Using the Collects to Help Us See God’s Activity in Us and for Us

Invitation

Our canon for Evangelism and Discipleship Development, The Rev. Whitney Rice, has asked us to consider how evangelism, for Episcopalians, is journeying together through discovering the Good News of Jesus Christ and inviting others to join us on this journey.  What does talking about our common journey together sound like?  What does intentionally living out our common journey look and feel like?  As I listened to Canon Whitney talk about Episcopal-style evangelism, I wondered if the weekly Collects might help us.

Collects as Short Prayers

For those of us in the Western portion of the Church, the opening prayer of the Eucharist has traditionally been called the “Collect,” (pronounced Coll’-ect, emphasis on the first syllable) a term which may have been chosen to describe what was being done with this prayer.  The Collect is either a “summing up of the prayers of the individuals who have been called to pray” or “the prayer said at the collecting of the people at the start of the Mass.” (Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, 163).  The Collect is a short prayer focusing on one thing.  (C. Fredrick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, x) 

Collect Form

The Collect has a particular literary structure that has from three to five parts (Barbee and Zahl, x-xi):

  • the Preamble:  the address of God as the one to whom we are speaking;
  • the Acknowledgement:  the doctrinal basis upon which the petition is made (optional);
  • the Petition:  what we ask from God the Father;
  • the Aspiration:  the “that” or “so that” clause of the request (optional); and
  • the Pleading:  the formalized mediation that invokes all three persons of the Trinity to grant our request but focuses on Christ’s role as our mediator. 

Collects as Instructional and Transformational Prayers

This structure allows the Collects to be instructional.  But, more important, because Collects are prayers, they are transformational.  We are asking God to do something to or through us by our praying of these words. 

One of the optional prayers in Morning and Evening Prayer, A Prayer of St. Chrysostom (BCP 102, 126), includes the petition “Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.”  We’ve been praying our Sunday Collects since 1979, some of them for much longer.  I wonder if meditating on the Collects, looking for how God has been answering these prayers as is best for us, will help us find a way to discuss what the Good News of God in Christ being worked out in us looks and feels like. 

Through the season of Easter (from Easter Sunday until the Day of Pentecost), I invite you to join me in a weekly exploration of the Sunday Collects, asking the following questions:

  • What does this Collect tell us about God?
  • What does this Collect tell us about ourselves?
  • What does this Collect tell us about the Good News of God in Christ?
  • What does this Collect tell us about us and our journeying together as we discover and share the Good News of God in Christ?

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick

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