Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The art of the collect

This is a fine post, amiably stolen from Even the Devils Believe, and written by my neighbor just down the road, Fr. Chris Tessone, over in Durham. It's a fine summary of what it means to pray the Collects of the church.

I'm convinced that the Collects are a gift given not just that the church might pray together, but that we might continually be schooled in the art of praying, whether in the Mass, in our families, or as individuals. When we give up the Collects in Mass, and substitute our own drivel, we give up a good and salutary gift from the church.

"This post over at massinformation has me thinking about collects. The old collects are one of the many things I love about the pre-Conciliar liturgies — for many of us from a Lutheran background, at least, there is a tremendous amount of continuity between the collects used back when Luther split from the Roman Church to the 1962 Missal and other traditional rites, not only in content but in wording and style as well.

Our childhood pastor used to teach a useful formula during confirmation class that gives a basic insight into how all collects should be constructed:


The address is fairly simple — usually something like "almighty God" or "heavenly Father". Some simple term of address for God. The basis reveals certain attributes about God on which the pray-er bases the petition that comes later. The collect is the petition itself, the meat of the prayer. The dedication is a familiar formula, something like "Through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns…" etc. And then the ending, which is always "Amen".

If we take a look at the collect for this past Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer (1979), we'll see this in action:

ADDRESS: Almighty God, BASIS: whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; COLLECT: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; DEDICATION: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. ENDING: Amen.

Although one might choose to use different language or cast things in a little different light, this has been, for quite some time, a fairly productive way of looking at and constructing collects. Deviating from it can be dangerous, because there is a very clear theology at work here. Praying a collect is not just an act of petition or thanksgiving. Because of the address and basis, we are reminded of attributes of God — God's love, mercy, concern, care, sometimes God's judgment or demand for justice. If we recast these as petitions, which is becoming a common practice, we change the collect from a theological statement about God's essence, from which our petitions follow, into a prayer that is all about desire, which provides no certainty about who God is and is not.

Beyond the theological point, this is a useful framework to learn because it makes extemporaneous prayer easier and more reliably prayerful. All of us, lay or ordained, find ourselves in situations where we are asked to lead prayer off-the-cuff for a group, and this gives an easy guide for thinking about how to form those public prayers. It helps prevent rambling (I've found this a particular problem for myself!) and grounds our petitions in a wider awareness of who our God is and why we pray these petitions in the first place."

1 comment:

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