Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Collect for Proper 10 (aka The Sunday closest to July 13th; in 2017, July 16, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)
I had some difficulty in my consideration of this collect. That difficulty proved to me the axiom that what we pray from the Prayer Book definitely informs and forms our faith. From the Latin the phrase is “lex orandi, lex credendi” which can be translated “as we pray, so we believe” or “praying shapes believing.” As I understand it, the phrase forms the ancient practice of placing scripture truth into prayer, so that the (good) repetition of prayer sets the Truth into believing. In other words, prayer can be a catechetical tool. In my issue of difficulty, I realized that the practice can lead to an indoctrination that is manipulated. I can see that a theological agenda that is different than expressed in scriptural truth could be cloaked in scripture and prayer themes for public prayer, with the intended results of worshipers’ thought processes and conclusions being changed toward that agenda. Indoctrination is not in and of itself a bad practice – St. Paul would say it was necessary for Christians to change their thinking to be in line with Holy Spirit Truth. But “lex orandi, lex credendi” used to manipulate doctrine is not what the Book of Common Prayer should be about. My difficulty is my discovery that I’ve been indoctrinated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer!
Given its history since it showed up first in the Gregorian sacramentary, this collect was intended and used as an Epiphany collect, first identified for a time after celebration of the birth of Christ, which at that time was all wrapped up in one seasonal understanding, and then landing as the collect for the Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany. Briefly, what is known physically as the Gregorian sacramentary is a highly illustrated and embellished manuscript from the 10th or 11th century. But between the illuminations, the sacramentary is a book of instructions for the prayers of the Church including the Eucharist. In this case, it is the result of centuries of revision, but as the name implies, attributed to the massive, administrative and liturgical genius (or perhaps spiritual gifts) of Pope Gregory the First (or “the Great”), pope for 14 years between 590 and 604 (yes, the Gregory who sent Augustine to Canterbury). This collect, being found first in that ancient instruction book, stayed that way around Epiphany in the worship of the Church, with a few minor revisions, until the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Here we need to underscore that what we 1979 BCP-ers have understood as the theme of Epiphany and the season following, is not so clearly understood for the previous 1400 years. We have been introduced to a MAJOR change in the formation of the Prayers in the Book in order to substantiate a major change in theology and the resultant discipleship training. Specifically, we became a “baptismal” people. Although the lessons for the actual Feast of the Epiphany continued to reflect the appearance of the Wise Men after Jesus’ birth, the Sunday after Epiphany took on immense importance as the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Lessons for the day were changed to hear the gospel stories of the Baptism in the Jordan. The first inkling of this change actually took place in the 1928 BCP with the gospel reading being changed. But the completing act was writing a new collect reflecting the Baptism, and removing the previously well-known collect from that Sunday after Epiphany to Proper 10 in the Sundays after Pentecost.
And here I had come to presume that – as I have been praying since the 1979 BCP Trial drafts, for 41 to 42 years now – Baptism in and of itself, and all its theological implications for the Body of Christ was our primary ecclesiastical theme. Holy Eucharist and Baptism. Goodness. No wonder the attempt to make this theological change with scripture and prayer caused such a conflicting mess regarding the practice of laying on of hands in what got eventually termed “Confirmation.”
Well, of course, then the Prayer Book revisers moved this ancient Sunday after Epiphany collect somewhere else. As so many others we have noted in these Parsings, it got bumped! And having said all that, I am grateful the revision committee kept this collect in play for a Sunday’s use.
The epistles for all three years (Romans, Colossians and Ephesians) are especially in tune with this collect, and the Gospel for this year (A) about the growth of the kingdom in each of us, and the year (C) gospel regarding the Good Samaritan, make this collect’s placement rich for preaching its themes. It is especially good to note the rest of the Epiphany themes of the light of Christ shining in and through us through the power of the Holy spirit. It would be fun to further parse this collect as an Epiphany season collect….but we are moving on!.
Here’s the Collect for the Sunday closest to July 13, Proper 10:
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The address to God in this collect is about as simple as it gets, “O Lord…”! But don’t overlook the simplicity as you pray. It can be a humbling thing to come to God and just call upon Him. God is especially pleased when we come into His presence and recognize who He is… and who we are in His presence. In the best reading of this prayer there will be a short pause before moving on to the bidding/petition. The petition has been described, after a request for God to hear our prayers in general by His mercy (continuing that humble theme), as a definition of prayer itself. But that observation seems not as helpful given the origin of the prayer (see above). Instead, as you pray it, look at it as a “sending” prayer – that is, you are making yourself available to God to be sent to do His work, and looking for God’s power to accomplish what He wants you to be doing in His Name. In that context of divine purpose and thus “sending,” all the prayers we are asking the Lord to receive and answer suddenly also demand purpose, import, meaning. What we ask of the Lord are the things we feel we need to fully comply with His will for us. Even every bit of what we pray as “our daily bread.” And it’s ok, says Jesus, to pray for your daily bread.
May it be so among us.