Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for Proper 22 (aka The Sunday closest to October 5th; in 2017, October 8, and the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
What’s known as the “autumn Ember Days” are calculated now as beginning on the Wednesday after September 14 (Holy Cross Day) – and then St Michael’s Day at the end of the month of September indicated the beginning of “the cool weather of fall.” This is just an aside but the Church calendar has many seasonal associations with holy days. The Ember Days are often associated with the equinoxes, for instance, but it’s not about the equinoxes that we note by them, although their origin contain some agricultural season timing. There were four times during the year set aside for the faithful to pray and fast for thanksgiving, to learn gratefulness in stewardship, and thus also assist the needy. Eventually, these also became times to ordain leaders in the Church. Ember Days now are associated with seminarians writing in to their bishops to make contact and for the bishops to provide pastoral connection. The point here is that this collect in it most ancient publication (as early as the 400s) was listed as one of the collects for a Mass during the autumn Ember Days. So this discussion on Ember Days helps us see the source and the context of this collect now known as the Collect for Proper 22. Eventually it was identified as a Sunday Collect in the range of those Ember Days, and it still is.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) follows the translation that was changed when the prayer was published in the 1662 BCP of the Church of England. Marion Hatchett in his Commentary suggests that Archbishop Cranmer’s translation from the Latin in the first Prayer Book of 1549 was closer to the Latin in the ending phrase, “..giving unto us that that our prayer dare not presume to ask, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” From 1662, however, the phrase “unworthy to ask..” took precedent. “Dare not presume..” speaks to a greater glory of God as we stand in his presence, bringing nature and stewardship into play, and more appropriately for that earliest sense of the Collect. “Unworthiness..” usually is found in the context of sinfulness. Perhaps it was felt it was more appropriate to translate it that way given the already penitential feel of the Collect.
Here’s the Collect (contemporary version) for the Sunday closest to October 5th, Proper 22:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The invitation/address to God leads to a very fine Stewardship Season prayer as we recognize that this God, the One True God continues to show His mercy and His generosity to us as His created order. That intro to the bidding, all by itself, is worthy of stating daily, assisting us in our own awareness of gratefulness – or lack of appropriate gratefulness which needs adjusting! There is an old saying that, “You can never out-give God.” There is a supplemental saying that I never hear, however: “… but go ahead and try anyway.”
In a sense, this is what makes up the bidding. It is the realization that even though God is more ready to hear and to give, we are forging ahead to make our petitions and supplications, even if they have not yet been given voice due to our reticence informed by our feeling and sense of unworthiness. The bidding also recognizes that when we do take a serious look at the authority or the boldness of any prayer we might make, we will see the great mercy and love that God has shown us through the work of Jesus Christ, and that it is in His Name that we can utter our prayers and know they are heard. I pray so.