More on the Prayer of Humble Access

The primary difference between our contemporary wording here and the traditional wording is the word “character”.  The classical Prayer Book word is “property” – it is a property of God that he has mercy. 

Our Prayer Book also puts this prayer in the mouths of the whole congregation.  This is a first in official North American Prayer Book tradition, though alternative liturgies had already leaned in this direction for years.  This is an appropriate change for our time because it gets everyone involved in some form of eucharistic piety.  In pre-modern times, preparation for receiving Holy Communion was a noteworthy process both for Protestants and Papists alike.  Now that Communion is received weekly by the majority of liturgical Christians, it is easy to take it for granted, and many have lost a sense of preparation and piety for the Sacrament.  This prayer is a helpful, powerful, and beautiful treasure to that end.

The Prayer of Humble Access is also something of a “wandering prayer” in the history of the Prayer Books.  The first Prayer Book placed it immediately between the Words of Comfort and the Ministration of Communion to the people, making it an acknowledge of our unworthiness to receive the Sacrament even in a state of grace.  In the Prayer Books of 1552 an after, the Prayer of Humble Access is said immediately between the Sanctus and the Prayer of Consecration, making it a final preparatory prayer before approaching the Altar Table, and dissociating it from the penitential overtones that may have been associated with it in 1549.  Finally, the American Prayer Book of 1928 moved this prayer once again, to be read after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer, immediately before the Ministration of Communion.  That is essentially where it is placed in the present volume too, the only visual difference being that where the 1928 book says a hymn may be sung, ours prints the Agnus Dei as an anthem that may be sung or said after this prayer and before the Ministration.  So, functionally, 2019 and 1928 are doing the same thing with the Prayer of Humble Access: making it (as in 1549) a final devotion before reception of the Sacrament.

From an ecumenical standpoint, it should be noted that the Roman Rite has a different (shorter, less elegant) sort of prayer of humble access.  Its wording has changed over time, but one form reads thus:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

This prayer draws from the words of the faithful centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus’ word, rather than actual visit and contact (Matthew 8:8, Luke 7:6).  And it communicates the same basic premise: we are unworthy of God’s presence (regardless of how recently absolution has been pronounced) and approach him only by his grace.


This is one of the most beloved prayers among traditional Anglicans, yet unfamiliar to many who were formed according to modern liturgies such as that in the American Prayer Book of 1979.  Its inclusion here is part of the restoration of properly Anglican devotion and doctrine, though the rubric concedes it to be optional, should a more brief liturgy be desired.

The language of this prayer also took some consideration as it was adopted back into the 2019 Prayer Book.  The phrase “whose character is always to have mercy” is an update from the original term “whose property”.  This is a better update than a previous draft in Texts for Common Prayer which rendered it “who always delights in showing mercy.”  In that draft, mercy is God’s delight, but the original (and now still official) text identifies mercy as a property of God’s very nature or character.  It is the same as how we speak of God’s love – God is not simply loving, rather, God is love.  God does not just delight in showing mercy, God’s character is to have mercy.  Reflection on this should bring the worshiper great comfort and joy.

Apart from that phrase, further challenges may face the modern worshiper who is not yet accustomed to this prayer.  One of these is the strong realist language: “Grant us so to eat the flesh of your dear Son… and to drink his blood.”  It must be remembered, though, that just as there are different theological interpretations of our Lord’s Words of Institution and of his Bread of Life Discourse, so too will this prayer take on different tones according to one’s theology.   A Lutheran can see this as an affirmation of the Real Presence – Christ’s human and divine natures actually present in the bread and wine.  A Calvinist an see this as an affirmation of the Real Spiritual Presence – Christ’s body and blood actually communicated to us sacramentally as we receive the bread and wine.  So there is no problem with this prayer from either end of the churchmanship spectrum.  Its survival through all the pre-modern Prayer Books should be evidence enough of this.

Another question that might also be raised concerns the “effects” of the Body and Blood of Christ.  A simplistic reading of this prayer might indicate that Christ’s body cleanses our bodies, and his blood cleanses our souls.  But that is not the intention of this prayer – the historic belief has always been that Christ’s body and blood go together, just as with any other real creature.  It is like speaking about the Father creating, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit sanctifying – all three Persons of the Trinity actually do all three of those things; there is simply a convenient prominence of different Persons with different roles, but never an actual division between them.  Similarly, this prayer affirms, poetically, that the body and blood of Christ together sanctify our entire being – body and soul. A third misunderstanding and mistreatment of this prayer concerns its penitential tone.  Some argue that this prayer is extraneous in light of the confession and absolution already offered in the liturgy.  Such a claim is to miss the point of this prayer.  This is not a confession of sin, this is an acknowledgement of unworthiness.  Even with sin absolved the worshiper is still an unworthy participant at the Lord’s Table.  Even with the grace of divine forgiveness upon us, “blessed are they who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).  Furthermore, some of the language in the prayer – “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” – is echoed in the 8th paragraph of the prayer of consecration, plus the language of unworthiness is echoed in the 9th paragraph of the same.  So this prayer is integrally connected to the rest of the communion liturgy.  As the 1549 Prayer Book amply demonstrated by placing this prayer after the Absolution and Words of Comfort, it is not excessively penitential to express our unworthiness before the Lord.

The Fraction & its Anthems

The Fraction, or breaking of the bread, is permitted to take place either at the Words of Institution or after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer.  While the Reformed tradition, with most classical Prayer Books, has preferred the breaking of the bread at the Words of Christ, the summary in the biblical narrative commends a later fraction: taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and then giving it (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19).  Thus the Fraction is permitted to take place after the Prayer of Consecration and the Lord’s Prayer, as is the case with the Roman Rite and the 1549 Prayer Book.

In the former case, the breaking of the bread during the Words emphasizes the narrative of the Last Supper, and points the worshiper toward that ancient Passover celebration in which the New Covenant was brokered.  In the latter, the breaking of the bread as its own ceremonial moment in the liturgy emphasizes the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, to which this entire liturgy directs us.  It is best when the celebrant chooses one pattern or the other, rather than snapping the bread during the Words of Institution and then actually breaking it at this point in the liturgy.

The Fraction Anthem, too, is drawn from the 1549 liturgy, which reads “Christ our Paschal lamb is offered up for us, once for all, when he bare our sins on his body upon the cross, for he is the very lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world: wherefore let us keep a joyful and holy feast with the Lord.”  This anthem, drawing largely from 1 Corinthians 5:7 and John 1:29, is parsed out into two options.  The first option, using the present tense, highlights the role of Holy Communion in communicating the Sacrifice of Christ to us.  The second option uses the past tense, rendering a version of the 1549 text in accord with how 1 Corinthians 5:7 is translated today.

The two versions of the anthem also represent slightly different emphases on the eucharistic sacrifice, often in line with high- and low-church perspectives.  The first declares the timeless nature of Christ’s sacrifice by using the present tense – this holy feast makes present to us now the atoning death of Christ.  The second uses the past tense to point us back in time, emphasizing the historicity of Christ’s sacrifice.  The worshiping community may benefit from using both of these anthems, perhaps appointing the former during seasons of joy and the latter during seasons of penitence.

The Lord’s Prayer at the Holy Communion

As the name implies, this prayer was authored by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The doxology “For thine is the kingdom…” is found in certain manuscripts but is largely understood to be a liturgical addition to the original prayer.  Exactly as with the Daily Office, the classical Prayer Book tradition appoints the Lord’s Prayer twice in the Communion service: once at the beginning (said by the priest alone), and again toward the end (said by all).  Which iterations of the Lord’s Prayer includes or excludes the doxology has varied from one Prayer Book to another, resulting in its near-universal inclusion in the present volume, for sake of simplicity and familiarity.

The English Prayer Book of 1549, with the Scottish and American Prayer Books, placed the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the Oblations, soon before the reception of the Sacrament.  The English Books thereafter, and of most other provinces, appoint the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the ministration and reception of the Sacrament.

The celebrant announces the Lord’s Prayer as one “we are bold to pray.”  This is not an historical commentary, referring to the people praying in their own tongue against medieval Roman malpractice, but a spiritual commentary: although we are unworthy sinners, boldly we approach the throne of grace, by faith (cf. Hebrews 4:16).

The Lord’s Prayer, being composed, taught, and commended by Jesus himself, is an integral component of any liturgy; no official service of the Church omits it.  Its specific placement at this point, however, does have significance.  The Prayers of Consecration have been completed, the holy food is on the holy table, and God’s family is gathered.  The first (and classically, only) thing the congregation says aloud in this holy moment is the prayer that their Lord taught them.  And, in the context of Holy Communion, many lines of this prayer take on particular meanings and tones.  God “in heaven” doesn’t feel quite so distant for a moment.  That his will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is actually about to take place in our hands, mouths, bodies, and souls, momentarily.  “Our daily bread” is already before us in Word and Sacrament.  The promise of forgiveness and call to forgive others has already been addressed in the liturgy.  The lofty ideals and hopes of this Prayer are, in this glorious moment, nearer than they normally seem.

Consecrationism, Receptionism, and the Epiclesis

There are long-standing debates, especially within the classical Protestant churches, over the “when” and “how” of the consecration of the bread and wine.  On one side there is consecrationism, championed by Martin Luther and his early followers.  This view asserts that the Words of Institution, being the very words of Christ, are the moment in the liturgy when the bread and wine are properly consecrated to be the Body and Blood of Christ.  In competition with this rose a view called receptionism, championed by 17th-century Lutheran scholastics and John Calvin’s Reformed tradition, which asserts that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ only in the reception, or even only the faithful reception, of the communicants.  The Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book were written early enough that both views are encompassed within our prayers, thus allowing the debate to survive within the Anglican Church throughout these five centuries.

Differences both practical and devotional result from these competing views.  A consecrationist will consider the Words of Institution the most central, necessary, and holy part of the eucharistic canon, where a receptionist will emphasize prayers that speak of the worshipers’ faith and participation in Christ.  Furthermore, the consecrationist will consider bread and wine left over from the liturgy still consecrated and holy, where the receptionist will consider them ordinary bread and wine.  Most Prayer Books have included rubrics mandating the consumption of leftover bread and wine immediately after the liturgy, thus appeasing (though not directly affirming) the consecrationist view.

In the course of the 20th century, through increased contact with Eastern and Early Church liturgies, the epiclesis rose in prominence, especially among pentecostal or charismatic-minded Anglicans who naturally emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit.  Although this emphasis was largely absent from Western Christianity beforehand, a variant of consecrationism has arisen which asserts that it is the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, that consecrates the bread and wine.  The impact of this theology is reflected in the Additional Directions of the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books, in which an Epiclesis is included with the Words of Institution in the rubrics for consecrated additional bread and wine during the Ministration of Holy Communion.

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.