The Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent

O God,
whose glory it is always to have mercy:
Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son;
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 218)

Marion Hatchett traces this Collect to one of the Good Friday solemn Collects which, in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, follow “a bidding to pray for heretics and schismatics that they may be delivered from their errors and be recalled to the catholic and apostolic church.”  The context for the current Collect is more general; rather than for those who are teaching errors and attempting to break the unity of the Church, the context now is “those who have abandoned the practice of the Christian faith” (Hatchett, 174).

The Preamble, “O God,” by itself, doesn’t tell us much about the God to whom we pray.

The Acknowledgement, “whose glory it is always to have mercy,” connects two aspects of God’s character.  God’s mercy is inseparable from God’s glorious beauty, magnificence, and honor achieved through God’s marvelous deeds.  God’s mercy is revealed through God’s otherness and distinctiveness from creation (God’s transcendence and God’s magnificence) as well as God’s nearness and engagement with creation (God’s immanence; our experience of God and God’s marvelous deeds).  God, as creator, is not limited by creation (transcendence; Genesis 1:1-2:24 and Psalm 95:3-7, which is part of the Venite of Morning Prayer, BCP 92).  God loves all that God has made; God is not a distant God but is one who dwells with us and answers our cries in the midst of our troubles (immanence; 1 John 4:11-21, Psalm 145:8-13, Psalm 34:15-22).

The Petition, “Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son,” is a cascading petition, with one part of the petition leading to the next, resulting in the final goal of steadfast trust in Jesus Christ. 

The cascading Petition begins with first asking God to be true to God’s self as described in the Acknowledgement.  We ask that God extend mercy to those who have gone astray and not followed God’s ways.  This is not a strange request, since God desires for all to turn and follow God’s ways (Ezekiel 33:10-19, 2 Peter 3:9; see also the Collect for Ash Wednesday, BCP 217).  God’s way of being in the world is the way of saving health (Psalm 67:1-2, Suffrages A of Morning and Evening Prayer, BCP 98, 122). 

This graciousness that we request looks like penitent hearts in those who have gone astray from God’s way.  Penitent hearts are described in the Collect for Ash Wednesday as contrite hearts that lament over their sins and acknowledge their wretchedness.  For a fuller exploration of what this sounds like, read the Litany of Penitence (Ash Wednesday, BCP 267-9).  Since we pray the Litany of Penitence yearly at Ash Wednesday and as part of our Lenten Sunday liturgy (as well as in our Tuesday and Friday noon litanies) and ask for penitent hearts through this practice, we have shifted from the original intention of this Collect—to pray for heretics and schismatics—to pray for ourselves by naming ourselves obliquely.  We have all gone astray, turning to our own way (Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6, which is the first option for the opening Scriptures for Morning Prayer in Holy Week, BCP 76; see also the Catechism, “Sin and Redemption”, BCP 848; 1 John 1:8).  Rather than praying for those who have wandered far from the Church (the ones prayed for in the 7th– and 8th-century Collect), the revised Collect that we have today is actually a prayer for ourselves.

A penitent heart is only part of the gracious gift from God that we request in this Collect; we also ask for penitent hearts to be accompanied by “steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of God’s Word, Jesus Christ.”  As noted in the meditation for The Collect for Proper 25, faith is a gift from God.  In this rapidly changing world, we need the gift of penitent hearts and steadfast faith in Christ so that we can both know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), and so that we can hold on to this unchangeable truth who leads us into right pathways (Psalm 23; see also the second Collect in Compline, BCP 133). 

The Pleading: “who [Jesus Christ] with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen,” brings all three persons of the undivided Trinity into the Collect—the unchangeable truth that we pray to embrace and hold fast to is the truth of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and we come to know the truth through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

Where is your faith feeling unsteady today?  What is the Holy Spirit asking you to set aside, with a penitent heart, this Lent so that you can embrace and hold fast to the truth of Jesus Christ? 

Where is our faith, as a parish, feeling unsteady as we move through this season of Lent?  What is the Holy Spirit inviting us as a parish to turn from in order to turn toward the truth revealed through God’s Word?

O God,
whose glory it is always to have mercy:
Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son;
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and 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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