Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Collect

Next week is the First Sunday of Advent, abbreviated as Advent I, and the first day of the liturgical year in the Western Catholic church.

With the intent of broadening the spiritual content of The Continuum, we will inaugurate on Advent I a new weekly feature -- The Collect.

Each week, we will post the collect for that week, along with a short commentary. The commentary will, whenever possible, include some history on the background of that particular prayer. It will also include some reflections on what the collect is saying and how we might make it a part of our own lives.

I am inaugurating this series as part of my own ministry, and hope to write many of the weekly commentaries. However, I am also looking forward to my co-hosts contributing, and would also welcome any reader of The Continuum to offer to take on the work for a given week. Any readers so interested are invited to contact me by email.

In the meantime, as we prepare ourselves for this new venture, here is a bit of background on collects and what they are all about.

Those of you who grew up in the Anglican tradition, or have come to it from the Roman Catholic and other liturgical churches, will be familiar with the use of the collect in the Mass and in the Daily Offices. But even you might find edifying the following article, in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which traces the history of this type of liturgical prayer.

Francis Procter in A New History of the Book of Common Prayer (revised and rewritten by Walter Howard Frere) tells us that a collect is "a form of prayer with special characteristics of its own; these stand out the more clearly by contrast with two other types of prayer, viz., Litany, which is prayer in dialogue, and Eucharistic prayer."

Procter says the "Collects were originally the summing up of the private silent prayer of the congregation: the officiant propounded certain subjects for prayer in the form of a bidding."

He goes on to explain that the "typical Collect of the old Roman sacramentaries, from which collections a great number of the Collects of the Prayer Book is taken, has also a structure, which is markedly its own, being distinguished by unity of thought and terseness of expression. It generally consists of (i) an introductory address and commemoration, on which is based (ii) a single central prayer: from this in turn (iii) other clauses of petition or desire are developed, and (iv) the whole concludes with some fixed form of ending.

What we will be focusing on in this series is one type of collect, the Eucharistic one, and specifically the one that precedes the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel. Some of these collects are ancient in composition, and were translated by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the process of his producing the first Book of Common Prayer, which was introduced in 1549. Others were written by Cranmer and his collaborators.

These collects, which like the rest of the BCP are profoundly bibilical in content, focus on the themes of the seasons of the liturgical year -- Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity -- or on specific occasions within the year, such as a saint's day.

Their liturgical significance is manifold. Firstly, they serve to do just what their name implies -- focus the prayers of the faithful around the world and throughout the ages on one single theme. Secondly, they serve as a devotional tool, by giving us a theme on which to focus our study, prayer and meditation on that given day or week. And finally, and taking into account the centrality of how Anglicans worship as a reflection of what they believe (lex orandi lex credendi), the collects contribute to the safeguarding of sound Christian doctrine.

I pray that this series will be a blessing to us all -- those of us who produce it and those who read it.


Anonymous said...

I for one can hardly wait. Congratulations, bloggers, on a great idea, which I am sure will blossom into a great series of articles--yet another reason why this is simply the best blog for Continuers, would-be Continuers and semi-Continuers.

Albion Land said...

Blush. Blush. Shuffle.

Thank you, Salome, for one for the nicest things I have heard this year.

I would be interested to know what you mean by "semi-Continuers." Are these the sort of people who would join us if they only knew about us, or what?

Anonymous said...

In my own private language, semi-Continuers are Forward in Faith people who rely on the open-door concordat with the TAC. It is largely, if not entirely, an Australian phenomenon (although Bishop Moyer was consecrated by a combination of FiF and TAC bishops in a ceremony that made one for Australia).

Ken said...

So the "Collect" actually serves to collect private prayers of the congregation? That's pretty neat.

This seems to mean that the faithful should already have a knowledge of the day's "theme". I guess on the more important days they are obvious, but maybe on the lessor days the theme wouldn't be as intuitive and the individual should prepare himself.

I know in the RCC parish I attend the priest, before the collect, gives a short "summary" of the day's readings. Now I know why he does that, so during the prayers before the Collect the congregation can be praying along the same theme.

poetreader said...

As a general rule, in Western Liturgy. the bidding, "Let us Pray" was anciently (and could still be) a bidding to silent prayer. A permission, in fact, to pray, within the liturgy, whatever one feels impelled to pray. One should, of course, be in tune with what has been happening (and is going to happen), but is not rigidly bound to a theme. Whatever prayer - often a collect, but sometimes Pater Noster or some other form - follows, then has the effect of collecting the prayers of the people and uniting them to a theme.


Anonymous said...

The single best discussion of the origin, siginificance and liturgical seting of the Collect (and Secret and Postcommunion) is in "The Variable Prayers of the Roman Rite" in *Further Essays in Early Roman Liturgy* by G. G. Willis (London, 1968: The Alcuin Club). Willis (1914-1982) was a scholarly Anglican liturgist and a very outspoken "Tractarian" who devoted his life to the study of the Roman liturgical tradition. He was also, as I have been told, a remarkable eccentric.

Willis identifies the Collect as originating at Rome in the 430s, or just at the beginning of the Pontificate of Leo the Great (440-461); the Secret and Postcommunion in the course of his pontificate, or in the years immediately after it. The essays is a superb one, and well worht the effort to track it down.