The Collect for Proper 11:  The Sunday closest to July 20

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom,
you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking:
Have compassion on our weakness,
and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not,
and for our blindness we cannot ask;
through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 231)

According to Marion Hatchett, this Collect was first used in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.  It was one of six Collects that could be used at the end of a Sunday service when the Eucharist was not celebrated.  In subsequent Books of Common Prayer, the potential use of these Collects expanded to Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and after the Litany.  The primary Scriptural foundation for this Collect is Ecclesiasticus 1:6, Matthew 8:8, and Romans 8:26 (Hatchett, 189).

The Preamble, “Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom,” calls us to consider God’s omnipotence as we pray.  The Preamble continues with a paraphrase from Ecclesiasticus 1:6 to provide us with the description of God as “the fountain of all wisdom.”  Describing God as the source of all wisdom is an invitation to consider how God uses God’s deep knowledge of everything. 

The Acknowledgement, “you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking,” contrasts our ignorance with God’s deep knowledge of us.  God, who knows what we need before we ask and who also knows our lack of wisdom in both asking and even knowing what to ask, responds to our needs wisely out of love.  In A Prayer of St. Chrysostom (BCP 102, 126) we ask that God answer our prayers as is best for us.  This Collect echoes the doctrinal statement behind this translation of a very ancient prayer.  On the use of A Prayer of St. Chrysostom, see the note.

God’s compassion and mercy are additional aspects of God’s character recalled in the Petition.  Weekly, in the Nicene Creed, we remember and state our trust in the most clear demonstration of God’s compassion:  “for our sake and for our salvation” the Son became fully human (BCP 358).  Compassion is often defined as “to suffer with” – by becoming one of us, the fully divine Son of God entered into our suffering in a completely human way.  When he ascended into heaven, Jesus took all that it means to be human into heaven (see Catechism, “God the Son,” BCP 850). This means that the Triune God not only knows what it is to be human from the perspective of our wise Creator and our indwelling Comforter, but also as one who has lived among us as one of us. God’s mercy toward us is from knowing us as the One who made us (Psalm 103:13-14) as One who has walked among us as one of us (Hebrews 2:14-18) and as the One who abides within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). 

The Petition, “Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask,” has three parts. 

In the first part, we call upon God to “Have compassion on our weakness.”  Recognizing our weakness, our inability to fix ourselves and our circumstances, is hard work—our society values those who seem to be strong and able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  This Collect calls us to honestly acknowledge our finiteness and our frailty and to admit that we can’t fix ourselves.  Yet confessing our weaknesses to God is no surprise to God who, as our Creator, knows our limitations (See Hebrews 4:15-16).  This part of the Petition helps us place ourselves under the care of our compassionate God.

In the second part of the Petition, “mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not … ask,” is, according to Hatchett, a reference to the words of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13.  In this narrative, while the centurion knew that he wasn’t worthy to have Jesus enter into his house to heal his servant, he dared to ask Jesus to miraculously heal his servant.  With Matthew 8:8 as one of the Biblical texts forming the foundation of this Collect, this part of the Petition contrasts our unworthiness with our trust in God’s mercy to respond to our unspoken yet very real needs. 

In the third part, “mercifully give us those things which for … for our blindness we cannot ask,” is a reference to Romans 8:26:  “Likewise the Spirit helps in our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (NRSV).  We are blind to what we need to ask for many reasons, but this Collect doesn’t ask us to explore why we are blind.  The focus is on our almighty and merciful God’s wise and compassionate response to our unseen needs. 

The Pleading, “through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen,” contrasts our unworthiness mentioned in the Petition with Jesus’s worthiness.  This contrast continues the theme of our great need and our inability to express it.  God’s wise, merciful, and compassionate response to our needs doesn’t wait for us to find the right words, but is based solely upon the worthiness of Jesus.

Note:  A Prayer of St. Chrysostom, adapted by Thomas Cranmer from Latin translations of the medieval liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, and updated in language in 1979, was the required concluding prayer for Morning and Evening Prayer between 1662 and our 1928 BCP but is now optional; (Hatchett, 130-1; Marshall I:142-3).  

Have you experienced God answering a prayer request that you didn’t ask?  What prayers have we, as a parish, felt unable (or didn’t think) to pray that God has answered out of God’s wisdom, compassion, and mercy?

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom,
you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking:
Have compassion on our weakness,
and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not,
and for our blindness we cannot ask;
through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 231)

© 2022 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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