If you’ve done the Daily Office more than once or twice, you’ve probably noticed that certain prayers get repeated for a week, and then change. These prayers are called “the Collects (usually pronounced CO-llects, with the accent on the first syllable) of the Christian Year.”
What is a “COllect,” Anyways?
Back in 2015, our founding editor at Anglican Pastor, Greg Goebel, wrote a blog post on this topic that’s well worth your time: “What Is a Collect?”
According to the ACNA Catechism,
A collect is a form of petition that collects the people’s prayers. Over the centuries, the Church has gathered its most cherished prayers to mark times and seasons. They are embodied for Anglicans in the Book of Common Prayer.
Building upon this definition, I’d like us to notice three things.
First, the Collects are Rich
As we’ll see illustrated below when we talk about the collects’ structure, all of the collects are theologically rich, focusing on the many glorious attributes of the Triune God, as well as His saving actions on the behalf of his people throughout history.
In addition to this theological richness, some of the collects are very old, as noted in the ACNA Catechism definition above. Many collects in current use trace their origins at least back to the first Books of Common Prayer, composed in 1549, 1559, and 1662.
In fact, here’s a helpful discussion of the collects, taken from the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1559, and 1662), edited by Brian Cummings (affiliate link). I’ve included links to Wikipedia articles if you’d like to look further into things:
“The form of the Collect dates back to the sixth-century sacramentaries, and may be older still; its name is thought to derive from the idea that the priest in it speaks on collective behalf of the people (as opposed to the verses and responses, where the people themselves have a voice). […]
“In the Roman liturgy Collects almost always begin with an introductory reference to the even or day commemorate, followed by a single central prayer. The English primers before 1549 contained a variety of often clumsy versions of the Latin Collects. Cranmer undertook a full-scale revision of these, sometimes translating literally from the Latin, sometimes adapting, and sometimes making new compositions […]. Cranmer’s Collects are usually considered the pinnacle of his liturgical writing. [The] 1662 [BCP] takes over Cranmer’s compositions with some revision. Of the eighty-three Collects in 1662, seventy-seven are largely Cranmer’s; fifty-nine are derived originally from Sarum; four are new collects written by Cosin.” [p. 763].
So, theologically and historically, the collects are rich!
Second, the Collects Teach Us How to Pray (Better)
Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you ever found it difficult to keep your own prayers focused? I know I have. I often end up rambling.
Of course, we believe that God hears and delights to answer our prayers, even when we ramble. Thanks be to God! However, if you, like me, would like to get better at praying in a more focused way, the collects can help structure our personal prayers!
Although some collects depart from the pattern, they share a relatively stable structure. As Greg Goebel put it back in 2015:
There is an address to God and to his character or actions in the world on our behalf (1). There is a request (2). There is an invocation and doxology (3). And there is The Amen (4).
Here’s how I would put it:
- We address God, focusing on an attribute and/or action of His.
- We make a request, based upon God’s attribute and/or action.
- We state the basis upon which this request is being made: Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God.
Let’s look at our current collect, for the week closest to October 26, to illustrate:
- Address: Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth:
- Request: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace;
- Basis: through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
You can use this collect structure whenever you pray!
Begin by addressing God, focusing on an attribute or action of His that is related to the request you’d like to make. For example, if you’re praying for healing, address (and thank!) God for being the Great Physician, the Creator of the human body.
Then, make your request, and end using the standard closing words of the collects: “through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
To review, the collects are theologically and historically rich, and they can help us structure our own personal prayers.
Third, the Collects Guide Us Through the Christian Year
Granted, some collects are purposefully “generic,” and they could be used profitably at any point during the Christian Year (which, by the way, if you don’t know what that means, read our post: “What Time Is It?“).
However, other collects are some of the best liturgical indicators of the changing seasons of the Church calendar. For example, the collects during Advent get us ready to celebrate Christmas. Likewise, the collects during Lent help get us ready to celebrate Easter.
Week in and week out, the collects help to focus our thoughts on the God we worship – on who He is, what He has done, and how He delights to answer our prayers.
However, the richness and helpfulness of the collects are easy to overlook!
Introducing a New Blog Series: Collect Reflections
With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new blog series here at Rookie Anglican: Collect Reflections.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll be giving you short (˜500 words) reflections on the richness of the collects as we finish up this liturgical year and begin the next.
When applicable, we’ll comment upon the history of the collects. Even more often, we’ll draw your attention to the numerous allusions to Scripture contained in the collects. The main goal, however, is to help us all grow in our life of prayer and worship as we meditate on these especially rich prayers.
So, stay tuned! The first Collect Reflection, written by Kolby Kerr, will be released this coming weekend, focused on the following collect:
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.
As Managing Editor, Josh is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Anglican Pastor. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, serving at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, IL (Diocese of C4SO). Josh is also a Ph.D. student in theology at Wheaton College. You can follow Josh on micro.blog, or learn more at joshuapsteele.com.