Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Collect - Whitsunday

The Prayer

O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Commentary

The Collect for Pentecost appeared in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) and prior to that in the Sarum missal and in the Gregorian sacramentary.

The 1979 ECUSA prayer book substitutes “through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord” for the traditional words: “through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior” (p. 227). Marion Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book does not give an explanation. It may be that Hatchett didn’t consider the change significant, but given ECUSA’s decades-long slide in apostasy, the change suggests that the traditional words posed a problem for the Standing Liturgical Commission. One wonders how it is possible to call Jesus Christ “Lord” without first acclaiming Him “Savior”?

Note that the traditional Collect is addressed to the Father who sends the Spirit to teach and illumine the hearts of the faithful. It petitions the Father that, through the same Spirit, we might have right judgment and rejoice in his holy comfort. The fundamental teachings of the Church are all here: The Father sends the Spirit. The Spirit teaches, illumines, comforts and makes right judgment possible. All is accomplished through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, who is one with the Father and the Spirit forever. The Collect focuses less on the signs and wonders of Pentecost than on the nature of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. This prayer, like so many in the Book of Common Prayer, has the quality of catechesis.

Now compare the Collect to this contemporary Church of England Collect, which is addressed to the Holy Spirit:

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father,
ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the Church of England, those who favor traditional language continue to use the 1549 Collect, but it largely has been supplanted by this contemporary option which stresses signs of the Spirit with these verbs: ignite, strengthen, revive and renew. There is nothing theologically amiss with this contemporary Collect. It simply lacks depth. It fails to take up to the greater Trinitarian mystery concerning the will of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Meditation

There is great wisdom in the old prayers. Here is yet another example of the superiority of the old to the new. The Church is founded on the reality that God has sent both the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit. There can be no separation of the two because They form a single divine mystery which is akin to the mystery of creation, but much greater.

The working of the Spirit after Pentecost is distinct from the work of the Spirit before Pentecost because the Spirit now works in a new reality, the Church. This great Collect reminds us that the Holy Spirit is sent to the Church, not the world, because just as the world received Him not, neither does the world receive the Spirit, the Giver of Life. But those who receive Him, receive the Spirit, and to such are given the power to become the sons of God.

Alice Linsley

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Here is yet another example of the superiority of the old to the new."

Amen to that. When will people realise that we value the old not by virtue of its superior antiquity (although that is a reason in itself), but by virtue of its superiority?