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collect vandalism

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. New Zealand Anglicans, with a culture of flexibility, choose a collect from any source they like. Each week this site has provided a commentary on at least one of the great collects. Recently all NZ Anglican clergy and worship leaders were sent a new resource cutting options to one collect provided for each celebration. Whilst I energetically agree with the principle of common prayer, I even more energetically protest the vandalism that this resource does to our wonderful inherited collect taonga (treasure).

Collects for Season and Sundays (PDF)
Collects for Other Feasts and Holy Days (PDF)

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…

An example of a collect that reaches back at least one and a half millennia and is prayed by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and others:

Let us pray (in silence) that we may love God in all things and above all things

pause for deep silent prayer

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding;
pour into our hearts such love towards you
that, loving you above all else,
we may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord
who is alive with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.

Now compare this with the first “collect” in this new resource:

Praise to you, Christ our Redeemer
for you were circumcised this day
and given Jesus as your name.
Praise to you, Jesus, well are you named
for you save us from our sins.
Hear this prayer for your name’s sake.

This is not a collect. In this new resource, any person of the Trinity can be addressed at random rather than the great liturgical tradition of praying to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. It is a lovely little prayer that so easily gets lost in the re-cluttered vestibule of the gathering rite of those who do not understand the grammar of liturgy.

The “collects” of this new resource were sent with the information that “The Common Life Liturgical Commission has been working on developing replacement pages for pages 550 – 723 of our Prayerbook.” Many leaders in our church, not being clear about our processes, have taken this at face value and now think that those pages have been formally replaced. But those pages of our Prayer Book are binding formularies of our church. They can only be replaced by (1) a vote resulting in agreement in all houses and tikanga of our General Synod, (2) assent by a majority of our diocesan synods and Hui Amorangi, (3) another vote in a newly elected General Synod, followed by (4) a year’s wait before they become such a replacement. This “collect” resource has not even been presented to General Synod (step 1). If and when it reaches stage 2 I will be voting against these becoming formularies, against their replacing our current pages. Those pages of course need replacing – but not in this manner. Those of us committed to orthodoxy (which means “right worship”) currently have a choice in which collect we use and can continue to use either a classic or more recent collect (in the style and usage given above).

Furthermore, the material is presented with the claim that “the endings are now consistent throughout” – this is clearly false. Sometimes each year is presented with the same collect at the expense of our inherited, shared collect (eg. Epiphany). Sometimes, it seems there has not even been the slightest attempt to read the collect aloud, eg. “… help us to see to see…” (Lent 3 Year B).

The typos in the text indicate this is not a quick drawing from a digital version, someone has put a lot of energy into typing up this text. Apologies to the person(s) who has(/have) put such effort into this resource that I am so under-whelmed by its usefulness and appropriateness.

Further reading on collects

If you are interested, there is more on this approach to the use of the collect in Chapter 6 of Celebrating Eucharist.

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7 thoughts on “collect vandalism”

  1. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. To add insult to injury, these reconfigurations do violence to the structure of the Hebrew prayers and berakhot from which Christian prayers and blessings emerged.

  2. I won’t be surprised if these are the same people who think that being “mission-shaped” means being, um, “seeker-sensitive” and thus it’s not good to be churchy. Sorry, but people are looking for certainty and mystery, not anything dumbed down–as these prayers are!

  3. From a funeral I recently attended (CoE, led by a local evo-CoE), “we say together the prayer beginning ..first line..”. No we jolly well don’t! We “join together in the collect” – it’s even marked as a collect in the service order, and how else are people to approach God through liturgy if one isn’t even prepared to give things their own proper names?
    So many prosaic words of threatening cajoling to “get right with God” and yet the poetic gracious means of approach was completely elided. Bah.

  4. Bosco+,

    Wonderful article!

    The one contemporary resource I really enjoy for new collects is ICEL’s “Opening Prayers” which dates to the mid 1990’s. It was intended to provide scripturally based collects for the three year lectionary. I have often used them in the past and find them to maintain the base collect structure (usually), while at the same time being quite diverse in their biblical allusions.

    Another interesting source, and I apologize that I don’t have the book before me right now, is the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod here in the US. They have two sets of collects in that book. The first is the traditional collects from the old one year lectionary and the second is a longer (about three times longer on average) set of ‘collects’ that was written by a Norwegian Lutheran liturgist about 150 years ago. Each collect is numbered with a reference number, and the 3 year lectionary makes use of them by assigning a collect number right along side the psalm and readings for a given day. It’s a novel idea, but it certainly retains the old collects instead of providing new ones, while ensuring that the old ones are assigned in thematically appropriate ways.

    The Norwegian ‘collects’ of this book, however, do not come across nearly as well (at least to me, not being Norse and all), though a few stand out as being very good.


  5. I taught a series on prayer some years ago and in one session we studied how collects from the BCP (ECUSA) were constructed and their purpose. I was surprised that none of the people present had ever had the structure explained to them. I encouraged them to write a collect for themselves over the next week using the “You, Who, Do, To, Through” format. None were particularly memorable, but people told me it helped them in their praying and most importantly they understood why we use a collect to conclude the gathering of the people.

  6. Bosco, I picked up the terminology from your post. I know I didn’t use such a good mnemonic. I used materials from Leader Resources called Teach us to Pray, a 23 week series on prayer. We got through half of it before my interim ended. Since the materials belonged to the congregation, I no longer have access to them and I can’t remember the exact wording used to help people formulate a collect.

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