In this post we outline the history of the Holy Week Collects, which are found on pages 607-609 of the Book of Common Prayer 2019. In researching this topic, we drew especially from commentaries by Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr., Marion J. Hatchett, and C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl.

What is a collect? A collect is a short, formal prayer, written in “collect form,” typically appointed for a particular occasion. The Book of Common Prayer is full of collects, and here at Anglican Compass we do love them! Previously we have published a sequence of reflections on the collects of Holy Week, to which we will also link below.

Collect for Palm Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, in your tender love for us you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the Cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and come to share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Skeptical of medieval ritual concerning the blessing of objects, the 16th-century reformers called this day “The Sunday next before Easter.” Similarly, in the collect he appointed for the day, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer shifted focus from the palms to the passion. The collect draws especially on the language of Philippians 2, the epistle appointed for the day, in describing the “humility” of the Son who took on human flesh and went to death on the cross. Cranmer’s original version, which asked that we “follow the example of his patience,” was replaced in 1979 by “walk in the way of his suffering.” This may reflect our modern forgetfulness that patience involves suffering. Let us not forget that we, like a patient in a hospital, will suffer as we are sanctified. And thank God Jesus came not for the healthy, but for sick sinners such as us.

Here’s another reflection on this collect, by Joshua Steele.

Collect for Holy Monday

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This elegant collect was written in the 1890s by the Rev. Dr. William Reed Huntington, best known as the visionary behind the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. It was proposed for the 1892 revision and adopted in the 1928.  The opening borrows words from Cranmer’s 1549 exhortation to the sick: “For he himself went not up to joy but first he suffered pain: he entered not into glory, before he was crucified.” To these two sets of contraries, Huntington then adds another, the Cross on the one hand, and life and peace on the other. Remarkably, however, the collect asks that we find the way of the Cross to be identical to the way of life and pace, a paradox at the heart of the Christian life. Such a beautiful and brilliant collect deserves to be read more than once a year, and so the collect is also appointed in morning prayer as the Collect for Fridays.

Here’s another reflection on this collect, by Jack King.

Collect for Holy Tuesday

O Lord our God, whose blessed Son gave his back to be whipped and did not hide his face from shame and spitting: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The author of this collect is unknown. Like the collect for Holy Monday, it was first proposed for the 1892 and then included in the 1928. It was replaced in the 1979, and restored in the 2019 in a contemporary revision. The original text has “gave his back to the smiters” instead of “gave his back to be whipped,” pointing both to Jesus’ suffering and also to the people who made him suffer. What makes the collect especially powerful is when we realize that we are the smiters, the ones who, by our sin, have made Jesus to suffer. Thus, even when we suffer, our experience is better than we deserve. In Christ and with his hope, we can take our sufferings joyfully, with confidence in the glory to come.

Here’s another reflection on this collect, by Michael Matlock.

Collect for Holy Wednesday

Assist us mercifully with your grace, Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts by which you have promised us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Also by an unknown author, and also included first in 1928, this collect begins unusually with a request, only secondarily moving to address God, and dispensing entirely with any attribution of God. The sense is one of urgency and of humble petition, which seems appropriate to Holy Wednesday, the day of the anointing and of Judas’ betrayal, and the day before the most dramatic action of Holy Week begins. This collect is also especially helpful for those who feel apathy or alienation, who are having difficulty entering into the spirit of Holy Week. When the Spirit leads us into the contemplation of Holy Week, we indeed experience great joy.

Here’s another reflection on this collect, by Joshua Steele.

Collect for Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose most dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it in thankful remembrance of Jesus Christ our Savior, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Written by a committee for the 1928 Prayer Book, this collect reflects upon the last supper and the institution of communion, combining multiple phrases from our Eucharistic liturgy.  As in many texts produced by committee, the style of the first version was clunky, a problem partially remedied by successive revisions in 1979 and 2019.  But even if this collect is not the most elegant, it does powerfully address itself to the mystery of the Eucharist.  And this is especially meaningful on Maundy Thursday, when the church gathers at night for foot washing and communion, in close imitation of the last supper.  By God’s grace, we pray that the thankful remembrance of Christ which we experience that night, will overflow into all eucharistic liturgies and every aspect of our lives.

Here’s another reflection on this collect, by Myles Hixson.

Collect for Good Friday

Almighty God, we beseech you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the Cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect began as a medieval text for Holy Wednesday, which is why it mentions the betrayal.  Cranmer selected it for matins on Good Friday, with two additional collects appointed to follow the collects at communion.  The 1662 BCP brought all three collects together as a group, which remained through the 1928 BCP.  In 1979, the second and third collects were substantially revised and shifted to “The Solemn Collects” of the Good Friday liturgy, leaving this collect on its own once again.  While this collect does feel lonely on its own, this is appropriate to Good Friday, when we solemnly remember our Lord, and the disciples who like us did not remain faithful to Christ.  Yet the collect asks God to behold us, not to forget us, even in the midst of our sin.  It thereby reflects the most basic cry of our hearts when we fear that we will be abandoned.  And we can have confidence that God answers this prayer, for even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.

Here’s another reflection on this collect, by Kolby Kerr.

Collects for Holy Saturday and Easter Eve

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God of the living, on this day your Son our Savior descended to the place of the dead: Look with kindness on all of us who wait in hope for liberation from the corruption of sin and death, and give us a share in the glory of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

O God, you made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The first collect, on the resting body of Christ, was written by Bishop Otis Charles for the 1979 Prayer Book. Because Bp Charles died in a state of notorious sin, bringing scandal and heresy to the church, the next Prayer Book revision should replace this collect with another on the same theme. New to the 2019 Prayer Book, the second collect gestures toward the debated doctrine of the harrowing of hell, in which Christ on Holy Saturday preached the gospel to the dead. The request asks for God’s kindness on all of us who are subject to sin and death. The third collect is a medieval text that first entered the Prayer Book in 1979, where it was listed alongside the Easter Day collects. In the 2019 Prayer Book, it is more sensibly appointed for “Easter Eve,” on the assumption that it will be used when churches celebrate an Easter Vigil service on Saturday night. A deeply moving celebration of the resurrected Christ, the Easter Vigil suitably includes this collect on the renewal of body and mind by the shining glory of the resurrection.

Here’s another reflection on these collects, by Gerald McDermott.

Collects for Easter Day

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may, by your life-giving Spirit, be delivered from sin and raised from death; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to die upon the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the devil and the power of death: Grant us grace to die daily to sin, that we may live with him in the joy of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Both of these collects are of ancient origin, and Cranmer adopted them from their extensive medieval use.  The second collect, with its greater focus on death, was intended for inclusion in a procession before the Easter liturgy, or in an early service, so as to fit the transition from the somber focus of Holy Week to the joy of Easter.  The first collect triumphantly proclaims our Lord’s overcoming of death and the opening of the gate of everlasting life, and is fittingly read in the high celebration of the eucharist on Easter morning.  Cranmer’s version focused more on how Jesus’ resurrection empowers right living, but in 1979 the collect was revised to focus more on our own hope of resurrection.  Thus on Easter morning, as we “celebrate the joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection,” we also eagerly anticipate our own deliverance and resurrection by the Holy Spirit.

Here’s another reflection on these collects, by Joshua Steele.