The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent in the Book of Common Prayer reads as follows:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
As John Henry Blunt notes, the characteristics of the Collects–not just in Advent, but throughout the Book and thus the year–are as follows:
- A Collect consists of a single period, seldom a long one.
- A single petition only is offered in it.
- Mention is made of our Lord’s Mediation; or else
- It ends with an ascription of praise to God.
Thus Blunt glosses the structure of a Collect as:
- Reason on which the petition is to be founded.
- Benefit hoped for.
- Mention of Christ’s Mediation, or Ascription of praise: or both.
As brief as these prayers are, they pack a punch well beyond what one might assume for their size (one perhaps remembers here our Lord’s instruction: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” [Matt. 6.7-8, ESV]).
To illustrate, consider a work by Samuel Best entitled A Catechism on the Unity and Harmony of Subject in the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels of the Church (3rd ed., 1870), in which he gives a catechism for every Collect in the Book in relation to the appointed Scripture readings that go with it. Here is the catechism for the Collect quoted above:
- What is the prayer of the Collect?–That God would give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light.
- What are meant by the “works of darkness”?–All wicked deeds proceeding from the ignorance or darkness of a sinful heart.–Col. iii. 9, 10; Eph. v. 11; 1 John 1. 6, 7.
- What is meant by the “armour of light”?–That strength which is given us by the knowledge of Jesus Christ and faith in Him.–John iii.19-21; xii. 46.
- How does the Collect connect this subject with the season?–In the words, “Now in the time of this mortal life, in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.”
- To what does this refer?–To our Lord’s first Advent in the flesh.–Philip. ii. 5-7.
- Does the Gospel [Matt. 21.1-13] refer to any occasion when He publicly proclaimed this Advent?–Yes; His entry into Jerusalem, as the Prophet had foretold.–Zech. ix. 9.
- What was his first act on entering the Temple?–To cleanse it, and reinstate it as the Temple of God and the house of prayer.
- What else are we taught to look upon as the Temple of God?–Our bodies.–1 Cor. iii. 16, 17; vi. 19; 2 Cor. vi. 16.
- How, then, are we to apply personally the lesson taught us by our Lord?–By cleansing ourselves from sin and all unrighteousness.–Col. iii. 9, 10.
- Does the Epistle [Rom. 13.8-14] exhort us to this?–Yes, in the very words adopted in the Collect, “Let us cast off,” &c.
- What does the Epistle exhort us to put on as the whole armour of light?–The Lord Jesus Christ.–John viii. 12.
- What do you understand by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ?–Devoting ourselves to His service, becoming new men through faith in Him.–Eph. iv. 24; Col. iii. 10; Gal. iii. 26, 27.
- Does the Collect make allusion to any other Advent of our Lord?–Yes, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead.
- Is this the Advent for which we are to prepare?–Yes, that we may rise to the life immortal through Him.–1 Cor. xv. 22; 1 Thess. iv. 16-18; John xi. 23-26.
- Is perseverance in a Christian course insisted on?–Yes; we are to “cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light,” that at His second Advent we may “rise to the life immortal through Him.”
- What does the repetition of this Collect throughout the season of Advent suggest to us?–That our preparation for His coming is to be carried on throughout the season.1
- What is it that must be so prepared?–The “Temple of God” (see the Gospel).
- What is that Temple?–Collectively, the Church.–Eph. i. 22, 23; Rom. xii. 5: individually, our hearts.–1 Cor. iii. 16, 17.