Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Beauty of the Collect

Another of the great gifts I have discovered in the Book of Common Prayer, especially the 1928 version, is the Collect, or Collective Prayer. In addition to the weekly Collect as part of the Propers (Collect, Epistle reading, Gospel reading) for each week of the church year, many Collects can be found in Morning and Evening Prayers, in Prayers for such occasions as A Prayer for Congress, For Our Country, For the Unity of God's People, For the Church, For Missions, For Rain or For Fair Weather, For the Army, In Time of Calamity, For Children, For the Family of Nations, For a Sick Person or For a Sick Child, and For Prisoners. We also find Thanksgivings for such occasions as For Women after Childbirth, For the Fruits of the Earth, For Fair Weather, For Rain, For Plenty, For Restoring Public Peace at Home, For Recovery from Sickness, and For a Safe Return from a Journey.

The Collects are short prayers, and I instinctively recognized a form to them that was both poetic and worshipful, but Father Peters of the Liturgy New Zealand site recently wrote more about Collects. His post is about proposed changes to the New Zealand Collects, but within his post is an historcal and literary explanation of the Collect as both prayer and poem. I post this from his Web site:

In my opinion, one of the great treasures of Western Christianity is the collect. We have a treasury of collects that goes back fifteen centuries and further. A collect, like a haiku or a sonnet, has a particular, tight literary structure. It is memorable, general, and regularly expresses a profound Christian truth in a short compass. Anglicans inherit Cranmer’s magnificent translations from the crisp Latin. Roman Catholics are working on new translations of the collects (opening prayers) which will make them look a lot more like their Anglican equivalents. Many will remember memorising the great collects in Sunday School. On many occasions Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and others pray the same collect.
He continues later in his post:

A collect concludes and completes the Gathering of the Community. Individuals gather, sing (one of the most unifying human experiences), and finally (1) are invited by the presider to (2) deep silent prayer which is (3) collected by the presider praying the collect which (4) is affirmed by the community’s Amen. After this we are gathered from being individuals to being a community ready together to hear what the Spirit is saying to us as the gathered church.

The collect (like haiku or sonnet) has its own particular, recognisable structure. In the five-fold structure, three parts are always present (marked *):

*You– Address
Who – Amplification (& motive)
*Do – Petition
To – Purpose (& motive)
*Through Jesus Christ…
I find it very interesting as a poet and a teacher of poetry that Father Peters compares the structure of the Collect to the sonnet and the haiku, both of which are extremely structured poetic forms, depending on strict adherence to meter, length, and rhyme in the case of the sonnet, and to length and syllabic patterns in haiku.

My favorite Collect is A Collect for Grace which is part of the Office of Morning Prayer, so it is prayed daily. Some of my evangelical friends may not understand how praying the same prayer every day, a prayer written hundreds of years ago, may actually be prayer, but I pray it with my whole heart each and every morning, having done so for nearly a decade. Somehow my day is diminished if I do not take the time to pray this prayer:

O LORD, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Collect for Grace is a combination of thanksgiving for safe passage through another night as well as a prayer asking for protection from danger and sin as well as asking that all we do this day be pleasing unto our Lord, or "may be righteous in thy sight," to be precise. And the opening lines remind us to whom we pray: "O Lord, our Heavenly Father, Almighty and Everlasting God." So worship starts this prayer, followed by thanksgiving, then petitions, and closes by praying in the name and power of "Jesus Christ our Lord." Whether I pray this alone as part of my daily morning prayers or corporately in Victoria Chapel with Father Acker and some of my kids, it's a prayer beautiful in its simplicity yet powerful in its content.

The Collect for today, the Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity, will be prayed throughout this week:

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This Collect is paired with the Epistle reading: Galatians 6:11-18, the close of this epistle which ends with warnings and a benediction, and with Paul reminding us that he bears "the marks of Jesus" on his body. Following the Epistle reading is the Gospel reading: St. Matthew 6:24-34, the well-known passage on not worrying. But what is interesting is that the reading begins a couple of verses before the "Don't be anxious" part; it starts with "No man can serve two masters ... Ye cannot serve both God and mammon." So each Collect, as part of the Propers, is paired with Scripture readings that mold, explain, and apply the Collect.

So I have come to value the Collects, even if I have not always understood much about them. But that's an exciting part of the journey along the Pilgrim Pathway: our willingness to learn about Christ and His Bride, the Church, even if such modes of worship are a bit foreign to us.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin