What is a Collect?
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As you gather for worship on Sunday, you encounter the Collect for Purity and the Collect of the Day. At Morning or Evening Prayer, you encounter “the Collects.” What are these strange things called “Collects” and how do you pronounce this word?
A collect is simply a prayer meant to gather the intentions of the people and the focus of worship into a succinct prayer. All of the collects more or less fit a pattern that was developed and some would say perfected by Archbishop Cranmer in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). The form of collects is actually quite simple. 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).
As an example, here is the Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:
(1) Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: (2) Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; (3) through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. (4) Amen.
In this prayer we quickly find out that are praying to God, that he is the Almighty, and that to know him (truly) is everlasting life. Then we ask him a petition based on John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” – and this is common since many collects are based on Scriptural texts and themes. The request is also practical, in that it focuses on our steadfastness if following in his steps. It is reflective of Reformation theological concerns in its careful direction toward God as the source of our life and knowledge. And this prayer is offered through Jesus Christ and is Trinitarian in the doxology of praise offered. Finally, the Amen is the voice of the whole people agreeing with the celebrant – “So be it!” or “We agree with you!”
The Collect for Purity is a special prayer, regularly used on Sundays, which Cranmer adapted from the old Latin rite of pre-Reformation England. It is customarily said at the beginning of a service of Holy Communion, especially if the Confession of Sin will come later. Here it is:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer is a compact confession of sin that is helpful in reminding worshippers of the need of penitence, but also of the surety of forgiveness in Christ. It doesn’t ask for God’s presence, it assumes it. It also serves as an acknowledgement by the community that it is God who cleanses the heart, through the Holy Spirit, and it is he who turns us toward him in worship. This prayer grounds human activity in worship on the previous action of God through the Holy Spirit, and not on the effort of the community itself. In other words, God is the one who turns us into worshippers, and our purpose in gathering is to worship him.
Pronunciation: Usually people emphasize the first syllable. “CO-llect.” This is different than the usual pronunciation of the word ‘collect’ in American English as “co-LLECT” as in “I’m going to collect the rent.” I’m not an expert in pronunciation, or in describing it, but there you go!
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