Gleanings from the Collects: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord God, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect is new to the American Book of Common Prayer. However a similar petition may be found in the Great Litany.[1]

The idea that God’s people are battling “the world, the flesh and the devil” comes from the Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verses 1-3. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sinsin which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Care must be taken to properly define these three battlefronts so that we do not form a circular firing squad. When we speak of “the world” we are not implying that the created order is evil. The opposite is true. St. Paul teaches in Romans that creation reveals the invisible attributes of God.[2]If you have had your breath taken away by a beautiful sunset or a royal mountain range or a majestic red wood tree, then you know this to be true.

When we speak of “the world” we are referring to the worldly temptations that draw us away from God. These are not limited to, but certainly include, the temptations of riches, fame, power, and the godless systems, philosophies and cultures that promote the same. 

When we speak of “the flesh” we are not referring to our bodies or even to our bodily needs. God created man as the apex of His creation and God Himself took on our flesh in the Incarnation. The body of a Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit.[3]Thus our flesh is not evil as some heresies have contended. 

The “flesh” in this prayer refers to our longings and appetites that are driven by sin. This is commonly seen when we distort the gifts of God. He gives us bread to eat and we become gluttons. He gives us the fruit of the vine and we become drunkards. He gives marriage the gift of sex and we become promiscuous and perverse. He causes our cup to overflow and we become selfish hoarders. The “flesh” is that two year old that lives in us all who wants it his way and wants it now!

When we speak of “the devil” we are not speaking metaphorically. We are referring to a spiritual being that is our hated enemy. Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness reveal the devil as one who would be god. Countless souls have been deceived by him and made him theirs. 

A 19thcentury French poet[4]wrote, “One of the artifices of Satan is, to induce men to believe that he does not exist: another, perhaps equally fatal, is to make them fancy that he is obliged to stand quietly by, and not to meddle with them…” While this poet seemed to have not heeded his own advice, the lesson is that we invite peril if we do not believe that the devil exists or if we think him to be idle.

St. Paul tells us that the grace for which we pray to stand against these temptations is readily available to us. Verses 4-7 states, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses,made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”


[1]Written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer with the bulk of the material taken from the Sarum Rite of the 11thC. 

[2]Romans 1:20

[3]I Corinthians 6:19

[4]Charles Baudelaire

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

[6]

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

Gleanings from the Collects: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A version of this collect can be found in the Leonine[1]and Gelasian[2]sacramentaries. The 1549 version reads, “Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; grant, we beseech thee, that we may so run to thy heavenly promises, that we fail not finally to attain the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The collect has a strong beginning. It is because God is both almighty and merciful that we are benefactors of His grace. He owes us nothing and yet He has given us everything, especially through His Son. It is also true that our works not only begin but also continue by His grace. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the reality of our good works apart from God. “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”[3]But works done by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit become “true and laudable service.”

The collect echoes the biblical analogy of the Christian life being a race. The writer of Hebrews enjoins us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”[4]St. Paul  wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”[5]

This prayer goes on to tell us the nature of the prize for which we run. We run “to obtain your heavenly promises.” Such promises stand in stark contrast to earthly promises such as fame or riches or power. The former are eternal in nature while the latter are fleeting at best and at times more of a curse than a blessing. Thus Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[6]

The revision of the collect, that changed the final phrasing of the 1549 version, is unfortunate. While it certainly should be our goal to “run without stumbling” (2019), experience would tell us that is a futile hope. Only Jesus has accomplished that goal. 

However it is certainly valid to hope to run in such a way that “we fail not finally to attain the same” (1549). While we may not run perfectly, we can ask for grace to help us finish the race. In the meantime, if we stumble or fall? Scripture tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”[7]


[1]7thcentury book of liturgy

[2]8thcentury book of liturgy

[3]Isaiah 64:6

[4]Hebrew 12:1 ESV

[5]I Corinthians 9:24 NASB

[6]Matthew 6:19-21 NIV

[7]Hebrew 4:16 ESV

Gleanings from the Collects: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The seeds of this collect are found in the Leonine sacramentary[1]with revisions appearing in the Gallican[2]and Sarum[3]Missals. It was translated into English in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was Proper 22 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and is appointed for the 9thSunday after Pentecost in the 2019 BCP.

The collect begins by ascribing to God the attributes of omnipotence and eternity. These are excellent qualities to remember when seeking the LORD because they remind us “with God nothing is impossible.”[4]

Immediately after mentioning God’s attributes that fill us with awe, the collect points us to His Fatherly heart. He is “more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire of deserve.” It fills us with hope and points us to Jesus’ statement, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?[5]

The petition is for God’s mercy to come to us in abundance. His mercy has a two-fold purpose. It erases our sin by “forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid” and it brings about blessings by “giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask.” God’s goodness and mercy truly do follow us all the days of our life. [6]

The sense of our unworthiness, combined with the understanding of God as “almighty and everlasting,” could result in our shrinking back from this or any petition. But we are reminded here that we do not come before the throne of grace in our own merit. Jesus Christ appeared before God as both Priest and Sacrifice.[7]He not only offered atonement for our sins but even now He lives to make intercession for us[8]. We are not worthy but He is and that is why we are able to make this bold petition before our Lord.


[1]7thcentury book of liturgy for the celebrant

[2]7thcentury Missal

[3]11thcentury Missal

[4]Luke 1:37 NKJV

[5]Matthew 7:11 NKJV

[6]Psalm 23

[7]Hebrews 10

[8]Hebrews 7:25

Gleanings from the Collects: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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 traced to a 7thcentury Missal.[1]It was revised by Archbishop Cranmer for the first English Book of Common Prayer. It was appointed as the collect for Proper 21 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 8thSunday after Pentecost in the 2019 BCP.

It begins with an astonishing statement. When we think of the almighty power of God our minds go to the creation of all things, the LORD spinning galaxies from His fingertips. We wonder at His power to sustain everything that has life, from microscopic creatures, to all of human kind, to angelic beings. We marvel at His power to bring all things to their appointed ends. When we think of His almighty power we tend to quake. And yet this collect corrects our thinking. It tells us that the almighty power of God is chiefly declared, “in showing mercy and pity.” He uses His power not like the great and terrible Oz, but as a loving heavenly Father to help and to heal. John 3:16 tells us that this collect is exactly right. Thus when we think of a power that matches His love, it causes us to seek refuge in Him. Where else would we find both mercy and pity?

The petition is to receive grace to “…become partakers of your heavenly treasure.” We need this grace because heavenly treasures are not attained by our good works. St. Paul writes, “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]

However the collect wisely points out that we are not passive recipients of God’s grace. It gives us the image of “running to obtain your promises.” This imagery reflects the words of Hebrews“…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”[3]

The Christian life is not a sprint, rather it is a marathon. It is a race, that apart from the grace of God, we would be unable to complete. But with the help of God we will not only finish the race but we will also receive “a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”[4]


[1]Gallican Missale Gothicum – “holy missal Batman!”

[2]Ephesians 2:8,9 ESV

[3]Hebrews 12:1 NLT

[4]I Peter 5:4 KJV

Gleanings from the Collects: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and, that we may receive what we ask, teach us by your Holy Spirit to ask only those things that are pleasing to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the same Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

While this collect is absent from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer it can be found in the 2019, 1928 and 1662 BCP. It was made a beautiful choral piece by Thomas Mudd[1](1619-1667). Its roots can be found in the Leo Sacramentary[2]and the Sarum Use[3].

There is immediacy about this collect, as it does not begin by ascribing an attribute to God, such as, “Lord of all power and might…”[4]It is a direct appeal to His mercy (merciful ears) to hear our prayers. In this context, however, the call for mercy is not the appeal of a felon about to be judged, it is the heartfelt request of a child asking to be shown the Father’s steadfast love. 

The collect takes us to the writing of St. James who tells us, “You ask and you do not receive because you ask amiss…”[5]Thus we pray to be taught by the Holy Spirit to pray “only those things that are pleasing to you.”

Three lessons are taught in this prayer. First we are to approach the Lord as “your humble servants.” This was modeled for us on the night before He died, when Jesus approached the Father in humility praying, “Nevertheless not my will but yours be done.”[6]This is in harsh contrast to the televangelist approach of “name it and claim it” or of those who say that we can demand God to answer our prayers. In one such article the author says, “It’s your prayers that allow Him to pour out His Spirit and sweep the earth with the revelation of His glory”[7]If you truly believe that you “allow God” to do anything, then it is time to humble yourself in prayer and fasting. He is the Potter and we are the clay.[8]

A second lesson is that we need to be taught to pray. That is what the disciples asked of Jesus.[9]For His followers today, the best teacher is the Holy Spirit. It helps to read books on prayer but the best way to learn to pray is by praying. The Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness[10]. We won’t always do it correctly and we will no doubt occasionally pray amiss. But we are not trying to pass an exam. Rather we are speaking with the One who loves us more than we can ever dream. A father delights in the first coos of his infant. He celebrates the toddler’s first words. He is thrilled when the child begins to form sentences. And he treasures every conversation that he has with his grown kids. To paraphrase Jesus, if we who are evil do this, then imagine how our heavenly Father must delight in even our feeblest attempts at prayer. 

The third lesson is that prayer is not the spiritual equivalent of presenting a shopping list. We seek to be mature in our prayers by praying according to His will. Jesus taught this. It is not an accident that we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” before we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” That is why the Book of Common Prayer is such a treasure. These prayers, which have been prayed over the centuries, call us to heights in prayer that go far beyond our natural inclinations. Beyond simply asking the Lord to bless our families, the BCP has us pray, “…bring the nations into thy fold, pour out thy Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of they kingdom…”[11]Such prayers teach us to pray “only those things that are pleasing” to Him.


[1]https://youtu.be/GnqzXrH2NtY

[2]483 AD

[3]1083 AD

[4]Collect for Proper 17, 1979 BCP

[5]James 4:3 NKJV

[6]Luke 22:42 ESV

[7]No internet source provided to avoid promoting heresy

[8]Isaiah 64:8

[9]Luke 11:1

[10]Romans 8:26,27

[11]1979 BCP p.58