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praying in the Trinity

The great liturgical tradition is to pray to God, the First Person of the Trinity, through Christ, in the Spirit. We see this in the history of the Eucharistic Prayers, in the great collect tradition, in the prayers for ordination, over the water at baptism, and so on. This tradition goes right back into the earliest church and to the New Testament itself.

Yes, there are rare exceptions – which prove the rule.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, comes to draw us into God, the Holy Trinity. This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It is extra relevant to reflect on the Trinity and prayer.

The eucharistic liturgy has two such prayers central in the two movements of the eucharistic liturgy. In the Ministry of the Sacrament, the Eucharistic Prayer has this dynamic. In the Ministry of the Word and Prayer, the collect has always had this dynamic.

The great collect tradition, with a history now lost in the mists of the early church, prays to God through Christ in the Spirit. Through the Book of Common Prayer, and the craftsmanship of Cranmer, Anglicans share with Roman Catholics and others in the treasury of collects which, like well-worn pebbles, are pithy summaries of spiritual insight known by heart by generations.

I continue to examine them, and so far I have found that at least half of the Sunday collects are shared by Roman Catholics and Anglicans – an ecumenical treasure few are reflecting on.

Relatively recently NZ Anglicans have added prayers to Jesus and prayers to the Holy Spirit to this historic treasury of collects as alternatives. Those who want to continue to use the shared, historic treasury can currently readily continue to do so. But more recently there have been attempts to print just one prayer with each celebration. Pick a member of the Trinity, any member, spin the liturgical bottle and where it points – that will be the Person of the Trinity to address at that particular celebration.

And so at our Christchurch diocesan synod last year we passed unanimously and with acclaim:

That this Synod advocates as strongly as possible that in any revision the Western taonga/treasure of Trinitarian collects inherited from the early Church via Cranmer and so shared with the rest of the Anglican Communion and other great Western denominations, be the primary option provided in every service.

The official response to our diocese was:

The query about Trinitarian collects was also addressed, and again there is a range of liturgical opinion, both in this Church and around the liturgical world, about what constitutes a ‘Trinitarian’ collect. The collects currently provided in ANZPB/ HKMOA (A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa) are all considered ‘Trinitarian’ in that they address a Trinitarian divinity as defined by our creeds.

The following is not a rhetorical question. I am genuinely interested in liturgical scholarship of a peer-reviewed standard that show this range of liturgical opinion around the liturgical world about what constitutes a Trinitarian collect. Please put references to this scholarship in the comments. Thank you in anticipation.

Some quick examples. The “collect” for Advent Sunday in NZPB/HKMA:

Come, O come Emmanuel,
you are the way, the truth and teh life;
you are the true vine and the bread of life.
Come, living Saviour,
come to your world which waits for you. (page 550)

This may be a lovely prayer, appropriate in many a context, and praying to Jesus is certainly appropriate and good in many a context, but to state it is Trinitarian and then to attempt to pass legislation that this be the only collect provided for an Advent Sunday is to undermine a primary dynamic of liturgy.

Look on your family our God,
and teach us to care for one another,
for you are child and parent,
you alone are love’s source and secret. (“Collect” for Christmas p559)

Jesus, your ways are not our ways.
You are the Jewish boy,
you are the questioning child the parents lost.
Make us willing to listen
and humble in what we believe is right. (Epiphany p563)

Of note is that the Dunedin diocesan synod last year also passed a motion about the collects:

Noting the lack of traditional Trinitarian collects in the Lectionary, strongly urges the Common Life Liturgical Commission and the General Synod/te Hinota Whanui to ensure

(a).   the retention in the Formularies of at least one traditional Trinitarian collect for each Sunday of the Church’s year,

(b).   the provision for such a collect for each Sunday of the Church’s year in the Lectionary.   

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10 thoughts on “praying in the Trinity”

  1. Christopher Nimmo

    “Come, O come Emmanuel,
    you are the way, the truth and teh life;”

    I got excited for a moment until I looked it up and saw it doesn’t actually say “teh” 🙁

  2. Brian Poidevin

    I could not agree more with you. I usually lead Evening Prayer in this parish on Wednesday evenings- we have each evening of week with attendances in range of 2 to 15. Most frequently as the collect I use an appropriate one of Cramner’s.

  3. Brian Poidevin

    Thank you. Daily evening Prayer was the initiative some 5 years ago of a 40+ lay woman during Lent which has now gone on for whole tear. One of a number of initiatives about 50/50 clerical/lay in a growing (but not at Pentecostal speed) parish.

    1. I don’t know if you mean “Pentecostal” or “Pentecostal” when you are talking about growth – but many people may have unrealistic ideas about the growth of the early (ie “Pentecostal”) church. Certainly, having daily prayer in your community, I regard as growth. Grow well and go well.

  4. Bosco,

    As a musician, I find the same annoyance with a lot of church music these days – simply, a lot of it ignores God the Father completely and there’s a lot addressed just to Jesus as if he is the only member of the Trinity. Most of this music tends to come from the pentecostal warehouse churches, which leaves me concerned about their theology.

    I’ve got to the point where (in my private prayers / music time only) if a song doesn’t recognise the Trinity when the words suggest it should, I swap “Christ” to “God” and sometimes “Jesus” to “Yahweh”. I find this simple change often corrects the theology. Yes I am aware some people may have issues with the theology of that second change, but it keeps the same number of syllables and it works for me :0)


  5. I was very happy to Second the motion before the Dunedin synod, having barely arrived in the country, the collects being one of my first impressions of the Aotearoa/NZ Prayer book.

    Coming from the UK, this was very noticeable as Common Worship restored a full Trinitarian ending, missing from previous liturgical experiments. This was to the annoyance of some, but on closer investigation, seemed largely to be because many of the CW collects were of essay length, and thus the full ending seemed to just make matters worse! 🙂

    Frequently I have to scout around for a suitable collect. As you say, many of the collects are decent enough prayers in their own right, but the Collect is not just another prayer and many of those given to us lack any weight, or theological depth.

    As I seem to recall, my point in seconding the measure was to do with, ‘the language we use shaping us more than we shape the language we use’. Or, the more we use language without reference to given language, the more we lose sight of who we are.

    If as Christians we believe that God is fully known to us in the three persons of the Trinity, and second that we are made in the Image of the God so revealed, then losing touch with Trinitarian language leads us into a form of amnesia – we forget who we are. In a sense it undoes the work of Christ in restoring us to our full humanity and thus drawing us into the life of the Triune God

    Thanks for the post Bosco, and blessings on your further research.

    1. Thanks for engaging with this, and here, Eric. I hope we can get some momentum to this. A lot will now hang on this coming meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui next month. I do not think that praying to the Holy Spirit and mentioning other members of the Trinity to conclude is the same as the great tradition embodied in the collects, Eucharistic Prayers, prayer over water, ordination prayer, etc. This will take a lot of explaining for people. Over and over again. Blessings.

  6. I have, for several years now, noticed how little by little the Anglican Communion Churches are letting go of the Trinity, and indeed the Incarnation in favor of a “spiritual” singular god that the World chooses to worship. But, in another 1,000 years, the Gospel will again be discovered when the time is right.

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