Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for Proper 21 (aka The Sunday closest to September 28th; in 2017, October 1, and the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)
Often when looking at the history of a particular collect we find one ancient source, and then the collect eventually becoming part of the Anglican series of Prayer Books somewhere along the line. This is one, however, you might say has been quite “popular.” It was found assigned to particular Sundays in the early Gallican Gothic Missal, the Gelasian Sacramentary and the Gregorian Sacramentary supplement. No surprise that it made it into the English Sarum (Salisbury) Missal for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, and that Archbishop Cranmer left it in that position for the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). It remained in that position through the Prayer Books until the 1979 American BCP when it was identified as the Collect for Proper 21. That’s not too far off from its ancient position, perhaps 5 weeks or so. By the way, it was the Sarum Missal that Cranmer – despite his great appreciation for the liturgical historical collection that it was – complained about so loudly, including the priestly practical consideration of how heavy and how laboriously difficult to even turn pages. You might even say that the Sarum Missal (and the English Reformation) were the precipitating reasons for producing the singular document called the Book of Common Prayer. Though several revisions, editions and redactions mark the history of this collect (especially among the English Prayer Books), the 1979 BCP revision makes the collect most like Archbishop Cranmer’s translation from the Latin and then revision for the 1549 BCP.
Here’s the Collect (contemporary version) for the Sunday closest to September 28th, Proper 21:
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The profound Truth of the address to God at the beginning of the collect is rationally and emotionally halting. It is also most likely the reason this Collect has been reproduced for a diversity of liturgical sources. Whereas when we are asked to share what we consider as evidence of God’s almighty power we might talk about Genesis 1 and 2 for creation, or through the acts of God’s sovereignty, the collect points to these things: God’s showing of mercy and pity. You would not be wrong to speak of creation and sovereignty in praise of God’s power; but the greatest work of God will be the establishment of a new covenant in Jesus Christ. And this is possible only because of God’s mercy and pity. With that now in mind, the collect presents its bidding, its petition. We are not to take that mercy and pity for granted. To the contrary, we should be striving, running with all our might, showing our greatest desire to gain the treasure of heaven. And still it is not we who can gain it through our own effort. So the petition begins that we are in need of God’s grace (his Power), and in need of ALL of it, to become “partakers of [His] heavenly treasure.” It would be of no surprise to me to learn that the placement of the words “your (as in God’s) heavenly treasure” exactly adjacent to the words “through Jesus Christ” was intentional. Besides eternal residence in the fullness of the presence of God Almighty being a heavenly treasure, the New Testament writers are very clear that our ultimate treasure is, in fact, an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. Is that treasure yours, as well? I pray so.