Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Collect - Epiphany I

The Prayer

LORDE we beseche the mercyfullye to receive the praiers of thy people which cal upon thee; and graunt that they maie both perceave and knowe what thinges they ought to do, and also have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same, through Jesus Christ our lord.


This collect is Cranmer's translation of the Old Latin Collect as it appeared in the Sarum Missal

Between the Papacy of Pope Leo XIII and Vatican II, the First Sunday of Epiphany celebrated the feast of the Holy Family (with a new collect written to correspond with the old readings). This has subsequently been moved to the first Sunday after Christmas (or December 30) to make way for the feast of the Lord's Baptism which brings Catholic celebrations in line with the Eastern understanding of the Epiphany (now adopted by Protestants and many Anglicans). The collect instituted by Cranmer for the Sunday in the octave of Epiphany evolved very little save for the addition of "through Jesus Christ our lord" in 1552.


The Collect from Cranmer seems rather non-specific, doesn't it? "Dear Lord, hear our prayers. Help us to know what we are supposed to be doing, and help us to do it." It's a very simple prayer, but is it a prayer that is ever answered? Despite its simplicity, it recognises two central facts about human beings:

1) We don't know what we're supposed to be doing.
2) Even when we do know what we're supposed to be doing, we don't do it.

It's easy for Christians to get hung up on these two facts, to become paralysed with the fear of sinning so that we cannot do anything, which in itself is a sin. God is remarkably generous with the gift of free-will. We have an enormous freedom to become the person whom God created us to be despite the attempts by the Adversary to stop us. What does God want of us? Keep the commandments: love Him most, love others too. We cannot disobey God if we fulfil these rules. But the trouble with love is that it calls us to walk right up to the boundary of sin and to skirt that boundary continually. Go over that boundary and we sin; withdraw from that boundary and we are not loving enough.

We constantly fall one way or the other, and Cranmer prays that we strike the balance between not doing enough and going too far in our attempts to love our neighbour. We will go wrong, but have a merciful God, as Cranmer recognises in his collect. How far away are you from the boundary?

Jonathan Munn (with minor additions by EP)

No comments: