Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us;
granting us in this world knowledge of your truth,
and in the age to come life everlasting.
(from A Prayer of St. Chrysostom, BCP 102, 126, see also BCP 59, 72)
In the spring of 2021, the Diocesan Canon for Evangelism and Discipleship Development, the Rev. Whitney Rice, visited our parish. During this visit, she invited us to consider how evangelism, for Episcopalians, is sharing the story of how we experience the Good News of Jesus Christ and inviting others to join us in this journey of reconciliation with God, our selves, our neighbors, and creation.
This invitation to consider evangelism as telling our story of our encounter with God spurred a series of questions for me: What does our shared story sound like? What does intentionally living into the fullness of this story look and feel like? How can I help this parish live into this invitation? Might the weekly Collects, seen through the lens of the petition in A Prayer of St. Chrysostom, help us develop a common language to describe our story of being enfolded in the love of God? Could this common way of telling our story of our encounter with God become a means of inviting others to join us in this adventure of living out our Baptismal Covenant?
In order to foster a contemplative conversation about how God is answering our prayers as is best for us, I have sought to unpack the rich theology in the Sunday Collects, defining terms when necessary, identifying some of the scriptural allusions and quotations found in these prayers, and pointing to allusions or similar concepts in other portions of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and Enriching Our Worship 1 (EOW1). I have not been exhaustive in making these connections—my goal has been to demonstrate some of the relationships between these Collects, Scripture, and other portions of our common prayers. I invite you to consider how the continued use of these ancient prayers is a significant part of our Episcopal expression of the Great Tradition of the Church.
My prayer is that these meditations serve as a springboard for you, whether individually or in study groups, to tell the story of how God is answering these ancient prayers in our day.
In the Western Church, the opening prayer of the Eucharist has traditionally been called the “Collect” (pronounced Coll’-ect, emphasis on the first syllable), a term which may have been chosen to describe what was being done with this prayer. The Collect is a short prayer focusing on one thing. This prayer form is either a “summing up of the prayers of the individuals who have been called to pray” or “the prayer said at the collecting of the people at the start of the Mass.”
The Collect has a particular literary structure that “displays a certain succinct rhythm and symmetry.” This structure has a minimum of three and a maximum of five parts. How these parts are defined and named varies among scholars who have written about them. I’ve used the structure described by C. Fredrick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl:
- the Preamble: the address of God (typically God the Father) as the one to whom we are speaking;
- the Acknowledgement: the doctrinal basis upon which the petition is made (optional);
- the Petition: what we ask from God;
- the Aspiration: the “that” or “so that” clause of the request (optional); and
- the Pleading: the formalized invocation of all three persons of the Trinity, particularly Christ as our mediator, to grant our request.
Working with this structure allows the Collects to be instructional for us as we pray them. But, more important, because Collects are prayers, they are transformational. We are asking God to do something to or through us by our praying these words.
One of the optional prayers in Morning and Evening Prayer, A Prayer of St. Chrysostom (BCP 102, 126), includes the petition “Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.” This petition offers an entry into contemplation: I suggest that meditating on the Collects in order to discern how God has been answering these prayers as is best for us will help us see God’s work in us and for us. As we see God’s gracious and merciful working in our lives, we will begin to find our way of sharing the Good News of God in Christ.
To that end, I invite you to join me in an exploration of the Collects, thinking in terms of larger questions across the meditations:
- What does this Collect tell us about God?
- What does this Collect tell us about ourselves?
- What does this Collect tell us about the Good News of God in Christ?
- What does this Collect tell us about our journeying together as we discover and share this Good News?
- What do we ask of God in these prayers and what do we hope to do with the grace and gifts for which we ask?
May your reflections on these bigger questions as well as the questions that accompany each meditation inspire a deeper awareness of God’s grace in the life of the Church as well as in your own life.
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Sister Donna Ruth Hawk-Reinhard, AF
 Paul F. M. Zahl and C. Frederick Barbee, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), x.
 Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1995), 163.
 Hatchett, 164.
 Zahl and Barbee, x-xi.
 “The general rule is, that a Collect is addressed to God the Father. Pope Benedict XIV quotes Cardinal Bona’s statement, that only a few Collects are expressly offered to the Son, and none to the Holy Spirit; partly because the Eucharistic worship has regard to the Sacrifice offered to the Father by the Son.” William Bright, Ancient Collects and Other Prayers Selected for Devotional Use from Various Rituals (n.p.: 1862, reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2012), 201.
 A Prayer of St. Chrysostom, adapted by Thomas Cranmer from Latin translations of the medieval liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, and linguistically updated 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; Paul V. Marshall, Prayer Book Parallels (New York: Church Publishing, 1990) I.142-3.