Thursday, July 23, 2015

Collection Agent

“Show favour, O Lord, to your servants, and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace, that, made fervent in faith, hope, and charity, they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” (Collect, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time).

We are going through the Mass, bit by bit, on Thursdays on this blog, to see how each ‘bit’ of the liturgy informs our way of life as disciples of Jesus Christ. We have come now to the ‘Collect’ – not the Opening Prayer as it was previously called. This prayer does not ‘open’ anything—the liturgy has been going on for awhile at this point, in case you didn’t notice!

This prayer concludes the Entrance rite, and does so by ‘collecting’ all we have done and said and our whole movement of prayer and worship as a community into a single short formulaic statement.
Collects vary from week to week, and also are attuned to the liturgical seasons and feasts of the year—in fact, a study of collects is a good liturgical catechesis as to the meaning and import of this varied and rich tapestry in time that is our yearly liturgical cycle. Since there is no one text that is ‘the Collect’, I have here in this post, then, the Collect all of us will be hearing on this Sunday.

The basic structure of the Collect is to address God (well, of course) acknowledge some attribute of his (in this case, his mercy), and from that ask Him for some basic good (here, to be made fervent in the theological virtues, so that we may be vigilant in keeping his commands).

This is quite a pattern of Christian prayer, really. I am always baffled when I run across something that is labelled a ‘prayer’ which upon close inspection is not actually addressed to God, but is a meditation about God or some such thing. Prayer is words addressed to God, OK Catholics? Are we clear on that?

And our prayer is based on faith—on a firm conviction that God is certain things—merciful, loving, all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing. And our prayers should express that faith before we dive in boots and all asking for stuff. We need to start by acknowledging what is before we look to what is not. God has given us so much, and is so much for us and in us.

Even if our lives at any point or many points are full of trials and sufferings, we have been blessed by the Lord in ways that are to many to enumerate. Jesus Christ… the Holy Spirit… salvation… forgiveness… Eucharist… the Church… the Gospels… Our Lady… the saints… do I need to go on? When we pray, we do need to at least nod in the direction of everything God is and does for us before we dive into our needs list.

But then we do bring Him our needs. It is crucial to note, though, that the Collects of the Mass generally do not ask God for too many temporal goods. We ask God here for fervour and watchfulness. Other collects in recent weeks ask for holy joy, the grace to reject what is contrary to Christ, reverence of his holy name, freedom from darkness of error.

Not a lot of prayers for wealth in there, or even bodily health (there is the occasional Collect that does that), or any other physical good of this world. It is not that we are never to pray for those things—St. Augustine laid down the principle for us, very wisely, that if it is good to have something, it is good to pray for that thing. It’s just… first things first, folks. It is wisdom, truth, joy, fervour, watchfulness, grace, love, fidelity that make our lives blessed, that secure us in the heart of Christ and bear us in that Heart into the eternal Heart of the Trinity. Not temporal goods. We can be drowning in every possible temporal good and go to Hell on their account. There is even a Gospel passage or two to that effect.

So the form of prayer of the Collect, and indeed all the various collects which are a true treasure of our Western Christian patrimony, are a great school of prayer, a teaching of how we are to pray and for what. Talk to God, start with a humble and grateful acknowledging of his goodness and love, and primarily ask for the spiritual goods that are the real prosperity of the Christian.

This is what really ‘collects’ us, gathers all the scrambled, scattered, and tattered pieces of our lives into a single act, a single exercise of our agency as Christians, and bears us in that collection into the Single Act of God which is the action of the Mass extended into all of reality… and that is where we are heading, of course, in this commentary.

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