The opening prayer at the Eucharist

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…

Some historical sources of our collects:

Leonine Sacramentary (now preferably called the Verona Sacramentary) – compilation of eucharistic booklets made between 561 and 574 (or 625?) for liturgies for the bishop of Rome.

Gelasian Sacramentary – compiled between 628 and 715 originally for priests in the titular churches of Rome. Its use spread from there.

Sacramentary of Padua (c. 670 – 680) adapting the pntifical sacramentary for presbyteral use at St Peter’s Basilica.

The Gregorian Sacramentary exists in manuscripts from the late eighth century.

Hadrianum – compiled by Benedict of Aniane between 810 and 815, sent by Pope Hadrian as a pontifical to Charlemagne who sought to unify his kingdom by united liturgical practice.

Mozarabic liturgy – ninth to tenth century

Missale Romanum of Pius V

Missale Romanum 1970, 2002

There are more resources in Celebrating Eucharist Chapter 6, from page 42ff, and in the free Book of Prayers in Common.