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.