Saturday, December 18, 2004

To Whom should the Collect for Advent IV be addressed?

In The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Collect for Advent IV, the Sunday next before Christmas, begins, “O Lord raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us…,” while in the Canadian revision of 1960, it begins, “Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power and come among us…” In this petition there is an echo of the cry unto “the Shepherd of Israel” in Psalm 80, “ Shew thyself…stir up thy strength, and come, and help us…”

In the Prayer Book of 1662 the “O Lord” is The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, while in that of 1960 he is The Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

To whom then should this Collect be addressed?

Dr. Mason Neale (Essays on Liturgiology, London, 1863, p.51) claimed that Archbishop Cranmer and his colleagues made a mistake in addressing it to the Father and in so doing lost almost wholly the true spirit and emphasis of the original Collect in the medieval Sarum Missal used widely in England until 1550. For Dr. Neale the Collect dramatically calls upon God the Son to raise up his power, that is to be born among us in order to be our Saviour. And thus to address it to the Father is to lose the sense of the proximity and power of the approaching Festival of the Incarnation, Christmas, and the Nativity of the Lord.

Other Anglican scholars have shared the opinion of Dr. Neale and apparently the belief that liturgically it is more appropriate to address the Son rather than the Father at the eve of the Christmas Festival was persuasive in the Liturgical Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada in the 1950s.

However, what Dr. Neale does not mention and what is often not observed is that the Latin Collect in the Sarum Missal is taken from the Gelasian Sacramentary, and in the latter it is addressed to the Father, not the Son, as is seen by the important preposition, Per (through) [Jesus Christ…]. However, it is appointed to Advent II.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam; et magna nobis virtute succerre: ut per auxilium gloriae tuae, quod nostra peccata praepediunt, indulgentia tuae propitionis acceleret. Per…

As the Collect is an essential part of the Eucharist, and since the Eucharist is addressed to the Father through the Son and with the Spirit, it is the general norm that Collects are addressed to the Father, per (through) the Son. However in several old Sacramentaries (Hadrianum, Paduan &, Gregorianum ) it is allocated to Advent IV and is addressed to the Son – see Liturgy & Worship, ed W.K. Lowther Clarke, p.383.
Here the Latin is the same as above except at the end there is no “Per” but instead “Qui vivis…” (“who with the Father and the Holy Spirit liveth…”).

Of course, both Collects make sense and there is certainly added “drama” when it is addressed to the Son as the Church expects (in liturgical time rather than chronological time) his Nativity & Arrival on December 25. However, the second part of the Collect concerning “the race that is set before us” more naturally fits into a petition to the Father in the Name of the Son.

Below is an exposition of the Collect as it appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary for Advent II, The Book of Common Prayer (1662) for Advent IV, Common Worship, 2000, of the C of E for Advent II and in the 1979 Prayer Book of ECUSA for Advent III!

Fourth Sunday in Advent

O LORD, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great
might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let
and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and
mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of thy Son our
Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without
end. Amen.

The Epistle: Philippians 4.4-7 The Gospel: St John 1:19-28

This Collect is the last for the season of Advent and is used for the Sunday and such other days as they are up to Christmas Eve.

The two major themes of Advent have been the First Coming in humility and the Second Coming in glory of the one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father.

In this last period of Advent the emphasis is upon the Second Advent because from Christmas Eve the emphasis will most solidly be upon the First Coming, the Incarnation of the eternal Son from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Collect is addressed to the Father, the first Person in order of the Holy Trinity, and it is an earnest request that he will gather up his power and descend to his people (by the Holy Ghost) in order to help, succour and sustain them in the race they are running in their earthly pilgrimage towards the goal & fullness of the kingdom of heaven (see Hebrews 12:1).

In making this petition, God’s people recognize that due to their sins of omission and commission they have failed to run in God’s grace as gracefully and swiftly as they are called to do and ought to have done. Thus they look to the Father to provide them through his Son and by his Spirit, and in grace and mercy, the help they need. In particular they look to the “satisfaction of thy Son”, to his perfect obedience of the Father in his life and in his death, as the basis for asking for divine mercy and assistance (i.e., they look to the active and passive obedience of the one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ).

If God’s people are to live as those who expect the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, then they need not only to watch and pray but also to live as the obedient and faithful servants of God, engaged daily in his service and running the race that is set before them.

Not only is this the right way to approach the Christian life it is also the best preparation for the celebration of the Festival of the Incarnation, Christmas.

The Collect ends in doxology to the Three Persons of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity. Advent thus ends in adoration and praise.

The Epistle is a magnificent call to live, think, pray and behave as those who are filled with the great joy of Christmas, the Incarnation of God. Christmas-people are a rejoicing, thankful and peace-filled people!

The Gospel provides us through the testimony of John the Baptist a further clear statement of the identity of Jesus, who is not only the Messiah, but the Messiah who will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus the Messiah is not the political liberator of the Jewish people from Roman oppression, but the Redeemer of the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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