Monday, November 03, 2008

A unique kind of Prayer: An Anglican Collect designed to supply the Defects of our other Prayers

Reflections from Peter Toon

When you come to the end of participation in public worship, do you feel a sense of satisfaction? Or do you have the sense that what has been said and done though good could have been much more suited to the glory of God Almighty?

Bearing these questions in mind, let us delve into an ancient prayer, which originally appeared in the first fully English Liturgy.

In The Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552. 1604 & 1662) there is a collect, printed at the end of the Service of Holy Communion, and composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, that was not intended for any particular part of the Church Year or for any special occasion. Rather, it was made available for possible use to clergy and heads of households after the normal content of worship and prayer had been offered to God. Here it is in the very traditional English language of public worship:

“Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking; We beseech thee to have compassion on our infirmities; and those things, which for our unworthiness we dare not ask, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us, for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I do not know about you, but for me this prayer seems to fit my situation more often than I care to admit!

The point is that whether we use a superior or inferior type of liturgy, whether we perform acts of devotion in a crude or creative way, and even whether we prepare ourselves for worship as carefully and fully as possible, we are still going to offer—before the absolute perfection of God—defective and imperfect worship and prayer to the Father. The fact of the matter is that, while we are called to be saints but are not yet saints, there is much in us and about us that is constantly in need of the cleansing and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Let us now analyze the collect, beginning with the opening address to the Almighty God, the Father of the Lord Jesus.

First of all, we recall in his presence, as we begin to pray, that all true wisdom, the kind that King Solomon asked for, comes solely from God. He is the living Source and Fountain of all wisdom, and as the infinite, eternal, God of wisdom he knows both our “necessities” before we make our requests and “our ignorance” in making them. Being creatures made in the image of God as persons with body and soul, we have daily needs—“necessities”— arising both from our physical and spiritual/moral aspects and natures. Thus we require not only food and clothing, but also forgiveness and moral discipline. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:8 & 32) God the Father knows all the needs of his children. And he also knows the lack of true knowledge that Christians, including saintly persons, actually have of themselves and their real needs of body and soul. All of us are ignorant of the full picture and diagnosis of our condition, and thus even our best efforts in prayer fall far short of what they should truly be in terms of rightly petitioning our Father in heaven.

We are now prepared, and the stage is now set, to examine the actual petitions of this collect.

“We beseech thee to have compassion upon our infirmities.” In a modern culture of “rights,” we do not address God as if we had any rights to stand on; rather we beg and we beseech, as those who have no merits to claim. Our heart’s desire is that God our Father be graciously pleased to show compassion to us who are continually plagued by our own infirmities (physical and spiritual weaknesses). Let him in his mercy, we earnestly hope, bring healing and strength to us in body and soul.

“And those things which, for our unworthiness, we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us for the worthiness of thy Son…”

God, the all-wise and all-knowing LORD, is aware of all our infirmities! We are aware of some, but we are sometimes/often prevented from bringing petition concerning these before our Father, because either (a) in our sense of unworthiness before him we do not dare to ask for his special favor; or (b) we are in part morally and spiritually blind and thus do not have the open, discerning eyes to recognize what we truly are and need as we stand before God.

Let us end on a high note.

Despite our blindness, unworthiness, infirmities and ignorance, because we have received the precious Gospel of the Father concerning his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for his sake and his alone, we humbly pray to the Father:”Vouchsafe (graciously grant) to us each day all that we need for body, soul and spirit in order to be thy loving, faithful and obedient children, for thy honor and glory.”

Trinity XXII 2008

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