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Orans on Roman Mural

Collect Chaos

Orans on Roman Mural

A new trial set of collects is provided week by week in the New Zealand’s Anglican Lectionary booklet. The “collect” there for this coming, Trinity Sunday is:

God, glorious in Trinity,
no dimensions can define you
or thoughts contain you.
Beyond stretch of time and space
you unfold the cosmos,
from the rising of the sun,
to its setting, blessed are you,
trinity in unity.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Mediator. Amen.

NZ Anglican Lectionary booklet 2022 Trinity Sunday

New Zealand Anglicanism has little understanding of the purpose and nature of the collect. And this example underscores that problem. The collect used to be one of the gems of Anglicanism, well polished, usually by Thomas Cranmer who understood English language rhetoric. Cranmer’s collects uniquely blended theological substance with simple, powerful clarity. His translations of the traditional collects (many going back to the early Church), and his newly created ones, were known by heart (a delightful image) by Anglicans worldwide, often becoming a biblically-focused prayerful source of strength in difficult times.

It seems that the above “collect” was not even read to see if it makes sense. “This we ask…” concludes this prayer. What, I would challenge, are we actually asking?! This prayer is a revision. One would have expected a revision to have improved things. Here is what it was three years ago:

God, glorious in Trinity,
no dimensions can define you
or thoughts contain you:
beyond stretch of time and space you unfold the cosmos;
from the rising of the sun,
to its setting, blessed are you, trinity in unity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

NZ Anglican Lectionary booklet 2019 Trinity Sunday

The unrevised, 2019 version is actually better than the 2022 revision – it is a prayer of praise. It is certainly not a collect, but at least people aren’t left dumbfounded wondering, in the 2022 version, what was being “asked” for.

[I was asked to produce the collects for half of this Year C, connecting them with the Gospel reading for the non-feast, non-season, Ordinary Time Sundays. You can find my set here – you might find them useful, for example, to conclude the Prayers of the People].

The 1989 A New Zealand Prayer Book discarded some of the great Anglican collects such as:

God of inspiration,
you caused all holy scriptures to be written for our instruction,
grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,
that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of your holy Word,
we may embrace and ever hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.

Ordinary 33 and see here

In 2020, a new book was printed – also called A New Zealand Prayer Book, but with swathes of it not even seen yet by our General Synod (we shall see at this year’s meeting of our General Synod Te Hinota Whanui what they do with this “draft Prayer Book“). This 2020 book eliminated even more traditional collects. [A little bit of sensitivity, and one will realise what a clanger the collect provided in the 2020 book for this coming Sunday is!]

In every other Anglican Church/Province worldwide, one can know what collect will be prayed at the Eucharist this Sunday. What makes New Zealand unique that we cannot manage that in our tiny church here?! In NZ Anglicanism, any prayer, from any source is allowed to be used as a “collect” – you can write it yourself; or you can not have a collect at all at the Sunday Eucharist. Totally your choice. It is, after all, the Anglican Church of Or.

Often, in NZ Anglicanism, the congregation will say the “collect” together – totally disregarding that the structure, style, and rhythm of collects have not been composed with communal recitation in mind. It misunderstands the purpose of the collect, and reinforces the experience of liturgy as some sort of group poetic recitations of pious prayers in response to page numbers or from a shared digital screen (or printed pew pamphlet).

Too often the collect is treated as merely another nice prayer cluttering the vestibule of the start of our liturgy. Ideally at the Eucharist individuals arrive and are greeted by the presider – whose greeting is returned. Then we sing together. There is little that could be more unifying than this. Then we are called to a moment of shared, deep silence in the presence of the great mystery we call God. This deep silence is concluded, “collected,” by the presider praying aloud the collect which we then all affirm with our “Amen.”

This is the central dynamic of gathering to hear what the Spirit is saying to us the church through the scriptures proclaimed. The silence is the heart of the collect. The words of the collect are not. The collect concludes our gathering – if there is an allusion to the readings of the day that is bonus, but not essential – particularly with a lectionary which has moved from thematic constraints. The collect, like that other great prayer the Great Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer), is at the heart of what prayer is for us and so traditionally is addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as a sonnet or a haiku has a particular, recognisable structure, so a collect has a five-fold structure, three parts of which are always present (marked *):

*You– Address

Who – Amplification (& motive)

*Do – Petition

To – Purpose (& motive)

*Through Jesus Christ…

Purpose and Structure of the Collect

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4 thoughts on “Collect Chaos”

  1. Since returning to NZ a year ago I have been getting very hot under the (dog) collar most weeks – for precisely the reasons you mention. Frequently the last line/s seems tacked on regardless of the rest of the words. I have now take to seeing what https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/ offers and frequently find the final ‘collect’ in the Prayer section works well – as a ‘collect’, i.e. collecting a theme or themes form the readings of the day.
    Funny – while in Oz I often referred to ANZPB – now realise it was only for a handful of prayers that worked well.

    1. Thanks, Frank.
      I hope you realise that each Tuesday I try here to offer a contemporary reworking of a collect from the Church’s great tradition – including with a commentary (see, for this Sunday, for example). Occasionally, I acknowledge, I have not managed to do so. I am trying to collect these into a Book of Prayers in Common.

  2. Hi Bosco,

    I so appreciate your work here and through your many posts: explicating and renewing Anglican kawa.

    I’d love to see a Liturgy 101: Unlocking the tradition course available in/through all parishes, the way the Alpha course often is.


    1. Yes, great idea, Columba.
      One option is to use my Celebrating Eucharist for this.
      It has a video that can be stopped at different points and discussed,
      and then free text, each chapter concluded with discussion questions.

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