The Collect for All Saints Day (November 1)

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship
 in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living,
that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
(BCP 245)

According to Marion Hatchett, this Collect was written for the first Book of Common Prayer (the 1549 BCP).  The 1662 BCP’s version had two revisions which our present BCP has retained:  a shift from “holy saints” to “blessed saints” and from “in all virtues, and godly living” to “in all virtuous and godly living.”  For our present version “ineffable” has replaced the older use of “unspeakable” to capture the sense of the original prayer, since “unspeakable” has taken on a negative nuance.  As Hatchett summarizes, “The collect expresses in an admirable way Saint Paul’s conception of the church as the Body of Christ” (Hatchett, 206).

The Preamble, “Almighty God,” focuses our attention on God’s mighty power working in us and through us for our redemption.

The Acknowledgement, “you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord,” is the declaration of this mighty work of redemption.  As the Collect walks us through this doctrinal statement, it begins with God’s mighty work of “knitting” the Church together.  God’s knitting project binds together God’s “elect,” which is another way of referring to those who put their faith in God.  Faith in God is a gift that we live into (see The Collect for Proper 18 and John 6:35-40); a gift of grace that God maintains in us even as we work diligently to grow into this grace (see The Collect for Proper 6). 

This Collect affirms that we, who were once individuals disconnected to each other, are now joined as one (1 Peter 2:9-10).  Through Baptism, the sins which separate us from God and each other are forgiven through our union with Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11; Nicene Creed, BCP 328, 359).  Baptism is also the instituted means by which the Holy Spirit fully initiates each of us “into Christ’s Body the Church,” (BCP 298 and 308, see also Romans 12:4-8 and Galatians 3:26-28), which is the mystical body of Christ, “the blessed company of all faithful people” (Holy Eucharist I, BCP 339; see also Burial Rite I, BCP 480 and 487).  Having been joined to Christ and each other through the work of the Holy Spirit using the means of the waters of Baptism, we depend on God’s grace for living into our promise in The Baptismal Covenant to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” (Holy Baptism, BCP 304).

In the Eucharist, we ask God the Father to sanctify not only the bread and the wine, but us as well, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Holy Eucharist II:  BCP 363, 369, 372, 375).  To be sanctified is to be set apart as holy, which is what it means to be a saint.  

While “Holy Communion” is another way of speaking of the Eucharist (Catechism:  The Holy Eucharist, BCP 859), the Eucharist points us beyond what we physically do together on Sunday mornings to the greater, spiritual truth of the mystery of our salvation.  The Eucharist is the sacramental means by which we enter into fellowship with Christ and each other as the mystical body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:15-16; Holy Eucharist Rite I: BCP 316, 336, 342; Holy Eucharist Rite II:  BCP 372 and 374, see also the prayer of the representative of the congregation in Consecration of a Church, BCP 568-9). 

The “one communion and fellowship” in which we have been knit together through Baptism and Eucharist is not limited in time and space to those who are physically present with us on Sunday morning.  This communion and fellowship is with all the saints, past, present, and future (The Apostles’ Creed, BCP 96, 120, 304; The Nicene Creed, BCP 358; and Suffrages B in Evening Prayer, BCP 58, 122). 

While we could take a narrow definition of “saint” as only those who have been officially recognized by the Church (see the Note 1 below), the “communion of saints” we affirm in our Creeds is a broader definition of “the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise” (Catechism: The Christian Hope, BCP 862; see also 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 in which Paul uses “saint” and “believer” interchangeably).  By recognizing that the saints are both living and dead, we are called to look for God’s grace shining through each other and in ourselves (the living) and to take comfort that those who have gone before us in the faith (the dead) continue to be members of the mystical body of Christ (see Luke 20:38 and Hebrews 12:1-2, which refers back to Hebrews 11). 

The Petition, “Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living,” serves double duty in this Collect.  First, we ask for grace to live virtuously and according to God’s way.  However, in this particular Collect, unlike The Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter and The Collect for Proper 25, we are asking for grace to follow in the footsteps of the blessed saints who demonstrated for us particular examples of living out of the grace given them in which they answered God’s call in their unique circumstances.  

Second, the Petition provides us insight into how the Episcopal Church understands the role of saints in the life of the Church. The Collects in The Common of Saints (BCP 246-250) assume that what it means to be a saint is to live in such a way that others can see Jesus in some aspect of that saint’s life.  That is, in these Collects the petitions either ask God to raise up others like this saint or that God would grant all of us the grace identified through the life of the saint.  We ask, through these particular Collects, that we might be Christ-like and work toward the fulfillment God’s kingdom in our day.  A stroll through The Collects for Holy Days, looking at the Collects for our officially recognized saints, shows the same pattern (BCP 237-245).  Our Episcopal view of the saints draws upon the understanding that any good work that anyone has done is through “the merits and mediation of Christ” (The Collect for Proper 22) and can be described as participation in the life and work of God (see The Collect for Proper 21).  We don’t expect saints to live perfect lives; we all are earthen vessels under stress through whom the glory of God is revealed (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, see also Note 2).   

The Aspiration, “that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you,” echoes themes that we pray in The Collect for Easter Day (“that we may evermore live with [Christ] in the joy of his resurrection”) and The Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (God’s promises “exceed all that we can desire”).

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen,” reinforces our understanding of what it means to be a saint—our being made holy and the holiness of those who have gone before is accomplished through the grace of our Triune God being knit into us.  And our being Church, the mystical body of Christ, is also through the work of our Triune God knitting us together so that we are being conformed to the image of Christ in our day (see Romans 12:1-2).

The pandemic has put us all under stress in ways that we have not experienced before.  Reading about the saints, and especially the Collects for the days of remembering particular saints, provides a way to learn how the Church has experienced the grace of God being made manifest in particular lives.

As we consider those who have died, whether recent or in the distant past, what is it about their lives that most clearly shows you the love of God in Christ Jesus?  What is it about their lives that reveals the glory and grace of God to you?

How is God’s grace being shown forth in us, as a parish and as a Diocese?  If someone were to write a Collect about us during the pandemic, what aspects of our lives together might be highlighted as showing how God has granted us grace to live virtuous and godly lives, in continuity with the lives of the saints? 

Note 1:  Different churches have different theologies that informs them about whom to include in Church Calendars.  With respect to this Collect, it is possible to read “your blessed saints” in a more restrictive way, thinking only of those saints who are listed in our Calendar (see BCP 16-17, 19-31).  However, given the Collects in The Common of Saints (BCP 246-250), it seems to me that “saints” can be understood in the broader, New Testament use of “saints” as those who have been made holy through Baptism and Eucharist and who seek to live virtuous and godly lives (living into The Baptismal Covenant) for the glory of God (for additional information on the definition of “saints” within the Episcopal Church, see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/glossary/saint/).

Note 2:  While recognizing that in the Episcopal Church we have a diversity of understanding who could be on our calendars, the following quotation from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2018) is useful: “In the saints we are not dealing primarily with absolutes of perfection but human lives, in all their diversity, open to the motions of the Holy Spirit. Many a holy life, when carefully examined, will reveal flaws or the bias of a particular moment in history or ecclesial perspective. It should encourage us to realize that the saints, like us, are first and foremost redeemed sinners in whom the risen Christ’s words to St. Paul come to fulfillment, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (https://www.edusc.org/uploads/files/revised-lesser-feasts-and-fasts-2018_332.pdf, pages 2-3).

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship
 in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living,
that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
(BCP 245)

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick
The citations from Marion Hatchett are from his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, HarperOne, 1995
Quotations and page references to The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) are from the 1979 standard edition. 
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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