The Collect for The First Sunday in Lent

Almighty God,
whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan:
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;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 218)

According to Marion Hatchett, rather than use the Collect from the late-seventh-century Gregorian Sacramentary that the Sarum Missal (late 11th century) continued to use, or the one composed by Thomas Cranmer, the revisers working on the 1979 BCP selected an original Collect composed by William Bright and included in his book, Ancient Collects.  Hatchett states that Thomas Cranmer abandoned the traditional Collect for the First Sunday in Lent because he felt that it had “Pelagian overtones.”  The issue was that, according to Cranmer, the Collect “impli[ed] that we must strive to obtain the gifts which God is anxious to give to those who seek” (for more about Pelagianism, see the Note below).  The Collect by William Bright was selected because “[i]t relates closely to the Gospel for all three years … and is particularly fitting as we enter this season of penitence in preparation for baptism or renewal of baptismal vows” (Hatchett, 174). 

Both of the older Collects focus on the action of fasting in imitation of Christ during the 40 days he was in the desert, which is the biblical basis for the duration of Lent.  But, while fasting is mentioned in the Year A and Year C Gospel readings (Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, respectively), it is not explicitly mentioned in the Year B (Mark 1:9-15) reading.  The present Collect continues Cranmer’s critique of a possible Pelagian understanding of the older Collect and appears to make the same critique of the Collect that Cranmer composed to replace it.  I find it intriguing that the Collect chosen to set the tone for Lent in An Order of Worship for the Evening is neither this Collect nor the Collect for Ash Wednesday, but one that more clearly picks up the theme of penitence (BCP 111 and available on our website). 

The Preamble, “Almighty God,” addresses God in a way that invites us to consider what mighty act we are asking God to do on our behalf.

The Acknowledgement, “whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan” focuses on the historical event in the life of Jesus that is the central theme selected from all three of the Gospel readings for this Sunday. 

The Petition, “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,” blends concepts from 1 Corinthians 10:13 with Hebrews 2:14-18:  the Holy Trinity understands the struggle with temptation because Jesus, the Son of God, endured temptation as a human person.  With his ascension, not only was our shared humanity brought into the life of the Trinity, but also the lived experience of struggling against temptation. 

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, one of the ways that God is mighty to save is providing a way out of temptation.  This passage helps in our understanding of what “salvation” can look like – awareness of and grace to take the way out of temptation.

The call for God to come quickly and save us is used daily in both An Order of Service for Noonday and Compline:  “O God, make speed to save us.  O Lord, make haste to help us” (BCP 103, 128; from Psalm 70:1).

In the Pleading, “through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen,” we pray through the one who faced temptation on our behalf as one of us, to the Holy Trinity who compassionately offers us mercy.

How does knowing that the Trinity understands your temptation through the lens of human flesh encourage you to pray for yourself—that you might be able to see the way out of temptation?

How does knowing that the Trinity understands each of our temptations and is aware of our individual and corporate weaknesses encourage us to pray for ourselves, each other, the church, and the world?

How have you been rescued from temptation in the past?  What temptation do you need to call upon God to come quickly to save you from?

How have we as a parish been rescued from temptation in the past?  What temptations do you think that the parish now faces, either as a result of the pandemic or other concerns or needs? 

Note:  Pelagianism, attributed to the teachings of a colleague of the British monk, Pelagius (c 355 – c 420), is a heresy that proposes that humans are able to achieve perfection (divinization, that is, to become fully all that we are intended to be as humans participating in the divine life) without God’s grace.  From the extant documents written by Pelagius, scholars involved in the current reassessment of the history of the time of Pelagius posit that Pelagius did not teach what has come to be known as Pelagianism.  Pelagius criticized the lax spiritual practices of Roman Christians and urged them to strive for a more ascetical life (that is, to turn away from secular ways of life to a more counter-cultural way of following the Gospel).  Pelagius opposed aspects of Augustine of Hippo’s teachings in the areas of human nature, grace, and sin; in the midst of their polemics, some have argued that both Pelagius and Augustine went too far in their responses to critiques of their theological positions.  In response to concerns about Pelagianism that arose during Cranmer’s day, our Collects consistently focus on our need for God’s grace.

Almighty God,
whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan:
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;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

© 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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