The Collects follow, which are thought by divers to be so called, either because they were made by the Priest, super collectam populi, over, or in behalf of the Congregation, meeting, or collection of the people; or rather, because the Priest doth herein Collect the Devotions of the people, and offer them up to God; for though it hath been the constant practice from the beginning, for the people to bear a vocal part by their Suffrages and Answers in the publick service of God (which for that very reason was by the Ancients called Common Prayer, as may be gathered out of Iustin Martyr. Apol. 2. S. Aug. Epist. 118. and others:) yet for the more renewing and strengthning of their earnestness, importunity, and as it were wrestling with God, and hope of prevailing, they desired that themselves and their devotions should in the close be recommended to God by the Priest, they all joyning their assent and saying Amen to it. And that is the reason why in many of the Collects, God is desired to hear the petitions of the people (to wit, those that the people had then made before the Collect) that they come in at the end of other devotions, and were by some of old called Missae, that is to say, Dismissions, the people being dismissed upon the pronouncing of them and the Blessing, the Collects themselves being by some of the Ancients called Blessings, and also Sacramenta, either for that their chief use was at the Communion, or because they were uttered Per Sacerdotem, by one consecrated to holy Offices.
But it will not be amiss to enquire more particularly what may be said for these very Collects which we use, they being of so frequent use and so considerable a part of the Devotion of our Church.
And first concerning their Authors and Antiquity, we may observe, that our Church endeavouring to preserve, not only the Spirit, but the very Forms (as much as may be, and in a known tongue) of ancient Primitive Devotion, hath retained these very Collects (the most of them) among other precious Remains of it: for we find by ancient testimony that they were composed or ordered, either by S. Ambrose, Gelasius, or Gregory the Great, those holy Bishops and Fathers of the Church; and therefore having daily ascended up to Heaven like Incense from the hearts and mouths of so many Saints in the Ages since their times, they cannot but be very venerable, and relish well with us, unless our hearts and affections be of a contrary temper.
Secondly, for the object of these Collects, they are directed to God in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, for so usually they conclude, and very fitly: For Christ is indeed the Altar upon which all our prayers are to be offered, that they may be acceptable; Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my Name he will give it you, S. Iohn 16. 23. And so it was the custome of old: Itaque Orationes nostras vitam & Sacrificia, & omnia nostra offerimus tibi Pater assiduè per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, &c. Bernard. de Amore Dei cap. 8. But yet we may observe that a few Collects are directed to Christ, and in the Litany some supplications to the holy Ghost, beside that precatory Hymn of Veni Creator in the Book of Ordination, and that some Collects, especially for great Festivals conclude with this acknowledgement, that Christ with the Father and the holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth one God world without end. And this seems to be done to testifie what the Scripture warrants, that although for more congruity we in the general course of our prayers go to the Father by the Son, yet that we may also invocate both the Son and the Holy Ghost, and that while we call upon one, we equally worship and glorifie all Three together. Quia dum ad solius Patris personam honoris sermo dirigitur, bene credentis fide tota Trinitas honoratur, saith Fulgentius, lib. 2. ad Monimum.
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 alwayes 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 mans 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 Hereticks 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.
The first in order among the Collects is that for the day. Now as on every day or season there is something more particularly commended to our meditations by the Church, so the first Collect reflects chiefly upon that, though sometimes more generally upon the whole matter of the Epistle and Gospel, desiring inspiration, strength and protection from God Almighty, in the practice and pursuance, of what is set before us. But concerning the matter of the Collects for the day, is spoken afterward in the particular account that is given of each Epistle, Gospel and Collect.
The second Collect is for Peace, according to S. Pauls direction, 1 Tim. 2. and Orbem Pacatum, that the World might be quiet, was ever a clause in the Prayers of the Primitive Church; and good reason: For Peace was our Lords Legacy, My peace I leave with you, his New-years gift, Pax in terris, Xenium Christi, He prayed for peace, paid for peace, wept for it, bled for it: Peace should therefore be dear to us, all kind of peace, outward peace and all: for if there be not a quiet and peaceable life, there will hardly be godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. 2. This Collect then is fit to be said daily, being a prayer for peace, and so is that which follows.
The third for Grace to live well: for if there be not peace with God by an holy life, there will never be peace in the World. No man can so much as think a good thought, much less lead a godly life without the grace of God; therefore that is also prayed for, together with Gods protection for the day or night following.
Then the Prayers--according to S. Paul. 1 Tim. 2. Who exhorts that Prayers and Supplications be made for all men. In particular for Kings, and the Reason he there gives, sufficiently shews the necessity of Praying particularly and especially for them; namely, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty: which can hardly be done if they do not help towards it. For as the Son of Syrach sayes Chap. 10. 2. As the Iudge of the people is himself, even so are his officers, and what manner of man the Ruler of the City is, such are all they that dwell therein. A good Iosiah, Hezekiah, or David, promote religion and honesty and the right worship of God among the people; but a Ieroboam by setting up Calves in Dan and Bethel, makes all the people sin.
After this follows a prayer for the Church, excellently described by Bishops, Curats, and the people committed to their Charge. By Curates here are not meant Stipendaries, as now it is used to signifie, But all those whether Parsons or Vicars, to whom the Bishop, who is the chief Pastor under Christ, hath committed the cure of souls of some part of his flock and so are the Bishops Curates. The Bishop with these Curates, a flock or Congregation committed to their charge, make up a Church. For according to our Saviours definition, a Church is a Shepherd, and his Sheep that will hear his voice; to which S. Cyprians description agrees, Ep. 69. Illi sunt Ecclesia plebs Sacerdoti adunata, & pastori suo grex adhaerens.
The Church is a Congregation of Believers united to their Bishop, and a Flock adhering to their Shepherd; whence you ought to know, sayes he, that the Church is in the Bishop, and the Bishop in the Church, and they that are not with the Bishop, are not in the Church. Now because the Bishops are the guides and governors of the Church, so that all acts of the Church are ordered and directed by them, as the same Cyprian saies, therefore the Custome of the Church alwayes was, and not without reason, to pray particularly by name for their Bishop, as they did for the King.
To make this Church, to gather it from among Infidels and Heathens, and to preserve it from all her subtil and potent enemies, by the healthful Spirit of his Grace, is an act of as great power, and a greater miracle of Love, than to create the world. Although thou beest wonderful, O Lord, in all thy works, yet thou art believed to be most wonderful in thy works of piety and mercy, Saies S. Augustine, and therefore the Preface is suitable, Almighty God which only workest great marvails, send down upon thy Church, Bishops, Curats, and the Congregations committed to their charge, the healthful spirit of thy grace.