Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for Proper 12 (aka The Sunday closest to July 27th; in 2017, July 30, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)
Here is an ancient collect that can be traced to all three of the sacramentaries, which are our earliest written sources for these Eucharistic prayers. As well, it has always been placed in the Sundays after Pentecost, the 4th to be exact (or, synonymously in the English books even before the first of the Books of Common Prayer, for the 4th Sunday after Trinity). Thus, even though now moved from that ancient position to its new place the American 1979 BCP as the Collect for Proper 12, it hasn’t been moved too far, within a proximity of 5 to 11 weeks. The opening phrase, or “invitation” or “address” to God, is so very distinctive, that it is easy for long-time Episcopalians (and Roman Catholics) to feel comfortable with its familiar words immediately as it is spoken.
The essence of the prayer scripturally is the phrase that shows up in several places, such as Psalm 56, “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in the Lord.”
Here’s the Collect for the Sunday closest to July 27, Proper 12:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As the address to God points to the scriptural timeless truth of relying upon God’s strength and ways, still that language can cause its intent to be interpreted in two different ways in terms of “time.” It can speak to temporal time, that being our lives now. It can also point to eternal time, receiving that which is being requested in the prayer after Jesus comes again. Some of this potential confusion was inserted by Archbishop Cranmer himself in changing an original word from “hope” to “trust.” But it doesn’t have to be seen as contradictory. Whether he intended it as such or not, it simply allows a large group of people, listening to the prayer as the Collect for the day, to enter into the prayer as their current life situation presses. The bidding of the prayer really is the same as the address, in that we confess our goal is eternal life and we need help to get there.
There is another way to look at the second half of the address in this Collect that was brilliantly displayed by C. S. Lewis in his insightful book The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictionalized set of correspondence between a senior and junior demon. Quoting this collect, Lewis personifies the word “Nothing,” causing the reader to more fully comprehend the work of the Enemy. But it also gives us a heads up to how we understand our own lives, and the need to bring God to the fore, with the spiritual danger of not.
I encourage the reading of the whole book, which most clergy and parish libraries will have on their shelves for borrowing. But here is the excerpt, as the senior demon has written to his demon “nephew” Wormwood:
“….You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.” (From C.S.Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter XII)