Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for Proper 14 (aka The Sunday closest to August 10th; in 2017, August 13, and the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)
This is another of the ancient collects, and found in all three of the earliest existing sacramentaries, the Leonine (for Pope Leo), the Gelasian (for Pope Gelasius), and the Gregorian (for Pope Gregory). Just for historical review, these sacramentaries exist from the 7th century, the early 8th century and the late 8th century, as I’ve listed them here. The popes they are named for lived 150 to 200 years before each of these copies. For instance, the sacramentary honoring Gregory the Great was ordered to be written in about 790 AD at Charlemagne’s order; though Pope Gregory died in 604. This is a reflection of the continuing esteem for the liturgical genius and gifts of Pope Gregory. And remember, these sacramentaries contain prayers authored well before their compilation, and some included for the first time. When a collect we are using in 2017 was also contained in all three of those sacramentaries (as well as in every Anglican Book of Common Prayer since then, such as this one), we know we are using a collect that has well stood the test of time and petition. Most of its prayerful life has been found in the season following Trinity, or Pentecost Sundays.
There is a scriptural allusion to the more original writing of the collect found in the sacramentary that is represented in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and that would be Philippians 4:8-9:
” Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Here’s the Collect for the Sunday closest to August 10, Proper 14:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The address to God is extremely short – “… Lord …” – and so the collect is primarily a petition. Still, the petition implies knowledge of a Biblical premise, given by God. So the collect could have started by this address, “O Lord, who has directed us through the scripture to do always those things that are right ….” Then we see the petition more clearly: “Grant to us the spirit to actually accomplish those things, and thus live by your will.” The place of grace in the collect, as Archbishop Cranmer wanted to secure. was in the words “by you be able.” It is one of those collects, again, that acknowledges what God desires from us, and then, with the painful recognition that we are in and by ourselves unable to do what we are called to do, we implore God – the only one who can help us – to enable, or more strongly empower us to accomplish the work (Dr. Marion Hatchett suggests the Latin here could be beefed up a bit in translation to English to read, “that we may be powerful to live according …”). And the work? It is to think and do always those things that are right. Even more so, without God we cannot even “live.” God has already proven to us His desire for us to gain salvation by sending His Son Jesus Christ. This prayer, then, takes the faith we already have in His ability to help us carry out His standard of living and ministry, and gives further voice in humility and desire to serve the Living God.