The Collect for The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Eternal Father,
you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation:
Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world,
our Lord Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
(BCP 213)

Historical and Theological Introduction 

The Collect, and the name for this feast day, are new to the 1979 BCP.[1]  Up until 1979, the name of this holy day in our BCP had been The Circumcision of Christ.   According to Marion Hatchett, the Epistle reading used for this feast in the 1549 English BCP, Romans 4:8-14, with the Collect of the 1549 book “caused the renowned English scholar F. E. Brightman to comment: ‘[they had] altered the proportion of things, and in fact had turned the day into a commemoration of circumcision, rather than of the Circumcision of our Lord, not to edification.’”[2]

A bit of history of this feast day prior to Brightman’s critique helps put his concern into context.  By the 12th century, the theological concepts and moral teachings from this holy day were four-fold: it completes the Octave of the Holy Nativity (the eight-day celebration of Jesus’ birth), the naming of Jesus, his first incident of the shedding of his blood on behalf of humanity, and the signs of circumcision.[3]  The Collect used in the 1549 BCP, modernized in 1892 and in use until our 1979 BCP, reads as

Almighty God,
who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man;
grant to us the true circumcision of the Spirit, that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts,
we may in all things obey thy blessed will, through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.[4]

While this older Collect focuses on a spiritual meaning of circumcision (mortification of the flesh), it does capture the importance of Jesus’ physical circumcision (obedient to the law can be read as coming under the Covenantal agreement that God made with Abraham and which defines him as a Jewish male).  However, if popular piety by the time Brightman wrote had shifted the teachings about this holy day to mere moralism, without the grounding of the historical and theological significance to connect Jesus’ physical circumcision with the spiritual application of circumcision with its moral and ethical implications, then Brightman’s critique needed to be addressed (see Deuteronomy 30:6 and Colossians 2:11).

Yet to shift the focus from the multiple theologically significant aspects of Jesus’ circumcision to a single focus, as important as this single focus is, also causes problems.  When we shift completely from circumcision to naming, we neglect to celebrate the giving of a Jewish identity, both culturally and religiously, and, in the physical reception of this Jewish identity, the shedding of his blood for humanity for the first time. 

That Brightman wrote his assessment of this aspect of Anglican theology before the atrocities against the Jews in WWII needs to be mentioned.  Christian theology, especially the recognition of the Jewishness of Jesus and its importance in our understanding of the New Testament and early Christianity, shifted after WWII as a result of the recognition of the use and misuse of Christian texts against the Jews.  Correcting our reading of scripture to recognize the particular culture and political setting that Jesus was born into has been long coming and still needs considerable attention.[5]

I wonder, however, if an ancient heresy is also fed by this shift—that our souls alone are what need saving and that our physical bodies are inconsequential.  Not taking into account the ritualized permanent marking of the flesh that happens as part of the circumcision of males can be a symptom of losing the importance of the Incarnation.  We were created as interdependent bodies and souls; to be human requires us, in all of its messiness, to recognize that we are part of a good creation that desperately needs salvation.  This salvation is worked out in the flesh and blood of Jesus. 

The recognition of Jesus as a Jew, circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the Jewish law, helps us make sense of our salvation because through the Incarnation our salvation is grounded in human history.  While Jesus is, as our 1979 Collect states, the Savior of the World, the way our salvation is worked out in human history is contextualized in a Roman-occupied, Jewish worldview.  Jesus’ cultural and religious identity as a Jew is a foundational part of the redemptive narrative (see John 4:4-26).

The source for our present Collect is a prayer found in Eric Milner-White’s 1936 A Cambridge Bede Book, revised.[6]  With the change in emphasis of this feast day, the eucharistic readings also shifted in emphasis.  The Epistle reading in our present lectionary uses Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11, both of which focus on Jesus’ humanity, which is implicit in his ability to be circumcised.  Yet the Gospel reading, Luke 2:15-21, continues to make clear that the emphasis for the feast is the circumcision of Jesus in spite of the change in the name of the feast day.  Through his circumcision, Jesus’ cultural and religious identity is clearly marked as Jewish, placing him under the law as a member of the covenant that God made with Abraham on the eighth day (Genesis 17:9-12).  At his circumcision, he received the name that both Mary (Luke 1:26-33) and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) were instructed to give to him. 

The Preamble

In our 1979 BCP, this Preamble, “Eternal Father,” is used only in this Collect (both the traditional and the contemporary versions), the ancient hymn Te Deum laudemus (Canticle 21 of Morning Prayer Rite II, BCP 95), and the prayer used by the Bishop to consecrate the Baptismal chrism (Holy Baptism, BCP 307).  However, every time we say the Lesser Doxology (“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever”) in the Daily Office (BCP 80, 84, 103, 117, 118, 128, 131, 135), we are affirming the eternality of the relationship of Father and Son within the Holy Trinity.  How this eternal relationship—the Father’s begetting of the Son—is somehow similar to the relationship between earthly parents and children and yet completely outside of time (the eternality part) is part of the mystery of the Trinity that we proclaim in the Nicene Creed (BCP 358; see also the Athanasian Creed, BCP 864-5 and the meditation on the third Collect for the Nativity of our Lord).

The Acknowledgement

The Acknowledgement, “you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation,” has two important concepts woven together.  It begins with another mystery of our faith:  the incarnation of the Son (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:9; Nicene Creed, BCP 358; see also the Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ, BCP 864 and “God the Son,” Catechism, BCP 849-50).  

Then, the Acknowledgement states that the name given to the Son, Jesus, was given to him by God the Father for our sake, as a sign of our salvation.  Jesus, the English translation of the Greek form of Joshua, literally means “God saves,” where God is an English substitution for the name God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14).  Matthew 1:21-23 provides additional details: Joseph was told to name Mary’s child “Jesus” for the reason that “he will save his people from their sins.” 

The Petition

The Petition, “Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ,” expands our vision:  Jesus is not just the Savior of some of the people, but is the Savior of the world (John 4:39-42, Titus 2:11-14, Galatians 4:3-6).  With this expanded vision of Jesus’ redemptive work, we pray not just for ourselves, but for all the people of the world to come to love Jesus.  Through love of Jesus, hearts and minds are changed (John 14:21-23) in ways that restore each person to unity with God, each other (“Church,” Catechism, 855), and creation. 

The Pleading

The Pleading, “who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.” returns us to the mystery of the unity of the Trinity in our prayers.  In this one short Collect, our prayer depends upon the mystery of the eternal Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son, and the salvation of the world through the transformation of human hearts, all accomplished through the sovereignty of the eternal and undivided Trinity.

For your consideration

What do we do, as a parish, diocese, and as a denomination, that helps us recognize Jesus’ name as the sign of our salvation? 

How might considering that Jesus is the Savior of the world affect how you present and represent Jesus to others? 

Eternal Father,
you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation:
Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world,
our Lord Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

[1] See Paul V. Marshall, Prayer Book Parallels (New York:  Church Publishing, 1990) II.83

[2] Quoted by Marion J. Hatchett (Commentary on the American Prayer Book, (New York:  Harper Collins, 1995), 169) without a source.  While the exact date of this quotation is difficult to track down, it was written prior to 1932. 

[3] “Circumcision” in The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275.  First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)  A copy of this text can be found here: (note regarding this text:  “utas” is Octave; the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord completes the Nativity Octave)

[4] See Paul V. Marshall, Prayer Book Parallels (New York:  Church Publishing, 1990) II.82.

[5] The relationship between Judaism and Christianity has been in tension since the time of the early Church.  Since the declaration of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in (the Edict of Thessalonica), this tension increased. Jews were expelled from England in 1290 after years of persecution.  How much more so do we need to mind this relationship since the Holocaust. 

[6] Hatchett, 169

© 2022 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick

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