The Great Thanksgiving

The Great Thanksgiving is a modern (or arguably a renewed ancient) label for the opening section of the Eucharistic Canon. Although the specific “prayers of consecration” that follow have varied over the centuries, and even seen some shuffling within the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, the first section has remained remarkably stable for well over a thousand years. Its pieces are the Sursum Corda, the Preface, the Sanctus, and the Benedictus. Let’s take a look at these prayers, primarily as presented in the 2019 Prayer Book.

SURSUM CORDA

Classically, the Sursum Corda followed the Words of Comfort, the assurance of pardon leading directly to the lifting up of our hearts to give thanks.  The Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century, however, led to a re-ordering of the liturgy (sometimes termed novus ordo – new order) and the addition of the dialogue “The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.” which was used only sparingly in the classical Prayer Books.  This dialogue is also present in the Roman Rite; contemporary Anglican liturgies like this signal a move toward general Western liturgical practice.

The Sursum Corda has also been entitled the Great Thanksgiving.  The worshipers lift their hearts to God, pursuing a sort of ascent from earthly to heavenly matters, and do this with an explicit call to “give thanks to the Lord our God.”  The final response, classically, was “it is meet and right so to do,” and the initial drafts for this Prayer Book drew a closer rendition in the phrase “it is just and right so to do,” but it did not survive the final revision. The celebrant’s next phrase, “It is right, our duty, and our joy…” is, by contrast, a return to classical phraseology, where the 1979 Prayer Book had set aside the language of duty by phrasing this “It is right, and a good and joyful thing…”

The ordering of the modern liturgy has a lot of starting and stopping, and a new “start” is needed at this point.  The Confession and Absolution ended with the Peace, which is often a huge interruption to the liturgy.  Announcements often take place there, which is an interruption to the liturgy.  The Offertory is often drawn out with music and the presentation of the elements – in short, the interaction between the celebrant and the people in a worship-minded context can easily be all but lost.  “The Lord be with you…” is a practical addition in order to restart the worship service at this point.  Classically, the offering would be taken, then the Prayers of the People, Confession, and Absolution followed.  Then the Comfortable Words were read, after which the Priest shall proceed saying, Lift up your hearts.  There was a direct link from the comfort of divine forgiveness to the Communion: “You are fully pardoned and forgiven and Christ, so lift up your hearts and let us give thanks…!”  That context is easily obscured in the modern arrangement of the liturgy.

After being bidden to give thanks, the people respond “it is right to give him thanks and praise”, rather than the classical “it is meet and right so to do.”  The message is the same but the emphasis is reversed.  The classical phrase emphasizes the properness, fittingness, rightness, that we ought to give thanks to God.  The modern phrase emphasizes the thanks and praise which we are to offer.

That loss is balanced with the restoration of the celebrant’s next phrase, “It is right, our duty, and our joy…”  There we see the rightness of giving thanks to God spelled out clearly.  So, between the priest’s two lines the whole message is present.  What falls to the people is to repeat and reinforce one or other part of that whole; the classical phrase emphasized what the priest was about to say next; the modern phrase emphasizes what the priest previously said.

All this is just the beginning; what follows is the Proper Preface, which provides a sentence of purpose – a reason why we should give thanks to God.

THE PROPER PREFACE

Then may follow a Preface.  The 1979 Prayer Book uniquely required one on every Sunday, when classically only five to seven Prefaces were appointed, for a few specific days or weeks in the year.  This edition has embraced both classical practice (by making the Preface optional) and contemporary liturgical development (by adding to the number of prefaces for special occasions).  This variation mirrors early liturgical history: the Leonine Sacramentary appointed a specific Preface for each Sunday and Holy Day, the Galasian Sacramentary contained about fifty Prefaces, the Gregorian Sacramentary reduced the list near to twelve, and the Sarum Missal contained ten.  The early Prayer Books reduced this to five (Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, and Trinity), and by 1928 the Epiphany and the Purification/Annunciation/Transfiguration were added to make seven.  The 1979 Prayer Book brought the total to 22, and the present edition has 34, although most of these are for special occasions not typically observed on Sundays.

The Preface is essentially a single-sentence addition to the Great Thanksgiving.  It specifies a particular reason why it is “right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give thanks” to God.  It is called a “Proper” Preface because it is proper to a particular occasion or season.  Many of these Prefaces are similar to collects in that they both identify something about God and a benefit that we enjoy as a result; our particular thanksgiving is typically for the benefit in light of God’s character, word, or acts.

Therefore we praise you…

After a specific reason for thanksgiving has been elucidated in the Preface, the celebrant continues by aligning the Church’s praise with the worship taking place in the heavenly places.  This is one of the clearest expressions of the Communion of Saints in all of Christian liturgy: we explicitly call upon the angels, archangels, and saints in heaven as fellow-worshipers of God.  With one heart and voice we sing…

SANCTUS

Holy, Holy, Holy

As far as we know, this hymn was composed by angels.  Both the Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle St. John witnessed the angelic hosts singing this in their respective visions of heaven, and duly recorded it for the faithful on Earth to join in (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8).  The liturgical form of the Sanctus has gently grown over time.  The Gregorian Sacramentary provides the biblical text “Sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.”  By the 16th century this had been expanded, as the classical Prayer Book rendition attests: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord, most high.  Amen.”  Before the Reformation, the Sanctus was often sung by a choir, but the English Prayer Books reserved the reading or singing of this hymn to the priest.  The first American Prayer Book contained a rubric that implied that the priest and people were to sing or say the Sanctus and its lead-in text together, but subsequent revisions have clarified that the Sanctus only is said by the congregation with the celebrant.  The present text of the Sanctus (most noteably changing “God of hosts” to “God of power and might”) was first adopted in the 1979 Prayer Book, matching the translation of the Roman Rite into English.

Certain musical settings in recent times have obscured the proper phraseology of this hymn.  It should be read and understood:

            Holy, holy, holy,
            Lord God of power and might,
            heaven and earth are full of your glory.
            Hosanna in the highest.

The thrice-repeated “holy” proclaims the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By “power and might” we proclaim not just the idea of divine strength but the “powers” of the universe, namely the mighty ones, the spiritual beings, with whom we sing this hymn.  And, as heaven and earth are united in the singular worship of their common Creator, so too are heaven and earth filled with his glory.

Blessed is he…

The variable text of the Preface here concludes with a fixed text, which, together with the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus has been standard in Western liturgy since at least the 9th century, developing from Early Church liturgies.  The English translation of the Latin text was changed in modern Prayer Books.  The 1662 Prayer Book here reads “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying:”

The anthems “Benedictus qui venit in Nomine Domini” and “osanna in excelsis” were suffixed to the Sanctus over the course of the time in the medieval era.  The 1549 Prayer Book initially retained this – “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Glory to thee, O Lord in the highest.” – but it was soon dropped from the Prayer Book tradition, not to return until its retrieval in the modern Prayer Books (1979 on).

The addition of this “Benedictus”, taken from the praises of the people of Jerusalem when Christ the Lord entered the city to its initial celebration and joy, evokes the sense of Christ’s entrance into the worship gathering in a new way.  (This phrase is occasionally misunderstood: Jesus is the one “who comes in the name of the Lord.”)  He has been present in the reading and preaching of his Word, he has been the object and mediator of our prayers, he has been our comfort in the absolution of our sins, and now he enters into the midst of a people prepared for himself.  The worshiper is reminded of the sacramental presence of Christ that will soon be received in the forms of bread and wine.

Before the Sunday service starts

Sunday mornings can be very busy times for pastors and other ministers, there can be a lot of preparation involved before the liturgy begins, especially a Communion service, and double-especially a Communion service with any semblance of high church ceremonial – candles to light, vestments to don, ministers to assemble and coordinate. It’s wonderful when everything goes to plan and everyone does their part and the whole result is a dignified and beautiful offering of the people of themselves unto God and a faithful reception of His Word and Sacrament.

But, as Mother Teresa said when her sisters warned her that the work was getting to be too much, the answer to a busy situation is not to pray less, but to pray more. Sure, it’s “inconvenient”, but it’s often what we need. So, straight to the point, what or how should we pray before the Sunday Communion?

There are a number of possibilities.

Some like to gather the ministers together beforehand and offer/prompt spontaneous prayers unscripted.

Some like to use traditional forms of preparation descended from the traditional “Fore-Mass” (prayers before the Introit where the Mass formally begins). There are also traditional prayers for the minister to consider the Gospel in the donning of each vestment, as well as prayers that are written to prepare priests and other servers for the liturgy. There are also some preparatory prayers in the draft ACNA Altar Book; you should check them out if you haven’t yet!

If you want something more middle-of-the-road in terms of churchmanship – you don’t want to troll an Anglo-Catholic agenda, and you don’t want to go all loosey-goosey about it either, how about grab the Prayer Book for a 5 minute block of time sometime before the liturgy starts?

the Great Litany in the Prayer Book (2019) next to my photogenic Bible (left)

Yesterday I grabbed a few minutes to pray the Great Litany before people arrived for Holy Communion. It was a little hectic with my kids running around and I must admit I had to interrupt myself at one point (and not just to take this picture!). Still, it was a moment of stillness for my soul, which would then go on to share the burdens of my parishioners and feel rather more clogged up thereafter. Praying for them, the whole church, and the world, in the words of the Litany prepared myself for ministering to them. It also just plain gave me a chance to worship and pray on my own, which can be something that priests and ministers sometimes struggle with, especially in small congregations where the leadership roles are not as widely shared.

The Litany is a great traditional choice for an Anglican, also, because the original Prayer Book order for Sunday morning expected Morning Prayer, Litany, and Communion all in a row! So bringing some of that back, even if only by yourself (as a clergyman or as a lay person) can only be good and upbuilding for us.

Any other tips or approaches that you like which help you (and/or the ministry team) prepare spiritually for the worship service? Leave a comment!

A Collect for the Cessation of Rain

I have often joked with people that we, in the Anglican tradition, only have a collect for rain, not a collect for not-rain. So in the midst of flood situations we’re kinda outta luck. Here in New England where I live, anyway, it rained nearly every day in July. We weren’t in any serious danger of flooding as far as I know, but there certainly have been farms that struggled to keep their crops healthy with all the constant water and the lack of sunshine. My family’s splitting a crop share this year, and the farmers were apologizing for the weather’s adverse impact on the veggies – last year was too hot and dry, this year has been too rainy.

So I guess it was about time to set about writing that collect for no-more-rain-please.

I’m billing this as Weird Rubric Wednesday because this idea came from conversations that were flippant and silly, even though the resulting prayer is actually legit.

You see, the challenge is that the primary concern in the Lord’s heart is that his people pray with humility, penitence, honesty, and faith. We don’t have to concoct the Perfect Prayer to make our supplications satisfactory in His sight. Eloquence is not a requirement for efficacy. The child-like cry for help is really all he wants from his children. Yet at the same time, when we come together to worship with one voice and one heart, it is right and good that we present to the Lord something not only of our hearts and desires but also of our intellect and efforts. We are taught to worship in spirit and truth, and in the corporate assembly it is especially important that we model truth in our prayers and utterances.

Thus, while on your own it may be perfectly appropriate to cry out “Please God stop all this rain!” it behooves a congregation to clothe that honest and faith-filled prayer with a layer of biblical truth and assurance.

So here is what I came up with:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who stills the storm and calms the waves of the sea: Deliver us, we beseech you, from excess of rain and save us from flood; that the fruit of the earth may yield its increase, and at the harvest we all may enjoy its bounty, even as we await your great Harvest on the Last Day, with the Father and the Holy Spirit in one eternal glory. Amen.

A Collect for the Cessation of Rain, composed by the Rev. M. Brench

The classic Collect Formula is executed quite regularly:

The Address is to Jesus, rather than the Father, which is a little rare but regular enough. This is most appropriate because it is in the person of Jesus Christ that we see (in the Gospels) both weather and wave commanded and calmed. So we open with that reference, proclaiming God’s power over the forces of nature.

The Petition is, simply, for deliverance from excess of rain and salvation from flood. I almost added a third phrase about the restoration of sunlight, but couldn’t figure out how to fit it in without making the prayer too crowded. And, as it would turn out, the next section of the prayer is where the majority of the focus ends up anyway. As it happens, the petition is often the simplest and shortest part of a prayer anyway. That is the “simple cry of the heart” at the center of a collect, which the liturgy clothes with dignity and clarity in the Address and the Purpose.

The Purpose is where things get more specific. We don’t ask for God’s intervention in the weather for frivolous or selfish reasons. Our children may prefer to play in a dry playground and someone may want to go to the beach and get a tan, but one of the greater concerns about excessive rain is the ecosystem. Too much rain means too many mosquitos, and flooded crop fields, and hardship for those who labor outdoors. Again, there is more than can be crammed comfortably into one short prayer, so I honed in on the concern for agriculture. The language of “the fruit of the earth” and “all enjoying its bounty” is borrowed from Occasional Prayers in the Prayer Book (2019) on page 653 For the Harvest of Lands and Waters, For Rain, and In Time of Scarcity and Famine, where this collect thematically fits right in.

The prayer transitions into its Doxology which I’ve made trinitarian – not a requirement for a collect, but a common feature. (The doxologies of the modern collects for Sundays & Holy Days are all standardized to be Trinitarian, but that was not historically the case.) The transition is smoothed over by linking the awaited earthly harvest with the eschatological harvest when Christ returns, which is a theme that is also picked up on Thanksgiving Day and especially one of my favorite Thanksgiving Hymns. Thus as we pray for such earthly concerns as the weather and its impact upon our lives, our hearts and minds are still lifted to spiritual things, matters of eternity. This is precisely what the parables of Jesus and indeed much of biblical teaching does – use ordinary images and concepts to point us heavenward.

So while praying for no-more-rain can seem like a weird prayer request, it can have its place in the church’s treasury of worship.

The Prayers for Mission at Morning Prayer

The inclusion of a Prayer for Mission at this point in the Daily Office was introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book.  Most of the prayers in that book are retained here, but some changes have been made. One of the chief concerns of 20th century evangelicalism is the work of mission, bringing the Gospel to all peoples, tribes, and nations, locally and abroad.  The Canadian Prayer Book of 1962 put a particular mission focus into its office of Prayers at Mid-Day and the American Book of 1979 put six prayers for mission into the Daily Office – three for the Morning and three for the Evening.  Some of the content has changed for the 2019 Prayer Book, but the function is the same: we have a group of prayers for mission to keep us mindful of God’s work throughout the world in various ways.

The First in Morning Prayer.  This prayer was not among the 1979 Prayers for Mission in the Daily Office, but a version of it was Additional Prayer #9 in the appendix of that book.  Before that, it has a long history of use in both Prayer Book and pre-Reformation tradition, serving as the Collect for a couple different Votive Masses in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries and the Sarum missal, as one of the final collects of the Litany of 1544, and as an extra collect at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer in the 1662 Prayer Book.

Almighty and everlasting God, who alone works great marvels: Send down upon our clergy and the congregations committed to their charge the life-giving Spirit of your grace, shower them with the continual dew of your blessing, and ignite in them a zealous love of your Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Previous Prayer Books have entitled this prayer, “For Clergy and People”, which identifies the angle of its missional focus.  The mission of the church is to be carried out by congregations and their clergy together by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  God’s continual blessing is requested, and zealous love for the Gospel is identified as another gift to empower this mission.

The Second in Morning Prayer.  A Missionary Bishop in India wrote this prayer and it was subsequently adopted into the Additional Prayers and Thanksgivings in the 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books.  With further minor revisions along the way it took its current place in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books.

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer looks to our common humanity across the world, imploring God to grant that all would “feel after” or “seek after” him.  The appeal to the pouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh in the Book of Joel and on the Day of Pentecost also gives this prayer an eschatological tone: it is the destiny or calling of humanity to unite in Christ’s kingdom.  Thus we are encouraged to see the mission of the church from the angle of preaching this peace, or unity, to the whole world.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.  Amen.

The Third in Morning Prayer.  The third prayer was written by Bishop Charles Henry Brent in a book published in 1907.  Its Prayer Book debut was in 1979, and its position was maintained in the 2019 Book.

Where the second prayer contains a brief appeal to the work of Christ’s (in his preaching) this one centers entirely on the example of Christ (on the Cross).  As Jesus’ arms were stretched out wide as if to embrace the world, so too must we stretch out our hands in love to a world that needs “the knowledge and love” of him.  Although the tone of this prayer is decidedly modern, in keeping with its authorship, the devotional angle of Christ’s embrace of the universe on the Cross is of ancient origin.

On the Collect for Purity

Before the Reformation, this was a vesting prayer said by the celebrant before the Mass began. Archbishop Cranmer moved it to the second prayer of the Communion liturgy (following the Lord’s Prayer) in the Prayer Books.  The celebrant was to pray this kneeling at the Altar Table.  When the Communion liturgy was substantially re-ordered in the 1979 Book, this collect was rendered optional, but was still the second prayer (now following the Acclamation).  The present edition has retained the position of this prayer in the liturgy, returned it to a required piece of the liturgy, but opened it up to be a prayer said also by the congregation rather than only by the minister on their behalf.

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.

When reception of Holy Communion was less frequent, greater efforts were taken by the typical church-goer to prepare for its worthy reception.  Special acts of self-examination and other devotions on the holy mysteries of God’s grace toward sinners were standard fare for Christians of many stripes and traditions.  In this age of weekly Communion as the standard practice, the strictness of preparation and the depths of eucharistic piety have waned.  This prayer, when said by the congregation with the celebrant, reclaims an aspect of historic devotion in preparation for the Sacrament.

The Collect for Purity also provides for the worshiper both instruction and a model concerning right preparation for worship in general.  When we come to worship the Lord, we do not invite God’s presence among us, but rather seek his aid in preparing “the thoughts of our hearts” to enter into his.  God is already with us by virtue of his Word and Spirit; it is we who must be invited and aided to love him perfectly and worthily magnify his holy Name.

On Prayers for the Departed

“Why would you pray for the dead? They’re already with Jesus!”

Such is the common well-meaning retort from most Protestants today when they hear us pray for the faithful departed. This is an ancient practice of the Church, but it seems that the Romans have cornered the market when it comes to explanation. They, famously, believe in Purgatory, wherein the souls of ordinary Christians are purged of their lifetime of sin before beholding the fullness of the Beatific Vision, or (more crassly), going to heaven. While this doctrine could be interpreted in a benign fashion – simply the clearing of our spiritual eyes after a life of sin and darkness – it has typically been presented in very penitential terms: the soul is tortured, exposed to the pains of hell for a period of time depending upon how much sin went unconfessed, lightened by indulgences and prayers and masses on their behalf.

Anglican prayers for the departed has no place for that.

Actually, some say that Anglicans have no place for any prayers for the departed. We had some in the first Prayer Book, and got rid of them a few years later, only to see the extreme Anglo-Catholic wing bring them back in the 20th century and the liberals tolerating it under the guise of “tradition.” But this explanation is not strictly true. The Prayer Books have always included prayer for the departed.

If we look at what our reformed liturgy, 1549 to the present, actually says, we will find that our practice is quite far from Roman superstition.

The Prayers of the People in the 1549 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy prayed for

all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us, with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace: Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the general resurrection, we and all they which be of the mystical body of thy Son, may altogether be set on his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: ‘Come unto me, O ye that be blessed of my Father, and possess the Kingdom, which is prepared for you, from the beginning of the world’.

This was dropped from subsequent Prayer Books until the American book of 1928, which prayed

for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.

In between, the 1662 Prayer Book contained a similar, if more subtle, prayer for the departed in the penultimate prayer of the Burial rite:

Almighty God… we give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory

The final Collect in the 1662 Burial service reuses some of the material from the 1549 Prayer Book quoted above, acknowledging the future consummation of the Christian hope of resurrection unto eternal life.  This is the common acknowledgement throughout the Prayer Book tradition – that God’s will, or plan, for his people has not yet reached its conclusion.  We pray for the departed no longer with the fear or urgency of late medieval piety, which errantly believed in the departed souls’ need to move through Purgatory, but instead with personal affection and biblical hope that all is not as it yet should be.

The Prayers of the People in the 2019 Prayer Book summarize it this way:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, that your will for them may be fulfilled

The 2019 Litany offers a more specific explanation of this will:

To grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace, We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Thus the prayers for the departed in the Prayer Book tradition is drawn from biblical doctrine rather than from later superstitions.

The Collects for the Day of the Week

In the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Office, we have a collect for each day of the week. This is an adaptation of the collects offered in the 1979 Prayer Book, but before then in the Prayer Book there were fixed collects: the Collect of the Day, followed by two in the morning and two in the evening. Additional (optional) collects were usually offered in most Prayer Books, too, but those lists eventually grew longer and became the “appendix” of occasional prayers in the modern books.

Here is a quick handy guide to previous posts about the various collects in the 2019 Book.

Collect of the Day: why?

Morning Prayer

Evening Prayer

The Prayers for Mission

Finishing Compline

Although in the classical Anglican Prayer Books the Nunc Dimittis is resident in Evening Prayer, its place in the spirituality of liturgical time most fully comes into its own here in Compline.  The language of “let your servant depart in peace” is an integral part of this office’s devotional emphases on sleep as an image of death, and the light of Christ transforming both the worshiper and the world.  For further notes, see Evening Prayer.

This Canticle has been a part of the service of Compline since at least the Rule of Saint Benedict, and the antiphon is also of ancient use in the Church.  The positioning has shifted in different breviaries – some before the Prayers (such as the Sarum) and some after the Prayers (such as in modern Prayer Books and the Roman Rite).  Precise translation of the antiphon into English varies among different sources; ours retains the wording of the 1979 Prayer Book.

The addition of three Alleluias during Eastertide is also a pre-Reformation tradition, marking one of the heightened features of praise during that festal season.


The call and response, Benedicamus in Latin, is a common closure for many offices.

Retained from the 1979 Prayer Book, the final benediction said by the officiant is drawn from the Roman Rite.

The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
bless us and keep us, this night and evermore. Amen.

In the monastic setting where most of the daily office tradition was developed, these prayers would be the worshipers’ last words before going (back) to sleep. The benediction is not a formal blessing in the sense of a priest’s role, and thus is proper for an officiant of any order to say.  It draws from part of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24) but is made explicitly Trinitarian and occasioned for Compline in the adding of “this night and evermore.”  Although it is a traditional benediction for this office, it is an appropriate final bedtime prayer to use in family settings and other late-evening occasions.

Bedtime Prayers, Old & New

The versicles and responses are taken from Psalms 31:6 and 17:8, and have been part of the Compline tradition for centuries. They set the prayers’ tone with expressions of commendation and trust.  Appealing to God’s completed work of redemption we entrust our spirit, and hide ourselves, in his protective arms “as a hen gathers her chicks” (Matt. 23:37 & Luke 13:34).

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit;
For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
Keep me, O Lord, as the apple of your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of your wings.


The First Collect is a traditional collect for Compline in the Western liturgy. It is a quintessential Compline prayer in Western tradition, imploring the protection of God and his angels against “all snares of the enemy”, dovetailing neatly with the traditional reading from 1 Peter 5.

Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Second Collect is the Collect for Aid Against Perils in Evening Prayer.  As its history has alternated its home between Vespers and Compline, it appropriately shows up in both in the present Prayer Book.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech you, O Lord; and by your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Third Collect is an ancient prayer that, throughout the 20th century, has made its way into the Compline services of several Anglican Prayer Books. As the pace of modern life continues to increase, the heart of this prayer grows ever more relevant to the typical worshiper: the “changes and chances of this life” are indeed quite wearying, it is only in the “eternal changeless” of God that we can find protection through both literal night and in the spiritual night of death.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Fourth Collect is also an ancient prayer that has become a standard Compline collect in Anglican Prayer Books.  The wording of the latter half of this prayer was re-written in the 1979 Prayer Book, and is here restored to its original meaning. Returning to the imagery of light and darkness, this prayer brings us to the themes of illumination and cleansing.  The “celestial brightness” of God invokes God’s appearance throughout Ezekiel 1 and similar passages, and we implore our gloriously bright God to sanctify us – to cast out the works of darkness from among us.  This is reflective of both the worshiper’s act of repentance at the end of the day and of the Christian’s final acts of reconciliation before death.

Look down, O Lord, from your heavenly throne, illumine this night with your celestial brightness, and from the children of light banish the deeds of darkness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect for Saturdays is from the Taizé community tradition, adapted in 1979 and retained here. It is very similar to the Collect for the Eve of Worship (in Evening Prayer).  The resurrection of Jesus is likened to light, in continuity with typical Compline imagery, and we look forward to the morning’s time of worship.  The “paschal mystery” is the heart of the weekly rhythm of worship, every Sunday an Easter of sorts, so Saturday night is rightly a time of joyful anticipation of that approaching celebration.

We give you thanks, O God, for revealing your Son Jesus Christ to us by the light of his resurrection: Grant that as we sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Evening Prayer’s Second Prayer for Mission, although relatively new to the Prayer Book tradition, has become a popular favorite, and thus is enjoyed both in Evening Prayer and in Compline.  Its night-time appeals arguably befit Compline better, given its similarities to other historic Compline collects.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Functionally similar to the previous prayer, this last collect more directly points the worshiper to intercession for workers of the nightshift – a reality that has only become more pronounced since its authorship.  The interconnectedness of society mirrors the unity of the Body of Christ, some praying while others sleep, and keeps the worshiper engaged with the larger realities of creation rather than being too focused on the personally immediate and present. Alternatively entitled “for Those Who Work While Others sleep,” this was written for the 1979 Prayer Book by its long-time custodian, the Rev. Dr. Charles M. Guilbert.

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers for Mission in the Evening

The prayers for mission in Evening Prayer are less directly concerned with evangelism or outreach compared to the Morning Prayer collects.  With the day drawing to a close, and its work ending, these prayers appropriately reflect on the results and signs of the missio Dei (God’s mission) in our lives and churches.


The first prayer looks to the end-goal of missions work: the universal worship of God.  The worship of the “whole heavens” sets the paradigm for the whole earth, all nations, all tongues – men, women, and children.  This prayer also reminds us that worship entails peaceful love and service.

O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore:
Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men, women, and children everywhere love you and serve you in peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer was first published in 1933 and entered the Prayer Book in 1979.  The original phrase “men and women everywhere” has been changed to include children in this edition.


The second collect has been attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo though its origins remain unclear.  A form of it was included in the evening intercessions printed in a 1919 service book, The order of divine service for public worship.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

This beloved collect, also used in Compline, prays for the “works of mercy” angle of mission, with the evening and nighttime as the specific focus.  Rather than drawing upon the usual night-dark-sin-death line of imagery, this prayer draws the worshiper to a posture of compassion toward others “who work, or watch, or weep” while others sleep.  And then, rather than directing us to minister to such persons, the prayer instead implores Jesus to tend, give rest, bless, soothe, pity, and shield others.  It is a sobering and touching reminder that Christian acts of mercy are the work of Christ himself.  And all that because of his love for a working, watching, and weeping world.


As if it’s building off of the previous prayer for mission, the third collect reminds us up front that the signs of his presence are made manifest in his servants, that is, people who carry out acts of love and service toward others.  Rather than a prayer about mission directly, thus, this prayer deals with the in-house benefits of a mission-minded life.  As Christians serve as Christ’s presence in the world, his “abounding grace” increases in our own midst.  The “Spirit of love” and “companionship with one another” together create a healthful community – a church – that makes Jesus present both to us and to the whole world.

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence:
Send forth upon us the Spirit of love,
that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This collect is a 1979 revision of a prayer written by William Bright in his 1864 book Ancient Collects.  Its original form dates back to the 8th century.