Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for the Transfiguration (taking precedence over Proper 13 in 2017) on August 6, 2017
So, what just happened here? Why is an otherwise calendar feast day taking precedence over the Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13 (in 2017)? The simple answer is because the Prayer Book instructs that it can. It’s not quite that simple since it needs explanation. We start by noting that the Book of Common Prayer 1979 begins with four “chapters” of introduction to the topic of worship. The fourth of these is entitled “The Calendar of the Church Year.” And on pages 15 and 16 you will find a discussion of Feast Days that take precedence over any other observances, including regular Sunday propers. It makes sense when you understand that these priority days are classified generally as “Feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ”: Epiphany (the appearance of the magi to Jesus after his birth), Christmas (Jesus’ birth), Easter (Jesus’ resurrection), Ascension (Jesus ascends into heaven), etc., and then three more which are allowed to have priority over any Sunday propers: The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It makes obvious sense that if December 25th is a Sunday, then Christmas is what you celebrate. A little less obvious, but for the same reason, if Transfiguration Day, August 6th , is a Sunday, then you use the lessons and collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration, rather than the closest Proper for a Sunday after Pentecost.
We’ll have to wait until next year to write up a Parsings for Proper 13.
The Collect used for Transfiguration was written in time for the second American (the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America) Book of Common Prayer, authorized for use beginning in 1892. The 1979 BCP prayer is an edited version of that prayer, which was authored by the Rev. Dr. William Reed Huntington, presumably inspired by and making use of the story of the Transfiguration as found in Luke 9:28-36, which is in fact the Gospel reading assigned for the day. Dr. Huntington was a very influential priest through General Conventions in the later 1800s and his desire for seeing a modernization of the 1789 BCP led to the eventual 1892 Prayer Book. He was to the 1892 Prayer Book what Dr. Massey Shepherd, Jr. was to the current 1979 BCP.
Here’s the Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus:
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Because it is so intimately connected to the very Gospel of the day, the Collect’s address/invitation to God is a simple reminder of what is coming up in the readings, just in case you were expecting something else on Sunday! In descriptive language of what happened to Jesus’ clothing, we hear of the essentials: Jesus, Son of God the Father, and the profound nature of relationship, along with underscoring that the witnesses were specifically chosen by Jesus at the top of the mountain to be witnesses of this revelation. The bidding recognizes that that particular and special moment can never be repeated physically since Jesus has ascended, so it makes no sense to ask God to lead us to the same literal experience. But it does put it into terms of the endless opportunities to have that vision of Jesus Christ which gives us hope for the presence of God in our own daily lives. The phrase “being delivered from the disquietude” does not imply that a vision of Jesus causes us to be once and for all effectively removed from the ups and downs of our lives! It does, however, offer a prayer for patiently getting through this world in faith in order to then see Jesus Christ face to face when He comes again. And it also encourages to keep our eyes on Jesus – and even perhaps have the kind of vision of Stephen, or Paul, which will be a powerful motivator for those very ups and downs of daily living.