Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for Proper 20 (aka The Sunday closest to September 21st; in 2017, September 24, and the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
The Collect for Proper 20 is another very ancient prayer that is no longer in its original position and purpose, but made use for a different Sunday. And this is the first time it is found in a Book of Common Prayer, so we are making use of it after a long, long departure. The primary reason for it not being in use seems to be associated with where it was first found published, which was in the Leonine Sacramentary (or now quite often called the Verona Sacramentary because that’s where the document was first discovered after almost a thousand years). The Leonine Sacramentary was basically a collection of a huge selection of liturgical prayers for any one given feast day. For instance, this Sacramentary had 48 sets of mass prayers just for the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul! And that’s the situation with this collect. It was set in the Sacramentary as one of quite a few sets of Mass prayers for the feast of the Ascension. You could probably tell that right away with the language of things earthly and things heavenly, with Jesus’ ascension. But there were other sets of prayers and collects, one of which is the still the Gold Standard for Ascension across the Body of Christ. That left this one as being not abandoned, but simply not the preferential collect. The Book of Common Prayer has two of those ancient collects for use (priest picks) for Ascension. This collect , translated from the Latin, by the Rev. Professor William Bright in his “Ancient Collects” publication (1861), was put to use by the Prayer Book Revision committee, then, not for Ascension, but because it fit so well the intended them for the Proper 20 lessons – which are full of material that can be considered “anxious.” Just for fun, here is the original collect with a fairly contemporary
Here’s the Collect (contemporary version) for the Sunday closest to September 21st, Proper 20:
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; 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 in this collect is, simply, very short: “Lord.” The simplicity of calling upon the name of the Lord without any further verbiage is actually quite powerful in terms of this collect. There is One Lord, One Faith, One God and Father of all, and as we keep that in mind, in becomes easier to BE mindful of our focus and hope as Christians, we who Peter says are aliens in a foreign land waiting for the consummation of all things. So then the petition of the collect asks the Lord to grant or help us with His power to not be anxious, or, not to mind earthly things. We are not calling upon the Lord of this or that attribute, or the Lord who does this or that mercy; it is simply “the Lord,” in His everything. As noted above, the collect was originally written as an Ascension collect, in which setting we can understand the anxiousness of the apostles as they watched Jesus disappear into heaven and they are left alone. We can relate because we have had our own departures, and changes, and lack of control due to the world we live in. Ultimately, the problem with anxiety is that it blinds us to the good news that’s all around us, especially as we gather in worship. Yes, bad things happen and suffering is real, but in the end, it’s Easter and love wins forever. And this is where the petition of this collect leads. That is, we are recognizing that we live in a deteriorating world, we are to “hold fast” to the promise given by God that there is a new life “that shall endure”, that is, that shall abide forever!! This is our hope and our prayer.
If you are hearing this prayer read on Sunday morning, then you are exactly in the right place, where, in the readings that follow the collect, in the sermon, in the prayers, in the fellowship, in the sacrament we are reminded of Easter. Rather than trying to bury our anxieties deep in our gut, we bring them here where every Sunday we’re reminded that, yes, terrible things happen, but, in the end, love wins and endures forever. Hallelujah!
It’s worth stating again. Here is a fresh translation of the ancient collect from Latin :
Grant to us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but rather to love heavenly things,
that while all things around us pass away, we even now may hold fast those things which abide forever.