are afraid to confess – to God or to others.  Our conscience is afraid of what might happen if such darkness came to light.  This prayer directs us to turn those sins and fears over to the Lord.  Accompanying that is the request for good gifts that we don’t deserve – for which we are not even worthy to ask! – yet are promised in God.  One can think of Sunday’s Old Testament lesson (in Year A) from 1 Kings 3 as an example, where God gives King Solomon riches and power beyond his deserving, and for which he didn’t even ask.  We learn that, in Christ’s merit (sinlessness) and mediation (atonement on the Cross), we are made worthy of the greater honor of eternal life because he he has overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Praise: Like most Collects in the modern Prayer Book tradition, this Collect ends with a Trinitarian formula, praying through Christ to the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit.

As you can see, this could easily be an entire sermon in miniature.  Indeed, the best of Collects are tiny expositions of the Scripture they are paired with.  This, for example, was historically paired with 2 Corinthians 3:4-9 and Mark 7:31-37.  That Epistle lesson addresses human unworthiness of God’s glory being overcome by the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.  The Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus healing someone who could not speak, and was therefore incapable of speaking for himself and asking for God to heal him.  He had to be commended to Jesus by others.  This, too, illustrates the point of the Collect and how our very salvation is not in our own hands.  We did not, and could not, present ourselves to God with a worthy request for salvation; we were spiritually mute, or dead.  It is God’s grace that reaches beyond the barrier of our unworthiness, often preempting our own impulse and initiative.

What rich theology and pastoral work these Collects contain!

The Evolution of a Collect

Yesterday was “Proper 10” – the Sunday between July 10th and 16th.  The Collect of the Day (which continues in the Daily Office throughout this week) is drawn from the traditional Prayer Book’s Collect for the 10th Sunday after Trinity.  This is the prayer as found in the 1662 Prayer Book:

Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

When the modern calendar was adopted for the American 1979 Prayer Book, this collect was one of several that simply disappeared.  But in 2016’s Texts for Common Prayer, where the new ACNA Prayer Book was in development, this collect returned, along with almost all of the classical Trinitytide collects, under a simple transition from “Trinity 10” to “Proper 10”.  Its wording, however, was significantly changed.  Here is the 2016 version:

Hear us, O Lord, when we cry out to you;
and that we might receive what we ask, enable us by your Holy Spirit to ask only what accords with your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the same Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

The same three-part structure remains, but the force of each phrase is almost entirely flipped.  Instead of “let thy merciful ears be open,” we found “hear us when we cry out to you“, replacing God’s disposition of openness with God’s condescension of hearing, and replacing our humility with our cry.  The old prayer sought for us to pray for things that would please God, and the new version sought for us to pray for what accords with [his] will.  So it’s kind of the same prayer over all, but it is framed with subtle-but-significant differences.

Apparently this revision didn’t stick.  The 2019 Prayer Book instead has this for yesterday’s collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and, that we may receive what we ask, teach us by your Holy Spirit to ask only those things that are pleasing to you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the same Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

The key differences between the first two versions have largely been rolled back to the 1662’s wording: let God’s ears be open to his humble servants, let our prayers be pleasing to God.

But three aspects of the 2016 revision have been retained in the 2019 final form.

  1. This collect prays that we may receive what we ask instead of “that they may obtain their petitions.  This shift from 3rd person to 1st person is part of the overall preference for congregational involvement in the liturgy.  Not that the congregation is invited to pray the Collect of the Day during the Communion service, but the language of prayer on the whole favors “we” over “they”.  Our clergymen don’t pray for the people from a separated distance, but pray as a part of God’s people.  Plus there is the hope that more lay people will pray the Daily Office, and the language of “we” probably supports that mentality.
  2. The modern versions of this prayer cite the Holy Spirit as the one who enables or teaches us to pray rightly.  The classical version simply said make them pray, so this is a theological clarification.
  3. The long ending of the collect has been largely standardized in modern Prayer Books, where many of the classical forms of the collects have shorter endings.

The Collects are an important part of a Prayer Book, and I didn’t watch them very closely, myself, during the formation of Texts for Common Prayer and the 2019 Prayer Book, so little things like that are fun to discover.  I hope this “evolution of a collect” is insightful for you, too.

The Collect for St. John’s Nativity

Today we celebrate the birthday of Saint John the Baptist!
We’ve looked at this holy day in the Church Calendar before; here you will find three brief takes on the significance of this feast: Happy Birthday, John the Baptist!  You can also read a little about his life and of some lectionary history for his feast day here.

This year, I’d like to look at the Collect for this Day.  Here it is in the 1662 Prayer Book:

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance; Make
us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching, and after his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the most part, this is the same as what we’ve got in the 2019 Prayer Book today.  The first half is virtually identical; only the word doctrine is now swapped out for teaching, which means the same thing, though the connotations have changed slightly.  Today the word doctrine more often is used to refer to a specific area or type of teaching, rather than biblical-theological teaching as a whole.  So that’s a subtle language update that helps preserve the original meaning of this prayer.

It’s also important to note that doctrine/teaching is paired with a holy life.  An unvirtuous teacher is not a good Christian example, neither is a virtuous man with sloppy theology.

The “purpose” section of the Collect, in the second half, is a bit more rearranged, however.  We pray that we may follow John’s doctrine and example so that…

that we may truly repent (2019)
that we may truly repent according to his preaching (1662)

Both versions start with this, and rightly so!  The call to repentance was the most obvious and prolific subject of his preaching that we find in the Gospels, most especially in Luke 3.  The phrase “according to his preaching” is not in our text of the prayer, probably dropped for its redundancy with the subject of his doctrine/teaching in the previous phrase.

boldly rebuke vice (both)

This is the second purpose for our following his teaching and life.  This, too, was a major part of his recorded preaching, as the identification of vice and sin is rather necessary for a genuine call to repentance.  The difference is that the modern prayer puts this second while the 1662 prayer puts this in the middle of the list.

patiently suffer for the sake of truth (2019)
patiently suffer for the truth’s sake (1662)

Third in the modern prayer and last in the old, suffering for the cause of God’s truth is part of St. John the Baptist’s example.  Being last in the 1662 form of the prayer, this has a place of subtle emphasis; it’s the last thing we hear, a sobering “last word on the matter”.  John was a martyr, after all, and many, many others would soon follow him.

and proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord (2019)

Absent from the traditional collect is the theme of proclaiming the advent of Jesus.  Some might read this to be pretentious: John the Baptist was a unique herald, The Forerunner, specially imbued by the Holy Spirit to “prepare the way of the Lord” and point people to his relative, Jesus, when his ministry began.  We are not called or qualified to anything on par with that!  But we do proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord, even though we don’t know the day or the hour of his return, nor even have a promise that he will return within our lifetimes.  The return of Christ is a reality that permeates the New Testament epistles, and has also characterized the liturgy (particularly that of Holy Communion) ever since as we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  So we follow in John’s footsteps in this ministry of proclamation, albeit on a different level of the scale.

 

The First Collect for Pentecost

In the 2019 Prayer Book, the Day of Pentecost, or Whitsunday, is one of the few days in the calendar (along with Christmas, Easter Day, and Holy Saturday) that has two Collects of the Day to choose from.  This is not entirely unprecedented.  In pre-reformation history, different collects existed for different masses to be held at different times of the day.  In the development of the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, additional collects have been drawn in, and Pentecost (and its subsequent days) is one of those days that has attracted more than one collect to celebrate it.

But in the 1662 Prayer Book, there is only one:

GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

This is essentially identical to the first collect in our book:

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What we have here is, I think, a little different from the focus that modern evangelicals normally take on the Pentecost account.  Typically today we link the term “pentecostal” to the miraculous gift of speaking in tongues, and the the powerful “move” of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ’s Church.  But this collect redirects that to a particular focus.  We are not simply celebrating a spiritual gift, we are celebrating the spiritual fruit that results from that gift.  The speaking in many languages was not the point of Pentecost; the point of Pentecost was the preaching of the Gospel to all nations.  Using multiple languages was simply a necessary means under the circumstances of the moment.

So let’s break down this collect a little bit.

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people

Think back to the Gospel of St. John, and what Jesus taught about the Spirit in chapters 14-16.  There he introduces us to the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who would lead the apostles “into all truth.”   This is a teaching work, something that often gets missed when one gets caught up in the subject of charismata – supernatural charismatic gifts of the Spirit in a post-1900 Pentecostal context.

by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:

In Acts 2, the Spirit descended upon the apostles like tongues of flame.  We tend to talk about “being on fire for the Lord”, and the burning zeal of evangelism, more often than we talk about that flame being a source of light.  This collect reminds us of an interpretive approach that Pentecostalism sometimes is prone to miss: the gift of the Holy Spirit unto the people of God is about enlightenment, teaching, receiving knowledge… as Jeremiah prophesied, they will all “know the Lord.”

Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things,

Having “a right judgement” is biblical wisdom language.  It refers to the ability to make right, or good, decisions based upon knowledge of God’s Law.  This is very much like the Old Testament Pentecost, which celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai.  People were to know that Law, and keep it, and that was wisdom.  But in the New Covenant from Christ, we receive the Law of Christ not on tablets of stone, but written on our hearts by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The New Pentecost is similar to, but infinitely better than, the Old Pentecost.  By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can know Christ and follow in his ways.  This collect directs us to pray for that very walk.

and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;

Worship is never far from biblical and liturgical injunctions.  We are to rejoice in God, specifically here in the Spirit’s “comfort.”  This is a reference to the Spirit being called the Comforter (or Helper in the ESV translation) in John chapters 14, 15, and 16.  The Greek word behind this is παρακλετε, paraclete, which can also be rendered Advocate, Mediator, or Intercessor.  This word can be used in a courtroom setting – one who aids someone else’s legal defense – but it is unclear how particular the biblical use of this word was intended to be.  The Holy Spirit helps us in many ways, after all, not just in pleading our innocence-in-Christ before the Father.

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect ends as most do, acknowledging the fullness of the holy Trinity.

Evening Prayer on the Day of Pentecost

Here’s a little surprise, or bonus, for this evening: I’ve recorded the Daily Office of Evening Prayer for Pentecost evening!

Outline so you can have your books (2019 Prayer Book, ESV Bible, and a Hymnal) ready and follow along:

  • Opening Sentence (BCP 55)
  • Confession of Sin (BCP 41)
  • The Invitatory (BCP 43)
  • Abide with me (Hymnal)
  • Psalm 145 (BCP 461)
  • First Lesson: Acts 2
  • Canticle: Magnificat (BCP 45)
  • Second Lesson: Acts 10:34-end
  • Canticle: Nunc dimittis (BCP 46)
  • Apostles’ Creed (BCP 46)
  • The Prayers (BCP 47)
    • Collect for the Day of Pentecost #1 (BCP 614)
    • Collect for Resurrection Hope (BCP 49)
    • Prayer for Mission #1 (BCP 51)
  • Anthem: Hail thee, festival day (Hymnal)
  • One-minute Reflection
  • Additional Prayers (BCP 675-680)
    • #98 For the Acceptance of Prayer
    • #99 For the Acceptance of Prayer
    • #100 For the Answering of Prayer
    • #108 After Public Worship
    • #115 For the Coming of God’s Kingdom
  • The Great Thanksgiving (BCP 51)
  • Closing Prayers (BCP 52)

Rogationtide at home

The Rogation Days are here!  Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday are the three “purple days” at the turning point of the season from Easter to the Ascension.  As the liturgical color implies, these are days of fasting and prayer.  They’re not penitential, as such – certainly not in the way that Lent or even Advent is – but they are days of particular supplication to the Lord of the harvest for our safety and the safety of our land.  If you want to see last year’s introduction to the Rogation Days, click here.

The question I want to focus on today is how you might observe the Rogation Days at home.  Most of us still have closed churches, after all, so there wasn’t much we were able to do to mark yesterday (Rogation Sunday) as particularly special.  Here are few traditional ideas and resources to draw upon.

The most obvious thing we’ve got is the set of Collects for the Rogation Days, on page 635 of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer.  In addition to praying them in the Daily Office on these three days, consider using them in family devotions, private prayers, before a meal, or in the context of a small group for prayer or worship or study.  You can read more about those Collects in this post from last year.

Similarly, you can sing the hymn O Jesus, crowned with all reknown, a classic song for the Rogation days, and the only one labeled as such in the 1940 hymnal.  To that, the 2017 hymnal adds O God of Bethel, by whose hand and the 1940 recommends also We plow the seeds, and scatter.

Another resource that should not be overlooked is the Great Litany.  Rogation Sunday was one of the major days of the year in English tradition for a grant procession out of the church building, with prayer and supplication, and the Litany was the primary tool for such a public devotion.  It would be a marvelous thing to make use of the Litany on your own through these three days – the most traditional time to pray it would be at the end of Morning Prayer, but the tradition has evolved over the past near-century such that you should feel free to pray the Litany in any context, even on its own!

You could even combine the Litany with a version of the historical tradition of Beating the Bounds.  On Rogation Sunday the grand procession would encircle the entire parish, literally surrounding the village in prayer.  As the great Anglican divine, George Herbert, described it:

The Country Parson is a Lover of old Customs, if they be good, and harmless; and the rather, because Country people are much addicted to them, so that to favour them therein is to win their hearts, and to oppose them therein is to deject them. If there be any ill in the custom, that may be severed from the good, he pares the apple, and gives them the clean to feed on. Particularly, he loves Procession, and maintains it, because there are contained therein 4 manifest advantages.

  1. First, a blessing of God for the fruits of the field:
  2. Secondly, justice in the Preservation of bounds:
  3. Thirdly, Charity in loving walking, and neighbourly accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time, if there be any:
  4. Fourthly, Mercy in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution and largesse, which at that time is, or ought to be used.

Wherefore he exacts of all to be present at the perambulation, and those that withdraw, and sever themselves from it, he mislikes, and reproves as uncharitable, and unneighbourly; and if they will not reform, presents them. Nay, he is so far from condemning such assemblies, that he rather procures them to be often, as knowing that absence breeds strangeness, but presence love.

George Herbert, A Priest to the Temple Or The Countrey Parson, chapter 35

What you see there is very rooted in centuries of history that are, on the practical level, defunct and so far removed from us that it would be impossible to replicate.  But in spirit, these are very “earthy” practices that can be recaptured pretty easily.  Obviously with social distancing in place it would be rather difficult to form a town-wide parade!  But at the level of the home, this could be an opportunity for the household to walk around the property line, praying for one another and for the neighbors.  It could be an opportunity to chat with the neighbors over the fence or across the road, pray for them or even with them!  With the Spring planting now in full swing in many places, pray for your gardens or fields.  Consider how you might use your bounty to bless others, especially the poor or needy.

Andm, if you want yet more ideas and background history, I commend to you The Homely Hours, a lovely blog with a wealth of historic Anglican insight, with a particular high-church-like attention to the traditions of our forebears.