Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

The Wisdom of the Collect

This post is piggy-backing on that on Collects and Catechism from a couple of days ago.

In A Rationale upon the Book of Common-Prayer of the Church of England (1655 and afterwards), Anthony Sparrow lists several reasons why the short prayers known as “collects” are of great benefit to Christians. His third and fourth reasons are as follows:

Thirdly, for their Form and proportion, as they are not one long continued prayer, but divers short ones, they have many Advantages to gain esteem :  The practice of the Jews of old, in whose prescribed Devotions we find a certain number of several prayers or Collects to be said together ;  the example of our Lord in prescribing a short form ;  the judgement and practice of the Ancient Christians in their Liturgies, and S. Chrysostome among others commends highly short and frequent prayers with little distances between, Hom. 2. of Hanna, so doth Cassian also, and from the judgment of others that were much exercised therein. 2 Lib. cap. 10. de Institut. Coenob.  And lastly, as they are most convenient for keeping away coldness, distraction and illusions from our devotion ;  for what we elsewhere say in praise of short Ejaculations, is true also concerning Collects, and that not only in respect of the Minister, but the people also, whose minds and affections become hereby more erect, close and earnest by the oftner breathing out their hearty concurrence, and saying all of them Amen together at the end of each Collect.

Fourthly, the matter of them is most Excellent and remarkable :  It consists usually of two parts :  An humble acknowledgement of the Adorable Perfection and Goodness of God, and a congruous petition for some benefit from him.  The first is seen not only in the Collects for Special Festivals or benefits ;  but in those also that are more general ;  for even in such what find we in the beginning of them but some or other of these and the like acknowledgements ?  That God is Almighty, everlasting, Full of Goodness and Pity, the Strength, Refuge and Protector of all that trust in him, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is Holy, no continuing in safety or Being, that such is our weakness and frailty that we have no power of our selves to help our selves, to do any good, to stand upright, cannot but fall ;  That we put no trust in any thing that we do, but lean only upon the help of his heavenly Grace ;  That he is the Author and giver of all good things, from whom it comes that we have an hearty desire to pray or do him any true or laudable Service ;  That he is always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we desire or deserve, having prepared for them that love him such good things as pass man’s understanding.

These, and the like expressions can be no other than the breathings of the Primitive Christians, who with all self-denial made the grace of God their Hope, Refuge, Protection, Petition, and Profession against all proud Heretics and Enemies of it :  And the Petitions which follow these humble and pious acknowledgements and praises are very proper, holy and good, which will better appear, if we consider the matter of each Collect apart.1

Sparrow notes that the practice is ancient (or “primitive”), but then gives several practical reasons as to why this ancient usage should be preserved. To put it another way, such prayers came into existence in antiquity for reasons, not arbitrarily; and those reasons are closely connected to edification, to the rousing of piety and pious affections, and to the accommodation of our weaknesses.

  1. Emph. orig.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.