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Book of Prayers in Common

Don’t read the collect aloud together

Book of Prayers in CommonDon’t read the collect aloud together.

There is a trend in NZ Anglicanism to read the collect at the Eucharist aloud together as a community. Don’t do it.

I would love to know the history of this development.

I would be interested if this is popular and/or growing in other denominations? In other countries?

Although I would not want the glue between them to show, the Eucharist consists of two acts: The Ministry of Word and Prayer and The Ministry of the Sacrament. Each of these has a central prayer. The former has the collect; the latter has the Great Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer). The community is bidden to pray, the prayer is proclaimed aloud by the presider in the name of the congregation, as the prayer is proclaimed aloud by the presider the assembly prays the prayer in their hearts, making it their own, and affirm this by strongly declaring “Amen!” aloud at the end.

We have been discussing, on this site, the community not experiencing the Great Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer) as their prayer, rather experiencing it as the presider’s prayer alone, or worse – some sort of priestly incantation.

Rather than forming communities to experience the prayer led by another as the community’s prayer, rather than forming the leader to proclaim prayer in such a way that the community experiences it as the community’s prayer, reciting together seems to be one attempt in communities to fix the problem.

And the presider’s proclaiming of the collect is a casualty of this.

So, members of a congregation are directed to pick up a pew sheet, or they are told to turn to page 631 “we will say together the second collect on that page”, or they are reading off a projector screen.

Collects have a complex rhetorical style. Like scripture readings, they have not been fashioned to be read aloud by a chorus of voices. Some communities print off the scripture readings, project them onto the screen, or provide pew bibles. I have yet to see communities that have abandoned the proclamation of the scriptures by one voice in favour of the community reading the biblical texts aloud together. Furthermore, generally the collect texts provided in NZPB have had the conclusion removed in order to save space, on the assumption that the presider knows to add the conclusion when proclaiming it.

Most of the community has not seen this collect; there has been no rehearsal. The collect, a text designed to be proclaimed by one voice, is read aloud in a bland, grey manner, with some stumbling over words and concepts, and all because they do not experience the presider proclaiming it alone as real prayer. Is this now real prayer for them?

Compare this with the presider saying something akin to, “Let us pray (in silence) to follow God’s will”, and then the gathering community having a moment of genuine silent prayer, concluded by the presider prayerfully proclaiming the collect that has been well rehearsed beforehand, while the community makes this prayer their own, many in the gathering with their eyes closed, and all affirming the prayer with a resounding “Amen!” May it be so.

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As well as comments below, this post is also being discussed on the Facebook liturgy page.

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19 thoughts on “Don’t read the collect aloud together”

  1. Several months ago I began having the congregation pray the collect with me. I regularly reference the collect in my preaching. After close to 30 years of blank looks when I quoted part of the collect, the “prayer WE just prayed”, it was apparent to me that no matter the skill with which I prayed the prayer, for most of the congregation that was my prayer, not theirs. Unlike the canon of the mass, the collect is not repeated week after week and doesn’t have the opportunity to become theirs by that regular immersion in it.
    Since they have begun reading it, the experience of reading it, saying it, and hearing it has increased their awareness of “the prayer we just prayed”, it has become their prayer, the communities prayer, not just my prayer. The very complexity of the typical collect works against it being “their” prayer when they don’t say it. The struggles and stumbles actually help them attend to the prayer and make it their own, and, at least in my congregation, the praying of the collect is neither “gray” nor “bland.”
    Fr. Rick Benson
    St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
    LaMarque, TX, USA

    1. Thanks, Fr Rick. Could the response to your community not experiencing the collect as prayer have been attended to differently? What might have happened if you had taught, preached, catechised, and worked in study groups around prayer, particularly the collect? Encouraged people to use the collect in their daily devotion at home? As the prayer used at meals at home? As the prayer used before their own Bible study? As the prayer used with individual preparation and reflection on the Sunday readings?

      If they now understand the collect as the “prayer WE just prayed”, do they so understand the canon of the mass? Have you asked them? And if some/many do not, would you get them to recite the canon of the mass as a community also?

      When, in another context, someone leads prayer aloud as an individual (eg. saying grace before a community meal) do they also not understand that as the prayer we just prayed? Does your community also not understand the intercessions led by one individual after the sermon at a eucharist or evensong as being their prayer? Does your community, then, pray the Prayers of the Faithful aloud together as a chorus?


      1. Thanks Fr. Bosco. In my 30 years of ministry I’ve tried most, if not all, of your suggestions regarding the collect. Since your post is about not having the congregation pray the collect, I’ll stick to that issue, since the others you raise really are in my opinion, irrelevant to the collect and its place in the liturgy. when you posted this on Facebook, you asked if someone who was having eh congregation read the collect would reconsider their position. Obviously my answer to that is no, for the reasons I listed in my comment. Most of the rationales for not having the laity participate in saying the collect were also used to justify the laity not saying the post-communion prayer prior to the latest revision of the American Book of common Prayer. Even the best of them are tainted by clerical elitism, and as clergy we are set apart from, not set above, the worshipping community we are called and privileged to serve.


        1. Thanks, Fr Rick. As far as I can see, the only reason you gave for people not experiencing a prayer said aloud by another as their shared prayer was “unlike the canon of the mass, the collect is not repeated week after week and doesn’t have the opportunity to become theirs by that regular immersion in it”. I cannot follow this reasoning to other than that his leads to the praying of all varying prayers aloud together in order for your community to experience it as prayer. That includes them praying aloud the varying preface in the eucharistic prayer. I have, of course, encountered communities reading the preface aloud together, and other parts of the eucharistic prayer, with precisely your rationale that it combats clerical elitism. Blessings.

  2. Thank you for making this point about the Collect being the presider’s prayer on behalf of the congregation for the Liturgy of the Word. Your observation has added weight to my sense to keep it this way. I have quite a number of colleagues (in the US/Episcopal Church) who have made this a congregational prayer — and then they complain about the structure and wording of the collect not being user-friendly!

  3. I have certainly encountered it in Scotland where I “inherited” the practice at Christ Church Falkirk (Diocese of Edinburgh) when I arrived as Rector in 2003. I have no idea where it came from – possibly from the US as my predecessor was strongly influenced by Cursillo.

  4. At our more “contemporary” service, everybody prays the Collect for Purity together. It is always said after the opening acclamation in Rite II Holy Eucharist (with limited exceptions like baptisms), so the words are familiar instead of changed each week. After the Gloria, the presider then offers the collect of the day.

    1. Like Elle, our assembly prays the Collect for Purity together, and then following the Gloria (or other Song of Praise) I sing the Collect of the Day. I wonder if the custom of everyone praying the CoD together came from another tradition–I encountered it first among the United Methodist Churches in New Jersey.

  5. We sometimes say collect together and frankly I find it more meaningful. The notion of presider’s prayer I find rather precious as is a lot of concentration on centrality of presider. And one only has to look at Catholicism to see where centralising power leads. One senses Francis in some comments is aware of this. In the same way many anglicans have adopted the word father and indeed mother, again an assertation of power. Indeed that blog you listed yesterday has an amusing note on this. And
    (Matthew 23:9) Moreover, do not call anyone YOUR father on earth, for one is YOUR Father

  6. Further to my comment above I have just noted an article in “First Things’ by a protestant theologian which I think is very relevant.

    Protestants do have an alternative story to tell. While there was an anti-ceremonial and primitivist thrust to the early Reformation, the aim of Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and others was not to eliminate mediating ceremonies but to bring them into conformity with the Bible, especially the New Testament. They often cited Augustine’s dictum that the ceremonies of the new covenant are “simpler, fewer, and easier to grasp” than those of Israel. When they tested late medieval Catholicism by this Augustinian standard, they saw that the liturgy erected barriers between Christians and their risen Lord. That gave them grounds for severe protest. But no one who has peeked into a Lutheran or Anglican church will conclude that Protestants think that ceremony is a symptom of religious pathology.

    Yes indeed but one has to be careful how far one proceeds down the ceremonial path. I have said before that a lot ot our religious ceremonies have an aesthetic base.

  7. Mark Christianson

    In the congregation of my youth, a Lutheran Congregation of Norwegian ethnic origins in a rural town in Minnesota, we read the collect together from the lectionary/scripture insert each week. My sense, which may be mistaken, is that it came into vogue in the mid- to late-middle-twentith century especially amongst congregation of the American Lutheran Church (ALC). It was at this time that North American Lutheranism was introducing lay assistants in the liturgy, and there was concern about greater participation in worship. Born out of that desire (especially in congregations not ready for lay worship leaders in the chancel?) came this practice of reading it together. I also suspect that there was some measure of anti-clericalism attached to the practice in some places, as so much of the liturgy was lead by the pastor and only the pastor. We were coming off an era where in many communities it was highly inappropriate for a non-ordained person to be behind the altar rail or in the pulpit. Thankfully, this faddish practice seems to have significantly declined amongst Lutheran congregations, and I rarely encounter it any longer outside of that home congregation, but I’m sure that there are other places where the practice lingers.

  8. Always an ongoing discussion about lay participation in the Mass among many in my little denomination of Old Catholics in the United States — that laity do not feel a part of the Mass unless there is some form that allows for fuller participation by having dialogue prayers — the presider prays one part of the prayer out loud the the congregation prays another part of the prayer, with the presider concluding the prayer. For some this dialogue prayer is also a part of the Eucharistic Prayer, with a back and forth between the congregation and the presider. I find it an odd adaptation. And not always prayerful.

  9. Thanks Bosco – I have never been comfortable with the whole congregation praying the Collect for the Day – for all the reasons you give above. In many parishes the Collect is printed in the Sunday bulletin – fine for further reflection, but that is all.

    In those places which use a datascreen for the words of the Liturgy (and I am with you overuse of this technology)for some reason the Collect of the Day is rarely included, so the congregation then dive down and grab their Sunday bulletin just to read these words…

    I’ve always preferred the practice in most RC parishes where the hymns, songs etc take up one side of a folded A4 sheet – anything more seems like too many words to me!

  10. The whole assembly praying the collect (or prayer of the day as Lutherans call it) is a pretty common practice in several congregations. I have sought to end this practice in all 3 of my parishes. Especially in my first parish in a very rural setting. Many folks were not great readers, and so unfamiliar texts like a new collect every week was hard to read and say out loud. Members appreciated being able to hear the prayer, instead of stumblingly read it.

    I am sure there are several reasons as to why the practice came about, but perhaps the biggest one was mostly unintended. About 30 years ago many churches began purchasing pre printed bulletins, which had the lectionary appointed lessons, some artwork related to the texts and the liturgical date and colour on one side and were blank on the other for individual congregations to print their own service info. The publishers began including the collect or prayer of the day, and since most Lutheran churches were low churchly in their worship style, started praying the prayer of the day out loud and collectively. I think many pastors, who tended to view liturgy as something akin to eating vegetables – good for you, but in an unenjoyable way – figured that since everyone had the collect now, we should all pray it. I should check, but it might be the case that only the minister’s desk edition of the hymnal actually had the collects. They weren’t in pew hymnals.

    In any case, the Lutheran seminary in western Canada has been more liturgically oriented for the last decade and many newer grads are implementing liturgical reforms like returning the collect to the presider to be spoken.

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