Gleanings from the Collects: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect can be found in the Gregorian sacramentary[1]of the 10thcentury. Although it is brief, it stands as a corrective to several theological errors.

The first error is Pelagianism. This is the belief that man can do good apart from the grace of God. However Scripture tells us that apart from grace our good works are “filthy rags.”[2]Jesus said that no one is good but God.[3]  We know this to be true when we consider the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. The only proper motive for doing good is to glorify God but that motive is only possible by the grace of God. And even then our motives are mixed at best. Thus we need to have God’s grace to “proceed and follow us” if we are to do good.

The second error is sola fide. This is belief that all one needs is faith to attain everlasting life. This error is corrected by the Book of James. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what goodis that?So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”[4]While good works do not save us they are the fruit of salvation. If the fruit is absent, then the tree is likely dead.

The third error is works righteousness. This is the belief that we can or must earn our salvation. St. Paul corrects this error. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”[5]

Thus this brief collect offers us a perfectly balanced theology that guides our daily lives. Since we can no good thing apart from grace, we call on the Lord to have His grace to go before and after us. Then in response to His gift of grace we give ourselves continually to good works that glorify His Name. In short, we love because He first loved us[6]and that love directs us to be His servants in the world.

[1]A book of liturgy that contains the priest’s words 

[2]Isaiah 64:6

[3]Mark 10:18, Romans 3:10-12

[4]James 2:14-17 ESV

[5]Ephesians 2:8,9 NIV


Gleanings from the Collects: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect can be found in the Gelasian sacramentary[1]of the 8thcentury and the Sarum Rite[2]of the 11th Century.

The prayer has an immediacy about it because it begins with a petition rather than an opening acclamation, such as “Almighty God….” It calls upon the Lord to do four things for His Church (and it is always important to remind ourselves of whose Church it is).

We pray for Him to cleanse, defend, protect and govern the Church.

It is noteworthy that rather than appealing to His power and might to help us, we appeal to His “mercy” and “goodness.” This reflects the revelation of Holy Scripture that God’s very nature is goodness and that He longs to shower us with mercy and blessings. Consider just a few texts. 

  • The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth. Exodus 34:6
  • Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34
  • Good and upright is the Lord. Psalm 25:8
  • The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. Psalm 145:9
  • Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17
  • If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Matthew 7:11
  • Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting. Psalm 100:4-5

It is wise to first call upon the Lord to cleanse His Church before asking Him to defend, protect and govern her. A pattern becomes evident in the Old Testament of God longing to bless and show mercy to His people but they would stray from His commandments, seek other gods, and ultimately bring calamity upon themselves. When we are honest with ourselves we will admit that this is not only an Old Testament pattern. Thus the first appeal is to be cleansed so that we do not fall into unwholesome pits of our own making. 

While the appeal does not directly address the Holy Spirit, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to make the Church holy, and so we can look for the answer to this prayer to come in the form of the Helper[3]whom Jesus promised.  

[1]Book of liturgy containing the priest’s part of the Mass

[2]Rite of Salisbury Cathedral

[3]John 14:16

Gleanings from the Collects: The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; 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

August 15 as the Feast of St. Mary is new to the American Book of Common Prayer, but the Eastern Church has celebrated this feast since the 4thcentury and a collect for this day is found in the Sarum Rite[1]of the Western Church.

The collect is judicially worded. The Eastern Church speaks of the dormition or falling asleep of the Blessed Virgin while the Roman Church speaks of her assumption into heaven. The words of this collect “taken to yourself” makes no definitive claim about Mary but allows the Anglican Church to be in unity with other parts of Christ’s Body on the importance of this feast. Whatever one’s belief about Blessed Mary’s death or assumption, there can be no doubt that she is with her Son and that she is the ultimate example of a servant of the Lord. From accepting the message of an angel to standing at the foot of the Cross her steadfastness is a model to us all throughout the ages. 

The collect also contradicts the modern attempts to name Mary as Co-Redeemer. This prayer makes it clear that we “have been redeemed” by the blood of her incarnate Son. There is not a hint in the collect of Mary being a mediator or advocate. She is a fellow heir with us as we “share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom.” As one who always pointed others to her Son, we can safely imagine that she would have it no other way. 

[1]11thcentury liturgy of Salisbury Cathedral

Gleanings from the Collects: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Keep your Church, O Lord, by your perpetual mercy; and because without you the frailty of our nature causes us to fall, keep us from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable for our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect, although absent from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, has its roots in the Gelasian sacramentary[1]. It appears in the 1662 and 1928 BCP. 

The immediacy of this collect is interesting. Collects usually begin by invoking the Lord along with acknowledging a divine attribute, such as “Almighty and everlasting God…” To open with a plea adds a sense of desperation, but it is a holy desperation because it is abundantly true that without the Lord “the frailty of our nature causes us to fall.” Jesus reminded us that without Him we can do nothing at all.[2]

Archbishop Cranmer changed the language of the original collect from “perpetual propitiation” to “perpetual mercy.” It is perfectly acceptable to plea for God’s mercy, but the words “perpetual propitiation” tie the collect more closely to the Eucharist. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ, as we pray in the 1928 liturgy, “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body; and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”[3]Thus while we do not believe that Christ is re-sacrificed in the Eucharist, we do believe that the benefits of His sacrifice are re-presented to us every time we receive Holy Communion.. 

The strength of this collect is that it reminds us of both our utter reliance upon the Lord and that it is His nature to show mercy. The Scripture declares, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”[4]So while it is humbling to think that we delight God when we come to Him for help, it also underscores that He is our loving heavenly Father and we should never hesitate to seek His help. 

[1]8thcentury book of liturgy

[2]John 15:5

[3]1928 Book of Common Prayer p.82

[4]Micah 7:18

Gleanings from the Collects: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty God, give us the increase of faith, hope, and love; and, that we may obtain what you have promised, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect can be found in 7thand 8th[1]century books of liturgy as well as in the Sarum Missal of the 11thcentury. Archbishop Cranmer edited the line “that we may deserve to obtain what you promise” to avoid any hint of works righteousness as repudiated by St. Paul.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[2]

The brevity of this prayer does not in any way imply its insignificance. We address the LORD as Almighty because He is and therefore willing and able to answer this petition. We pray for an increase of faith, hope and love because Scripture tells us that these are abiding virtues, with love being the greatest.[3]

The prayer orients us toward our ultimate goal, which is “to obtain what you have promised.” Chief among those promises is the hope of everlasting life.[4]

The danger of an emphasis upon grace is that it can drift into antinomianism; the belief that the moral law is of no value. In every day terms it means that I can consider myself a Christian but continue to live as I see fit in my sin. St. Paul confronted this error in Romans 6. Bonheoffer referred to this thinking as “cheap grace” because it mistakenly believes that one can have Jesus as Savior without obeying Him as Lord. And yet Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”[5]

The collect connects obtaining God’s promises with keeping God’s commandments. But it does so by showing obedience as a fruit of God’s grace and not a cause. It is His grace that causes us to love what He commands and then His commandments become joyful means to an abundant life and not an onerous burden of self-righteousness. 

[1]Leonine and Gelasian sacramentary

[2]Ephesians 2:8,9

[3]I Corinthians 13

[4]Matthew 7:21-23

[5]John 14:15