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The collect

oransThis blog-post will look at what a collect is.

The collect is under threat in New Zealand Anglicanism. If the Bill before General Synod Te Hinota Whanui passes, the collect will become indistinguishable from just a nice little prayer.

Those who visit this site will realise my passion for the collect. Each week I provide a commentary on the week’s collect – its history and spirituality. I am convinced that, used well, the collect can draw individuals and communities deeply into the life of God. The collect is the heart of the Gathering of the Community.

Almighty and everlasting God,
increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity;
and, that we may obtain what you promise,
make us love what you command;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen. commentary here

The collect follows a literary structure honed over the fifteen centuries of our written prayer tradition. The oldest of them go back to the Church Fathers, they encapsulate teachings of the scriptures, representing, in a different mode, the same spirit that inspires the Psalms and other scriptural prayers.

The best of them have an elegance and economy that makes them highly memorable – prayers for by heart, in all senses of that phrase.

O God,
you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Grant us the fullness of your grace,
that we, running to obtain your promises,
may become partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen. commentary here

The collect has a particular structure. I normally teach this by the mnemonic you-who-do-to-through:

(i) You (Address or Invocation) an address to God “Almighty God,”
(ii) Who (Attribution or Amplification) referring to some attribute of God, or to one of God’s saving acts “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden;”
(iii) Do (Petition) “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,”
(iv) To (Consequence or Purpose or Motive) the reason for which we ask “so that we may truly love you and worthily praise your holy name;”
(v) Through (Mediation or Conclusion) “through our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

Not every part need be present in every collect, but (i), (iii), and (v) are indispensable.

Let us pray (in silence) [as we rejoice and keep festival in honour of all the saints]

pause for silent prayer

Almighty God,
your saints are one with you
in the mystical body of Christ:
give us grace to follow them
in all virtue and holiness
until we come to those inexpressible joys
which you have prepared for those
who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
Amen. commentary here

The collect follows “Christian liturgical prayer [which] is traditionally directed to the Father, through the mediation of the Son, in the power of the Spirit.” The address should be to the First Person of the Trinity, using a variety of forms. The conclusion to the prayers should express the mediation of Christ.* Outside of the liturgy, of course, since the earliest church, prayer to Christ was common.

Jungmann rightly states that “the collect makes visible to us the grand outlines of that spiritual universe in which our prayer lives and moves and is; it arises in the communion of holy Church and ascends through Christ to God on high.”**

Lord, we pray
that your grace may always precede and follow us,
that we may continually be given to good works;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen. commentary here

Best practice, IMO, from the early church, for praying the collect in the Gathering of the Community has four moments:

1) The invitation to pray: “Let us pray”. There are early examples of expansions indicating the content of the prayer following.
2) Silent prayer of the community.
3) The collect proclaimed by the presider, which the rest of the assembly makes their own in the hearing.
4) The endorsement of the prayer by the assembly’s “Amen.”

There is more on the collect in the Chapter The Gathering of the Community of my book Celebrating Eucharist.

*Shaping English Liturgy pages 251, 253.
**The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (2-Vol Set)I p.379.

Good book resources:
Listen to the Word
The Collect in Anglican Liturgy: Texts & Sources, 1549-1989 (Alcuin Club Collection)
The Collect in the Churches of the Reformation (Scm Studies in Worship and Liturgy)

image: “Orans” by Randall Stoltzfus

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6 thoughts on “The collect”

  1. Hugh McCafferty

    Amen brother. It is an occasion of sin for me when the lay leader cheerily says, “now let us say the collect”. if there is no silent prayer before the collect what is it we are collecting up? And ‘saying’ as opposed to ‘praying’ the collect drives me nuts. Like you. I want to hear a president who knows what they are doing, gather up the silent prayers of our hearts and present them to the Father in the formal prayer of the church.

    1. Thanks, Hugh. Yes, the collect gathers our individual silent prayers, and in doing so also collects us together as a praying community – concluding the Gathering of the Community. I also grit my teeth when there is more than one collect. Did the first collect not work?! Please spread the word with me. Blessings.

    1. Thanks, Matthew. I am a fan of Fr Matthew’s, but cannot recall seeing this particular video. I have considered making a video about the collect – Fr Matthew is so adept at this! I teach, following my mnemonic, 13 year olds – I start them at what they want to ask for, and work the rest of the collect from that starting point. Like the monkey, they produce surprisingly good results… unlike some of what may end up in our revised NZ Prayer Book as the standard… Blessings.

  2. Danny Cutting

    I have greatly enjoyed many of your articles . Regarding the collect…recently our Rector invited the entire congregation to join in with him in saying the collect every sunday . It has been such a special treat to say these often very beautiful prayers together, rather than simply hearing them said by the leader of the service. I hope more congregations will be able to experience this …it has refreshed many of us spiritually and been most helpful in the way it opens the service with us all praying together.

    1. Thanks, Danny. That is a common practice in NZ. I think a discussion about this could distract from the primary focus of this post which is trying to understand and preserve the collect structure and theology. I guess as an aside – would this approach mean that it would be preferable for the assembly to join the priest saying the whole Eucharistic Prayer aloud also (understanding the collect as the central prayer of the Ministry of the Word, and the Eucharistic Prayer being the central prayer of the Ministry of the Sacrament). Blessings.

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