Project Canterbury




The Purpose, History, and Use
Of the Sunday Collects.


Three Talks
Katharine S. Oliver


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012



"Lord, take my heart, for I cannot give it to Thee; and when Thou hast it, keep it, for I would not take it from Thee. And save me in spite of myself, for Christ's sake. Amen."

As Christians we have chosen to live our lives in two worlds at once, and to make them one. In the world of our time, we are by God's help, to make visible the invisible spiritual world of infinite love, the kingdom of heaven, proclaiming ourselves its citizens by each thought and word and deed.

This is a glorious purpose. But what do we do? As human beings we forget it. The unexpected distractions, even of decent living, come along, "the world is so full of a number of things," we wander off to examine them. Suddenly we stop and say, what are we up to, as Christians?

A flood of quotations come to mind. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven . . . Pray without ceasing . . . Do this in remembrance of Me . . . Finally our reason tells us we must have a plan, something more than private devotions. We need a guide for every day to properly discipline and [1/2] direct us in the Christian life, until the will of God, the purpose of our life, the relation of the temporal to the eternal and of our partial knowledge to God's total knowledge, the fact of Calvary, our relation to others, automatically and spontaneously enter into every judgement we form. More than that we want "to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith"; that we may be "rooted and grounded in love."


So we open our Book of Common Prayer. Its preface says "It is hoped that the whole book will be received and examined by every sincere Christian seriously considering what Christianity is and what the truths of the Gospel are." It knows our weakness and seeks to overcome it by daily spiritual exercises as part of its larger plan for a Christian Year. Part of this plan is a weekly prayer called the Collect, which on page 90 we read "is appointed for Sunday, and shall serve the week after." We know that we have to hear ideas again and again, (William James says five times at least) before we really absorb them, "inwardly digest them," a collect says. How we pray and what we believe must always be inseparable. As Christians our prayers begin always with God, not with ourselves. We read that the purpose of the Collects is "to teach us to know the power, the wisdom, the majesty, and the mercy of God, to guide us in perplexities, to warn us against dangers, to comfort us in trouble, to [2/3] strengthen our faith, and to enlarge our sympathies," that they are "prayers of matchless profundity, the surest guide by which spiritual progress may be directed."

We see that in the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, week by week we share Christ's earthly life and teaching, turning each event into a prayer which points to the spiritual reality which transcends time, and yet gives it its meaning.

During the Christmas season we celebrate not only Christ's birth in Bethlehem, but His daily birth in our hearts by faith, and are reminded that the rite of Baptism is the ceremonial counterpart of the doctrine of regeneration, the spiritual fact of new birth.

Spiritual growth depends on holding on to what is holy, and St. Paul reminds us if we are to maintain the fellowship with God and each other, we must put on the whole armour of God, not shreds and patches of it. Conversion is an individual experience, but the life of the Church is a life of a Society. These prayers are for all of us, and they can unite us in a holy fellowship in a way individual devotions never can.

The Collects of the Christian year teach us the sanctification of Time, not by edification, but by the spirit of worship, to fulfill His commandment "Be ye perfect."

Golden Cups of Incense

These are some of our most beautiful prayers, they have been called sonnets of devotion. They [3/4] might almost be said to scan, they are cadenced prose: wonderful for reading aloud, easy to memorize. They teach us humility, repentance, resolution to amend our lives, obedience to our Father, reliance on the Holy Spirit to fulfill His purpose. They form a treasury which belongs to us all. But they are like trunks, very tightly packed and the stores of devotion which they hold, must be unpacked by each of us individually before we can make them our own. For instance, the Collect for 21st Sunday after Trinity is only 4 lines:

"Grant we beseech Thee merciful Lord, to thy faithful people, pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve Thee with a quiet mind, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

It can be said in less than 60 seconds, yet it holds ideas that will serve a lifetime. Take just the words "thy faithful people." Faithful people, believing people, what do they believe? To whom are they faithful? Are they the Saints—"the Communion of Saints?" What are they like? "The salt of the earth the light of the world?" We are to be faithful people, since our baptism, "Very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ which is the blessed company of all faithful people"—the Church. This is the phrase to hang on to, to say to ourselves in a train, or trolley, or elevator, at all times and in all places.

Some of these prayers are 1500 years old and some of them only 20. Their age does not matter. The unity of the Spirit transcends time. Always new, always full of life and light and love, milk [4/5] for children, solid food for the strong, they are the inexhaustible nourishment of God.

The earlier Collects do not quote scripture directly. They are so saturated with it that their words reveal the spirit of some particular teaching.

Where did the early Church acquire their spiritual strength but from long hours of reflecting on the psalms and gospels, during which the truth appeared before their eyes and filled their hearts with life and love. Perhaps the daily use of the liturgy inspired them. Our own spontaneous prayers will become more inspired when we digest these prayers and make them our own.

Their very structure, as we study them, will remind us of glorious truths, we might forget. Sometimes they end with the doxology: the 4th Sunday in Advent and St. Thomas' Day, Good Friday and Easter, for example, "Through Jesus Christ our Lord to whom with Thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory world without end." This alone is an act of adoration, a profession of faith in the Holy Trinity. Why use it here? To bring good out of evil, is the highest praise of God, therefore it is used to stress St. Thomas' doubt overcome. Again Advent, a season stressing humility, is also a season of exultation in the prospect of Christ's coming at Christmas into our poor, sinful world to save it. Usually a profession of faith in the Holy Trinity is stressed at times or under circumstances when we might forget, during Lent it is there, when we are concentrating on Christ's earthly trials and temptations.

[6] People say using others' prayers leaves them cold.

The prayers of the Saints have been described as golden cups of incense. Golden cups, is a fitting description for the carefully chosen words that make up these prayers, and the incense is the idea each prayer holds. But we have to light the incense ourselves.

In the Jewish Church there was always an offering made of unkindled incense as a symbol of faith. If you fall back on the thought of the Presence of Christ and wait on Him in silence He will send down His Holy Spirit, the true fire from heaven, upon the affections of your heart and kindle them until the prayer will rise to Him.

How To Use The Collects

Now let us turn to how to use these prayers! "Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them," Cranmer said in one of them.

It is helpful to some people to keep a notebook for their private daily devotions.

If you have time, it is a good idea to copy the Collect in the notebook after you have heard it in Church and on Monday to re-read it and the Gospel and Epistle and perhaps a Psalm for the day.

Then each day of the week read it (our Prayer Book says it is to serve daily at morning and evening prayer,) and underline one phrase of the prayer to think about. Five minutes will do a lot; try to jot down what the phrase means. If you get stuck, look up the word in a dictionary or Bible concordance. [6/7] Better still, try to think if the phrase has any connection with the Lord's Prayer, the Commandments, the Creed, the Sermon on the Mount, any Psalms, the Articles of Religion in our Prayer Book. Hang on to the phrase all day, mull over it. Remember it is not to know much, but to understand which makes us grow. One approach is to pretend you know nothing about your religion. What then would this Collect tell you about God, Christ, yourself? Go over it slowly. Usually there are 5 parts: (1) the opening address, (2) a statement of doctrine or belief from O.T. or N. T., (3) the desire or aim of this belief, (4) result hoped for from belief, or of this prayer, and (5) ending or mediation. What are their special messages? By the end of the week the Collect will be yours and you will be making or writing your own prayers. You will find their rhythm and balance makes them easy to remember for they are like poetry. You will have digested them. You will find your mind and heart and will growing strong in the faith. Growth takes effort but brings its own reward.

Ash Wednesday Collect

Let us look briefly at the Ash Wednesday Collect which we use until Palm Sunday:

The five parts to think about are: 1) Almighty and everlasting God, 2) Who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; 3) create and make in us new and contrite hearts, 4) that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; 5) through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[8] The desire of this prayer is for true sorrow of heart and perfect forgiveness. Its object is to induce our conversion. 1) To whom do we pray? Almighty and Everlasting God: for a sense of proportion there is no better way than thinking of, beholding, God's power and limitlessness "God the creator of all things visible and invisible." "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." The one whose love alone overcomes the world. Who called Himself I AM to let us know that He is life eternal. "All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made. In Him was Life and the life was the Light of man." Almighty and everlasting God, who made me.

Now a doctrine, 2) Who hatest nothing that thou hast made. When we consider how we forget about God, forget about His will, His love for us, His grace, how we defy Him, isn't it a wonder that He who made us should still love us and seek to save us from ourselves? If anyone treated us the way we treat God surely we would be inclined to hate him rather than love. "But God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in Him should be saved." "He loved us while we were still evil." He cannot act against his nature, love.

and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent. This is both Old and New Testament teaching. Isaiah "though your sins be as scarlet, [8/9] they shall be white as snow; . . . though they be red like crimson they shall be white as wool." "Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out." With our eyes on the Cross, we learn what our sins are. Penitence is sorrow for sin and the realization that we must be changed within.

3) Create and make in us new and contrite hearts. "Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me," sang the Psalmist. We have "a Saviour to give repentance and forgiveness of sin"—Repentance is a gift of God. Everything is from God not even repentance is man's to boast about, for God creates and makes the clean heart in us out of nothing—that is what the word create means—

4) That we worthily lamenting our sins, Worthily lamenting—here is something we can do. Usually we show more concern over worldly disappointments—worthy lamenting—worthy of the insults we have offered God, worthy, to lead to repentance, real sorrow for sin is worthy lamenting. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance." St. Paul said—2 Cor., vii 10. That sorrow is worthy which really leads to the change of mind and heart called repentance.

and acknowledging our wretchedness, Something else we can do is to acknowledge that we are sinners. That some corruption in our nature has taken place since God made us so that we choose our own will rather than His—we choose darkness instead of light—our nature, only Christ's grace can overcome. We are to acknowledge this—[9/10] (It is called the Doctrine of the Fall, of Gelasius, that dear humble man whose prayer, "lighten our darkness," is a cry of help in face of the Pelagian heresy which said in his day as our own, that we can save ourselves without Christ's help—Art. IX, X, Prayer Book, and Chapter XV of the Imitation of Christ, A. Kempis.) The turning is more than acknowledging our inability of ourselves to do what is right, what is good. A bigger step is needed; and for that we must go back and try in our lives to see His patience, His generosity towards each of us, until we are moved to love Him above all things. Then He enters. When we are sorry for our wrongdoings not just because we see they are wrong, unworthy of what we consider our better selves, but because they keep us from Him, offend Him, for which we are mightily sorry, abashed, and desperate, because we know Him as our very life, then we are in a state of contrition—We do not even guess the depth of our sins. Little by little He cures our blindness and we see them, little by little we are led from pride to humility—each step we think we have arrived.

May obtain of Thee the God of all mercy perfect remission and forgiveness. Our God is almighty and everlasting and also full of compassion for us, who have no claim to it, and are wholly in His power and usually unaware. "Through the tender mercy of our God . . . a Saviour has visited us . .  . to guide our feet into the way of peace . . . by walking in holiness and righteousness all our days."

[11] Forgiveness is for an offense, something we have done.

Remission is for a debt, something we have not done. By our sin we deserve punishment but our Lord took this debt upon himself and paid it on the Cross by death—so we pray that 5) Through Jesus Christ our Lord we may be saved

Surely there is wisdom in saying this prayer almost 40 days—surely we gain more and more by daily delving deeper and deeper to draw out its endless treasures.

Regular Devotion

I would love to persuade you to try using the Collects this way every day. I know you would get a great deal out of such a daily regular devotion. Others have. There is strength just in the thought that other people are praying these words, learning these truths this very week, this day, about God. That we are all growing together and individually in His household.

There is no telling what would happen to the world if all of us really prayed, for prayer is the greatest force in the world much stronger than atom bombs. Prayer is letting God, His love, His wisdom, His truth into the world and we know He alone can overcome the world and save it.

Let us cease leaning on distractions or necessities or our friends or our intellects, let us trust God and pray to use these as He would have us. As a 17th century clergyman said "Get about the business in good earnest and presently." Remember [11/12] Christ said "what things so ever ye desire when ye pray believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Every longing is a prayer, let us examine our hearts.)

"Remember there can never come to you a darkness that He cannot make light for you, or a weakness for which He is not able to give you strength, and even in the depths of your greatest need, you cannot possibly want to come to Him so much as He wants to have you come."

And what does it all amount to except what Brother Lawrence says, practicing the presence of God remembering those words "Lo I am with you always."



The main help to be had from knowing a little of the history of the collects is a sense of wonder and gratitude; wonder at their richness and variety, gratitude for the curious way some of these prayers have survived, a sense of what Gamaliel said "If this work be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it." Wonder is the dawn of worship.

Prayers were sometimes forgotten for hundreds of years and then rediscovered. Others were written for one purpose and later served another. Prayers were made for one condition of men and used by a totally different one. They may have passed through six or seven languages, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, two or three mediaeval languages, two or three English versions.

The words need thinking about. The 3rd Sunday in Advent we speak of our Clergy as "ministers and stewards of Christ." "Minister" comes from a Greek word meaning the rower in a galley who took orders from the captain of the ship. The "steward" was the dispenser of another man's goods, never his own. "Ministers and stewards of Christ." The word [13/14] "fulfill" is translated from "convalesco" "grow well." The old English word meant carry out a promise.

Behind each prayer is a person. To some extent we can enter into a holy fellowship with this person. Often the deep conviction of this person, his religious experience, was expressed in statements which became our doctrine, i. e. we accept his teaching about our faith. They do not create faith, they try to explain an experience: of God's Presence, or Power, or love, or of our own weakness and need of His help. They give us the secrets of spiritual living. They are statements of fact about the universe, witnesses to universal Truth, not arbitrary codes or expressions of opinion. There is real value in a daily act which will link our solitary life with the great host of men and women who through the centuries have turned to God using these same words and belief. Individual devotion never takes the place of this social prayer which joins us, the Church Militant, together in the unity of the spirit, with the Church Triumphant.

We should remember that the early Christians, like the Jews, used their memories more than their pens. (Gregory refused to consecrate a bishop who could not repeat the entire Psalter from memory.) We should store the wisdom of these prayers in our memories to draw on in time of need. Many of Christ's words were quotations familiar to his hearers. His answer to the Devil in His temptation, His prayer, much of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, they knew by heart. But the command, [14/15] "this do, and ye shall live," translated it into action; (theology was turned into religion) not a formula, but a life was what He taught, by living it. His was a life based on what they knew, of God, in their minds, but not in their daily life. In Epiphany we remember the Magi because they saw the Star, they followed it, they verified their knowledge of a King with the authorities, the priests, and they came and worshipped. Worship was their ultimate wisdom. It was a weakness that the priests who knew where the King was born, did not bother to go to worship. Worship is knowledge and action.

First we must know the essential truths. Our faith must be well rooted. The first Christians had a long period of instruction and of prayer before the Day of Pentecost filled them with the Holy Spirit and they went out into the world to overcome it.

A little of the history of these prayers makes us more humble and intelligent about our worship, makes us see the long line of people who have brought us these prayers to carry on. "Their diligent achievement is our possession."

The Primitive Church

It was usual for the early church to pray seven times during the day, as the Jews had. (See Justin Martyr, A.D. 150, Tertullian, 208, Clement of Rome, 100, Pliny, 113.) Each day the Christian mysteries were remembered at recognized points in the day; the Passion and Resurrection were the essential ones.

[16] The patriarchal cities of Antioch, Alexandria etc., had papyrus rolls which recorded authentic texts such as The Didache (90-130 A.D.), giving extracts of baptismal and eucharistic rites. Justin Martyr described the Christian worship to the Romans in his 1st Apology written about 150 A.D.

But scholars believe it was not until the middle of the 3rd century, (220) that the regular possession of sets of books for the conduct of services existed, when we have Hippolytus' "Apostolic Tradition." This is an official kind of adoration, thanksgiving and intercession and consecration. This palimpsest MS. which was found in Verona in 1895 contains a Latin version of a lost Greek original written in Rome about 220 A.D by this bishop. This is the oldest form of the liturgy we now possess and had great influence on the Eastern Church.

The essentials of the Sunday service before the Holy Communion lay in the minister reading or reciting a portion of the Scripture then the reciting or singing of a psalm or hymn and this was followed by silent individual prayer. Then followed a prayer summing up the thought of the day, which in the West, by Pope Leo the Great's time (5th century) became condensed into very terse prayers known as the Collects. The Eastern Church developed Litanies, the Western Collects. In the East while the Priest said the silent prayers behind the iconostasis the deacon lead the people in litanies, after the reading of the Gospel and Epistle. The Collects were variable according to the abilities of each bishop. In Rome sometimes these prayers were made [16/17] before the processions to the different churches when litanies were sung. ("We beseech thee Almighty God"—the opening of 1st Lent, shows the influence of the Litany on a Collect.)

The Kalendar

About the special intentions. How were they chosen? That leads us to consider our Kalendar.
The Jews division of time was 7 days, the Greeks and Romans used months, and seasons gathered around certain days, the ides, the Kalends, etc. The Christians took over both systems. The first day of the week was the Lord's Day and given to recollection of the Resurrection. But other incidents of our Lord's life were quickly celebrated on days thought of as anniversaries, Easter and Pentecost were amongst the earliest, the Epiphany in the Eastern church. Then preparatory seasons grew around these festivals, Lent before Easter and later Advent before Christmas. They used the Jewish luni-solar kalendar which is why we have some moveable feasts.

Of the feasts of the Church apart from all Sundays, five have to do with our Lord's life: His Annunciation, Nativity, Circumcision, Ascension and Transfiguration (His Resurrection is celebrated every Sunday). All are planned around our Lord's life and other lives, not on ideas.

The Annunciation is a feast connected with His Mother as is her Purification. There remain 20 other feasts celebrating the apostles and saints, such as St. John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. Stephen [17/18] the first martyr, St. Michael and all Angels, the Holy Innocents and all Saints.

(The feast of St. John the Baptist differs from other festivals in commemorating his birth. It is the only nativity beside our Lord's. The reason seems to be that his birth was foretold by an angel and he was the forerunner of our Lord, preparing His way.) St. Paul's conversion is celebrated in Epiphany, the season stressing the manifestation of Christ's power and glory and of our own need of holy obedience.

The memory of martyrs was naturally vivid to the early Christians and days were given to them which of course varied for different martyrs in different places. The building or dedicating of churches and the deaths of early bishops became anniversaries. So differences in the calendars and prayers grew up in Italy, in Milan, Ambrosian rite, in Rome, Roman rite, and in France in Arles the Gallican rite, in the British Isles the Celtic rite, and in Spain, in Toledo, Mozrabic rite, etc. These were carried to different places by the early monks and Crusaders which mixed things up for later historians! There are still differences of kalendars of Saints in different countries. We have six prayer books in the Anglican Church England, Canada, Ireland, United States of America and South Africa.

Greek was the universal language and used by the Christians in Rome, to the middle of the 3rd century. As late as the 8th Century lessons were still read in Greek. Latin was used only in the provinces of Spain, Africa and Gaul. It may be [18/19] that when Rome changed to using Latin, some uniformity came in, as it did at the time of the English reformation, also some changes in the prayers came in with their translation. We have still very little knowledge of this early reformation which must have been as important a step in Church History as our later one.


One of the first collections of prayers we know of, and such a collection is called a "Sacramentary," is that of Serapion, bishop of Thmuis in Egypt in the 4th century. (11th century MS. Lavra, Mt. Athos.) A phrase in one of his prayers is used the 16th Sunday after Trinity "Let thy pity cleanse thy church," it prays. What was he like? His prayers are full of the word "clean." Why? He lived in a place called Thmuis which translated is "he-goat." It was a place where rites of sacrifice were practiced. He never mentions them, but he prayed "make this people gentle and clean." He was a friend of St. Anthony, the hermit, who left him his cloak; and of Athanasius who knew his collection of prayers. These were days when every single word of a prayer was fought over. How the little prepositions "in," "with," "through," were used showed whether you did or did not believe in the divinity of Christ. Bishops galloped the highways to put down heresies. Serapion uses the term "Thy Word" a great deal. The Incarnation meant everything to him as it did to Athanasius who carried the prayers through Cappadocia to Constantinople where they [19/20] became known to the Greek Church at that great council of Nicea in 325 which fought for our belief in the Divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy. Our prayer book has several prayers using "Thy Word." Hear some of the inspiring words of Athanasius on the Incarnation of the Word of God!


"God made all things out of nothing through His own Word, Our Lord Jesus Christ. As they came into being from non-existence, they returned through corruption to non-existence. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it, for it is God alone who exists, evil is non-being. By nature man is mortal since he is made of nothing but he bears also the likeness of Him who is, and if he keeps that likeness by constant contemplation, his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt. The presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption . . . His death was to turn men to incorruption again, making them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection and thus he was to make death disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire . . . Men can learn directly of holy things from other men. Thus, if they were tardy in looking up to heaven, they might gain knowledge of their maker from those close at hand in converse with holy men . . . Creation was there all the time but it did not prevent men from wallowing in error. [20/21] Man had neglected to consider the heavens before . . . In a body, on as it were their own level, He teaches those who would not learn by other means to know Himself, thy Word, Word of God, and through Him, the Father."

Our American book gets this phrase, "Thy Word" from the Scottish book. Our first American bishop was consecrated after the Revolution, in Scotland, and brought some of the Scottish (Prayer Book) prayers, which were not in the English book, into our prayer book. Now the Scottish book was arranged 100 years after the English, Cranmer's. Those were the days of the revival of learning. Greek was being studied and Greek Liturgies were translated by English and Scottish scholars and found to be noble and helpful and were included in the Scottish book, and so they came to us. Our Collect for Purity in the Communion service is also a Greek prayer which found its way up through Gaul to England and was never included in the Roman
Liturgy. "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts" it says. It can do no harm to remember Serapion and Athanasius, their faith in the cleansing power of God and their belief in the Incarnation.

Leonine Sacramentary

The first known Roman Sacramentary is named after Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome in 440 (a 7th century MS. of it rests in Verona). We use eight of his Collects (3rd Easter 5, 9, 10, 12, 13, 23 Sundays after Trinity and St. Bartholomew's Day).

This was a man of ambition, faith and action. [21/22] Gibbons says Leo's pressing eloquence, his majestic aspect excited such veneration in Attila, the Hun, that he made a treaty of peace agreeing not to burn Rome.

Leo lived in the days when a teaching was prevalent that Christ was only Divine. He insisted on our definition of faith in our Saviour's person, as both human and divine for otherwise Christ's human sympathies would seem less real, he said.

He thought and wrote clearly. His prayers in his prayer book are usually short and definite. They follow the laws of Latin rhythmical prose and were said standing, hands raised.

14th Trinity: Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is as vital to us now as it was 1600 years ago.

Gelasius' Sacramentary

The next source of our Collects is named after Pope Gelasius who lived 40 years later. (There exists a MS. first half of 8th century.) His Sacramentary included six of Leo's Trinity prayers. 45 of his prayers are in our Prayer Book, 28 of our Collects are his (4th Advent, 2, 4, 5 Lent, Palm Sunday, 3rd Collect for Good Friday, ½ Easter, 1. 3, 4. 5 after Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 Trinity, Presentation of Christ in the Temple and Annunciation).

[23] His were times of great lawlessness and destruction. Nothing was safe from the attack of the Ostrogoths, robbery and assassination were daily visitors. His prayers are cries for help and protection. They have a note of humility and holiness that makes them dear to us. He fought the Pelagian heresy, which believed that victory over our temptations is gained by our own acts, not by God's assistance. He denied it in the doctrine of grace, which is one of the articles of faith based on St. Paul's teaching. There is hardly a prayer that we have in our Prayer Book that does not stress our need of God's help. His prayers with such phrases as "Lighten our darkness, O Lord" and "O God who art the author of peace . . .  defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the Power of any adversaries" and "That our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found," still melt our hearts and strengthen our wills today.

(His book was incidentally without local Roman feasts, an adaptation of Roman Kalendar and rites to Gallican qualities. This non-Roman use may have come from Cappadocia to Southern Italy and then to Gaul. It was in France and England in St. Augustine's day. Its prayers are longer and less concentrated than the Roman. Its feasts celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation and Epiphany, [23/24] while Rome developed Christmas. We have them both, which is the beauty of our Kalendar.)

Gregory's Sacramentary

The 3rd great source is Gregory's Sacramentary.

(Epiphany 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Epiphany; 3, 2,) before Lent; 3 Lent, 2nd Collect Easter, Tuesday Easter week, Trinity 17, 22, 23, 25, Circumcision, the Conversion of St. Paul, St. Michael and all Angels, St. Stephen.) 21 Collects.

The framework of our public worship was really developed by Pope Gregory in the 6th century, after St. Benedict's daily, weekly and monthly plan for his monks at Monte Cassino, that super, Roman boarding school, which had gained some ideas from St. Anthony. The Lombards destroyed that monastery in 583. Its monks came to Rome and began celebrating and singing masses in the Churches in their particular way and their order impressed Pope Gregory. They prayed 7 times a day and from their hour services our morning and evening prayers developed.

Gregory's Collects are easy to recognize as most of his 21 prayers are for perseverance and obedience, and have to do with action. All our Epiphany Collects are his but the last. He includes several of Leo's and Gelasius' prayers. (Palm Sunday, 3, 4, 5, Easter 1, 10 Trinity.) The Sunday next before Advent is typical of him.

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded." [24/25] He wrote incidentally, 20 other prayers beginning Stir up, which gives us an idea of what he was up against!

It was Gregory's book which St. Augustine brought to England in 596. The Celtic books he found there differed in discipline and emphasis in season custom. The queen of Kent was from Gaul and her chaplain was Frankish. St. Augustine wrote Pope Gregory about this and Gregory made that wonderful answer "Select from Rome or Gaul or any other church whatever seems to you to be pleasing to God and useful to the Angles Church." This is what really seems to have happened during the next 500 years although gradually the Roman rite was uppermost perhaps because of the music which Gregory had arranged to go with it, the Gregorian Chants.

(The  papyrus had given way now to vellum quires or folded sheets, codexes or books, but we have no MS. of Augustine's time in England. His books, probably, had little or no decorations. The Collects, probably, began with a large capital, equal in depth to two lines, indicating their importance. It used red ink to distinguish instructions from text, hence the term 'rubric'.)

This framework of worship was distributed by Charlemagne in 800 throughout his kingdom, which was most of Europe, with some additions which were non-Roman made by his English scholar Alcuin.

[26] By some inadvertence when Charlemagne sent to Rome for the book of the Sacraments published by St. Gregory, Pope Hadrian sent an incomplete copy, with a Kalendar of only April to December, Hadrian Sacramentary MS. 7 c. Padua; Alcuin added the missing parts from Gelasius and local Gallican prayers. It is this which became known as the Gregorian Sacramentary but it really combined two rites.

(The Roman Liturgy originally possessed no trace of the Eucharistic mystery, the unfolding and recital of the great drama of God and Man in its several phases of creation, redemption and sanctification. It was rich in its Eucharistic offering; the oblation of the people, dedication to God for the good of His children and the benefit of the givers' souls and bodies. It was strongly symbolical. The gift becomes sacrament.

The Gallican was frankly metabolistic as was Alcuin. The phrase "consecrate into the substance of the Body" comes into the Roman Liturgy from the Gallican. In medieval times the transubstantiation theory was thought of as original, and its opponents who followed St. Augustine and the primitive Roman Liturgy were denounced as heretics.)

In our Prayer Book Collects we have three quite different types of prayers, Leo's, Gelasius' and Gregory's; mind and heart and will, they have been said to represent.

Sarum Use

The Normans took this Sacramentary to England with them and St. Osmund, 1085, and [26/27] Richard le Poer, bishops of Salisbury or Sarum as it was then called, used it there. The Sarum use closely resembled that of Rouen and became the standard for Southern England. Its music and ceremonies were especially splendid. Additions of local saints and festivals were made, but by the 16th century it was the most popular of the 5 uses of England (Hereford, York, Lincoln, Bangor, Sarum). There was of course a great variety in these uses due to different local feast days.

The Dominican friars who were as great teachers of heretics as the Franciscans were of slipping Christians, (for whom they arranged prayers for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) the Dominicans, arranged the Collects which during the year fell into two parts, teaching and practice, to break at Trinity Sunday. To them a fundamental teaching seemed the Doctrine of the Trinity.

The Normans brought this idea to Sarum, (and we use it today) rather than the break at Pentecost, which the Romans, used (and still use.) Rome did not sanction the feast of the Holy Trinity until 1334, so different Kalendars developed in the Roman rite.

The Prone

On the North side of the Alps and Pyrenees there developed from the 9th century a vernacular office attached to the Sermon in the High Mass on Sunday called the "Prone." This consisted of all or some of these items, the bidding for intercessions and a Collect said aloud by the preacher, a general confession and absolution, the Creed, Lord's Prayer [27/28] and Decalogue, each with exposition and admonition' notices of feasts and fasts, and marriage bans and ordinations. In England from the council of Cloveshoe 747, this teaching about the Creed and Lord's Prayer had been repeatedly enforced. The various formulations of our Articles of Religion are outgrowths of this Prone. They have been called Henry VIII tuning the pulpits. "They are not in themselves worship but only expressions of the fear of God, faith, love and obedience which are the true worship and if they do not convince to true worship, ought to be abolished," it was stated in 1534.


Advent, Advent 2, Christmas, Quinquagesima, Ash Wednesday, 1 Lent, Easter 2, Sunday after Ascension, St. Matthias, St. Mark, St. Philip and St. James, St. Barnabas, St. John Baptist, St. Peter, St. James St. Matthew, St. Luke, All Saints, St. Thomas. Eleven of these were revised in 1662. He translated from Leo, Gelasius, Gregory and Sarum, 59.

In 1549 Cranmer, on the King's request for "one prayer for one kingdom"  "lest every man try phantasying and devising a sondry way by himself, an unseemly and ungodly diversitie arise," compiled an English prayer book, based on the Sarum Latin use. Services had become so complicated by that time that the Pope, Clement VII, had tried a reform, and the Spanish Cardinal, Quinones, had published a Prayer Book in 1535 or Breviary for the clergy which was so popular it went into a 100 editions in 30 years. [28/29] It was withdrawn in 1558 but Cranmer liked its arrangement of Psalter and Scripture readings and used them in 1543, in his reformed breviary, and again in 1549. In 1526 the 1st edition of the Greek Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil were published in Rome. Erasmus made a Latin translation for the Bishop of Rochester in 1536. Their invocation of the Holy Spirit Cranmer used. The knowledge of Greek had made the reformers acquainted with non-Roman liturgies and the impact of the Protestant Reformation on the Continent brought in some of the Lutheran Church hymns. But mostly Cranmer cut out medieval additions from the Sarum use, trying to return to that which was Catholic as opposed to Roman, the early Church Fathers as opposed to medieval scholasticism. He prescribed a monthly recitation of the Psalter, reading the Old Testament and Apocrypha once a year and the New Testament thrice. Both morning and evening prayer end with the Collect for the day. He rewrote the Saints days Collects and some others, using the Bible as his source. Seven daily Collects were reduced to one. In the middle ages 7 Collects were used as there were 7 petitions in the Lord's Prayer. Now came the days when the Bible had just been translated into English. The fresh air of the Reformation created a keen appetite among the people for Holy Scripture. But only two bishops in 1547 wanted an English Prayer Book.

In the provinces it met with a mixed reception. The King's message to the "rebels" in Devonshire [29/30] points out "it seemeth to you a new service and indeed is none other than the old, the self same words in English which were in Latin, saving a few things taken out." Their aim was to make an intelligible English Mass. The emphasis was on edification and scripture reading as a means of it.

Cranmer's prayers, 21, are always easy to recognize with their Biblical quotations. Such is the 1st Sunday in Advent.

"Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light," a quotation from St. Paul.

The emphasis was away from the Communion service, and might be summed up by the verse "Thy Word is a lantern unto my feet" rather than "Seven times a day do I praise thee," although such was not desired by the earlier Reformers.


The 17th century revisers (3rd Advent, Holy Innocents, 6th Epiphany, Easter Eve), desired to gather up all the best in the Church's past and to adapt it for English use, their aim being "to do that which to their best understandings they conceived might most tend to the preservation of peace and unity in the Church, the procuring of reverence, and exciting of piety and devotion in the public worship of God."

Bishop Cosin of Durham, the outstanding man of the Revision, was a man of great learning and wisdom. He knew the work of the renaissance scholars, prayers from Greek and Gallican liturgies. [30/31] He added 4 more Collects to our book in the 1662 revision. He and his generation were concerned about the teaching of the Church of England. Pepys wrote in his diary November 4, 1660 "Mr. Mills did begin to nibble at the Common Prayer, but the people had been so little used to it, that they could not tell what to answer."

"The struggle against both Rome and Puritanism resulted in our 'via media.' " (King James had peppered the Puritans as soundly as they had the Papists.) A positive doctrine and discipline was restored. Cosin's Collects are for our ministers. His prayers are long, it has been said he tends to make whole sermons of them!

3rd in Advent.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.


In 1928, our American book, which had been revised after the Revolution, added 20 new Collects for special days and occasions like Monday before and after Easter, for missions, memorial day, Whitsun week, etc., [31/32] combinations, many of them parts of old prayers and Collects from the Sarum, Roman and Gothic missals, which Cranmer had omitted. Many are modern, some were rewritten by William Reed Huntington, founder of the Holy Cross Order. He added Monday Before Easter.

"Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord."

This is as fine a prayer as any in our Prayer Book. The 3rd phrase is Cranmer's in the Visitation of the Sick. Unfortunately the commission who added these prayers to our calendar asked only "Is it a good prayer? Should it be in our prayer book?" They were not interested in sources. They found prayers in published collections where no sources were given and added them. Some work has been done to trace to their origin these Collects, but the authors of the Collects for the Tuesday and Thursday before Easter, Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun Week, are among those not known. The Collect for Monday in Easter Week is rewritten by Dr. Suter from a litany by Genevieve Irons who withdrew her book—The St. Veronica Manual, 1896 from publication. She had the varied history of first being somehow connected with an English order then becoming Roman and finally losing her religious fervor, she took to writing novels. The prayer reads:

"O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread; Open we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord."

It is interesting that here a woman is partly responsible for a Collect, and also that the sources should have been so immaterial to the 1928 commission. Most of the commission and especially Dr. C. M. Addison and Dr. J. W. Suter, Sr., had collected prayers over a long period of years and drew from these Collections. (For further information cf. Who Wrote the New Prayers in the Prayer Book—James Arthur Muller—Church Historical Society.) Now there is a movement to rewrite some of the prayers whose words have changed their meaning.

If from this hastily seen procession even one figure stands out to beckon, its purpose will have been served.



The Journey

[34] We have considered the history and nature of our Sunday Collects. We have tried to see in the clear daylight of today the obscure faces of some of our fellow Christians who in the great Christian procession during 2000 years wrote these Collects. How their prayers happen to be in our Prayer Book, we know, and how we might use them daily today, unpack them like trunks to discover their treasures and make them our own.

Now let us re-consider them as a series of signposts, met each week in our Communion service, making a complete guide in direction and discipline for us on our journey through the year.

Why is this guide necessary? Because we are continually forgetting our purpose, we need daily to have it pointed out to us. This is so in any field. How much we learn about birds by taking a bird walk with someone who tells us what to look for, what to notice to recognize a bird when we are alone. The nature of the spiritual world goes unnoticed unless it too is continually pointed out. [34/35] Eyes have we but we see not, and ears but we hear not!

We must agree that all Christians have two purposes, (1) to become better Christians, and that means to become more Christ-like, and (2) to share in creating a Christian society, bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of heaven," "Thy Kingdom come," we are told to pray each day. Still with the flood of books of private devotions, and our age naturally turns to books for solutions, we find ourselves floundering. And in the world of hurry and worry, where diversions and distractions are constant, universal, varied (a definition of temptation) we are often led, or go, astray.

We need one sure guide for all of us for every day and every occasion, a guide in direction and discipline. We have this guide we have said in our Prayer Book, and more particularly in the liturgical year, the Church Kalendar. Its purpose is to guide us week by week, and each day of each week of our life, with Christ, through His life and teaching. It not only brings the events of Christ's earthly life before us, but turns each event into a lesson and then into a prayer, so that step by step learning to know and love Him better, Christ is formed in us. We are what we love and know and do. Religion is essentially an experience. It cannot be taught, but by guidance in certain acts (such as self-examination, thanksgiving, praise) a state of mind receptive to an experience, the knowledge of God, can be created. [35/36] So the prayer book's function is to promote, not define religion.

The regular daily use of the Epistle and Gospel summed up in each Sunday's Collect to use all its week, which the Church has arranged, is a perfectly wonderful journey bringing us closer into relationship daily with Christ and with each other. It is not meant to replace any private "way" of self-examination or prayer which you have found helpful, but to supplement such a way, or better, help you work out your own short cues, while you share this journey with all other Church members, as a great bond of devotion to hold us together in Christ's companionship all through the year. That is why it is part of "Public Worship" or "Common Prayer." It is a journey, mapped out for us all to take, to hold us together in the knowledge of the love of God as shown by His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why our guide is placed in our Prayer Book as part of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. Our indispensable source of the Christian Spirit.

It gives each week's feast, its special reason. It tells us the special occasion for the great feast which our Lord spreads in every church all over the world each week for us, the added reason, beyond His Resurrection, to make us joyful. By prayer, Sacraments, obedience, the liturgical year leads us to the Christ-like life. By it we are reminded of all the essentials of our faith, which we will need to live our Christian lives.

[37] How we enjoy meeting the great, and even telling of dining with someone of reputation. showing we are on familiar terms with them. Should we not rather boast, we such late-comers, that after almost 2000 years our King still spreads a feast for us, to give us little creatures of time, immortality. After all these years He still gives us His body and blood, the bread of heaven, to save and refresh us. How can we stay away from such a feast? How can we not bother to think of why He does this for us? Why does He want us to celebrate with Him some special occasion, except to bring us all closer to Him, and closer together in a holy fellowship?

What Kind of People?

This is something to remember: God does not want us to obey a set of rules. In fact, He realizes we cannot become His children, part of the Kingdom, that way. That is why the Incarnation took place. He wants us to be a particular sort of people. But what sort and how? Not didactic but devout, devotion is a desire to hear and obey.

Our Lord said: "Ye believe in God, believe also in me . . . No man cometh unto the Father
but by me . . . I am the way, the truth and the life . . . learn of me for I am meek and lowly in

St. Teresa said: "We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for beholding His greatness, we realize our littleness, His purity shows our foulness, by meditating on [37/38] His humility we find how very far we are from being humble."

Hear St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "He calls to wanderers who have lost the way, 'I am the Way!' to Skeptics 'I am the truth,' to those on the way, but weary, 'I am the life, Come I will refresh you'—Come, where? 'Unto me.' (There is our object.) Unto me, the truth. But how? By humility—Why? 'I will refresh you.' With what? Love. For truth gives love to whom it is revealed, the humble in heart." Contemplating God with pure hearts results in judging ourselves, and in loving our neighbors instead of the opposite, which is human nature.

It seems we are given life in order to learn how to love, that is to glorify God, for God is love. But why? We love others because while we were evil Christ first loved us, and loves each of us now at every instant of our life. "I stand at the door and knock" He said . . . "and Lo, I am with you always."

"Look at Him" Henry Drummond wrote, "all through His life, what more could He have done to prove His love, than by accepting the Cross of Calvary?"

"Because" says St. John, "He first loved us, we love others." Because there is our cause, and we looking at Him learn to love others by loving Him, Love alone cannot die, for God is love. Our immortal souls must not waste time on the things that pass away and the only things which are immortal are Faith, Hope and Charity. Contemplate the love of Christ and you will love and become Christ-like. [38/39] There is no other way. That is why prayer must be our state of mind.

The Way

Now we can understand why the Church has a Guide to help us to keep daily with Christ, in a living relation with Him and each other. We are pleasing to God our Father only as He sees within us His Son Jesus Christ, being made manifest by each one of us in each of our lives. This is the will of God, our sanctification. Now this takes time, in fact all our time, our lives, to accomplish. It means living a certain way, day after day, growing in Christ's companionship. It is why the idea of life as a journey has appealed to all generations of Christians. It goes back to Christ's speaking of Himself as 'The Way.' St. Augustine used the expression, and you remember Pilgrim's Progress, and in the 17th century James Ussher said "Think not all will surely be well because thou hasteth to shake hands with God at thy journey's end, when thou hast not walked with Him all the way."

The liturgical year, the Gospel, Epistle, Psalms and Lessons summed up in each Sunday Collect is our Guide to be used each day of its week. A Guide which continues to point out, reveal new
wonders to us each day, if we listen to it; and wonder, is a sign of humility, the first step of love.

A Guide is not a book one sits down and reads right through. A Guide is something one uses as one goes along, step by step. It is not enough to have a map and guide of a country, one must live in a [39/40] country and use the guide to know it. So it is with the Church’s Guide. This is important to remember. Our prayer book is not a work of literature fundamentally, though we speak of the Collects as sonnets of devotion and the Bible as literature. The Bible is a description of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Prayer Book is a book of directions for daily spiritual exercises. It is a book of instructions for Christian living. It says, This is the way. It hopes to inform us, that is, to form Christ in us, by daily reminding, and having us say what we believe, and what we should do. So it exercises our minds and hearts and wills in daily Christian living. We can have perfect confidence in this Guide, since charity and faith and hope are its sole reasons for being.

Christian Characteristics

Now I want to speak about the geography of our journey. A few fundamental Christian Truths
we will expect to find—a few of the Doctrines of the Collects—the hills and valleys and streams of the Christian country we pass through, which in many cases are the reverse of those in the world.

We know as Christians our first step is complete trust in God and complete self surrender—by faith we reduce the world's mountains. Every single Collect reminds us of this first step. Second—we learn in the spiritual way not just by knowing, but by acting on what we know. Our Lord said, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the [40/41] will of my Father . . . I have chosen you that ye should go forth and bring forth fruit . . . Be ye Doers of the Word and not hearers only." "Thy kingdom come" our desire, is followed in the Lord's prayer by "Thy will be done on earth" . . .

If we say I know that God is love, and yet are unable to show forth this love in our lives ourselves, we do not know God, in the Christian sense. Here is our fundamental difference with the intellectual and scientific approach to truth. We know that our minds alone do not grasp the truth, once and for all, or our emotions, just by experience and experiment. Our whole nature, mind and heart and will must act together, and what is more they must daily be renewed by coming to their source of life, because truth is not an abstract idea, but our living, loving, God; and we live by days, in time, here on earth, so each moment we may manifest God, no matter what our occupation. For us, truth must be the Incarnation, which sanctifies all life, all occupations.

This is a Christian fundamental that must be grasped at the outset of the journey, otherwise we may be overcome by some worldly mountain climbing. It implies the acceptance of the limitations of the world, time, and ourselves as short-lived creatures of time. It is why we are told to pray daily and to pray for our bodies as well as our spirits. Our only human means of revealing God is in time during each of our lives, by our bodies' actions. We are his fingers and his feet, someone has said.

[42] The acceptance of our own limitations implies that humility is our only possible attitude about ourselves. One of the results of spiritual exercises is to make us conscious of our astonishing blindness. The light of God makes us growingly aware of what sort of persons we really are, in fact each day should reveal a fault in ourselves and a growing understanding of others. The highest hill in the spiritual world to be climbed is humility. His sin is ever before him, who has caught sight of God. "Yet in my weakness is my strength" said St. Paul, for acknowledging our weakness, lets Christ come in and save us. We as Christians can never again be so superficial as to have pride in anything we think or do, and know only our Lord, by His Resurrection, can give us the strength to do anything. Each Collect reminds us of this truth—Humility, when learned is an invigorating truth, a life giving truth. It means we have caught sight of God, of reality, it is a real sense of proportion. But the learning, the doing, is always in self surrender and self sacrifice and is always painful. "Mortifying" we say; literally, that word means "killing ourselves" and that is just the right definition. We have to kill any pride in ourselves, irritation, impatience, annoyance with others and with circumstances, get ourselves out of the way, before we can see God. So humility walks hand in hand with patience.


Spiritual progress is made only by suffering one’s own pain, or suffering in pity for others. That is the explanation of the practice of penance, of abstinence, of continually denying oneself and [42/43] of daily intercessions. Everyone knows it is more difficult to keep close to God in the time of prosperity than in the days of suffering, from the Psalmist down to the peace after World War II.

All Christians know this. St. Augustine put it, in the 5th century "The price of love is thyself." Yet St. Catherine of Siena meant it when she said "All the way to Heaven is Heaven because He saith, 'I am the Way.' " He is with us at each step and each step we take with Him is to be filled with life, most abundantly. Spiritual growth demands self sacrifice and is always painful and always results in joy. The Christian should be a joyful person.

But the consolation of Christ's presence does not mean that things will go the way we want, but that we will have the strength to go God's way. The best plan in our personal tempests is to call upon the Lord, and He will still the tempest. What God plans for us is beyond our imagination, but we must keep our eyes on God, not on ourselves. Studdert-Kennedy said, "We have taught people to use prayer as a means of comfort, not in the original sense of strength, but of soothing. The comfort of the cushion, not the comfort of the Cross so we have failed to win the crown."


Three obstacles hold us back: first, a perverse will, which is overcome by reflection, sorrow and remorse; second, our human weakness, which is overcome when we recognize ourselves as we really are, [43/44] by humility; third, our ignorance, overcome by love of others because of God's love for us. This is charity and this leads us to know about other men which we never do, so long as we are concerned with ourselves. It is with these obstacles that the Christian liturgical year deals. Its proposes to rid us of them by daily asking for grace. These are some of the fundamentals.

Following the Guide

Now the whole point of taking a guide is to follow its directions, obey it. Each Collect reminds us that perfect obedience to God is the law of life, and the fruit of obedience is the peace of God which passeth understanding. Perfect obedience to a person, not a set of rules, is our Christian obedience. Let us remember God wants a particular kind of people. If we really believe God is almighty and everlasting love, that He is waiting to give us this, His life, when we ask Him; then imitating His Son, by obedience to His will, becomes our joyful duty. Otherwise our obedience would have no meaning.

The choosing of a day or week to commemorate a person is the oldest and newest and surest way of making that person real to our easily distracted minds, because it means giving time to him. That is why we have Red Cross Week now and Heart Week, etc.

How better can we remind ourselves together of our Lord, than giving Him each week? Thus each week we live Christ's life with Him. Remember we [44/45] said there is no other way to become Christ-like than by being with Him.

The Year's Plan

Now let us look at the way our Guide proposes. During the year at each Communion service, the Collects, Epistles, Gospels, Psalms lead us through 9 seasons by three different kinds of ways—the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive ways at different times. I want you to see how one leads to another, and our very being is shaped on this journey.


1st Advent: a purgative way. (By St. Jerome's time in the 4th century the Sacramentaries contained Collects for Advent and by the 7th century its present name is found.) For four Sundays before Christmas we prepare for our Lord's coming. It is the beginning of the year and we stir up our wills by remembering the World before His coming. We hear John the Baptist preaching Repentance. We think of the three comings of Christ: 1st humbly in the flesh at Bethlehem, 2nd mysteriously and full of love in our hearts daily, to make each of us children of God, and if this joyful thought makes no impression we turn our minds to His 3rd coming, in majesty, to be our judge, and so we let holy fear cleanse our hearts of that sin which separates us from God. For the punishment of the wicked is their loss of God, of love, of life. The loss of God is Death, so we hear the words, [45/46] "there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth," and "God desireth not the death of a sinner but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live" . . .  "He pardoneth all those who truly repent." "Watch and Pray and Hope" are Advent passwords, violet its color; The early Church had a series of anthems stressing the coming of Christ. From the 17th to the 23rd of December the pulse of the Church beat faster and faster as Christmas approached they sang:

O wisdom come to teach
O Adonai come to redeem
O Root of Jesse come to redeem
O Key of David come to deliver
O Day spring from on high come to illuminate
O Emmanuel come to save us


So we reach the 2nd season Christmastide when we celebrate His birth and our new birth, regeneration, as children of God by adoption and grace. Christ came to save us: to give us repentance and forgiveness of our sins that we might start life new again with God. That is why we say our religion is a redemptive one. You see how one season leads to the next. The peace that was brought among men on earth was through reunion of their nature with God. Earth reunited to Heaven and both made the Kingdom of God. It is the center of all human history to which ages gone by look forward, and future ages look back. By connection with this event only can other histories have eternal interest.

[47] "Now are we the children of God" says the Gospel. The rite of Baptism is the ceremonial counterpart of the Spiritual fact of new birth. Forgiveness and adoption are its two gifts. Gifts fully understood only after the Resurrection. The illuminative way leads us through this season. (By the 4th century it was celebrated on December 25 in Rome.)


3. In the Nativity we, in the west, have come to stress the human nature of Christ, the wonder always associated with birth, the joy at the sight of a Baby renewing the innocence of our hearts, relighting our hearts with love, we have made it a season of carols. The 3rd season, Epiphany, which follows it, reveals especially His divine nature. We have two feasts now, which were originally the same one—for in the East, the Epiphany was and is the feast of the Incarnation—God made man, "Theophany," manifested to us at His baptism and by His miracles, in His healing, (of the leper, the palsied, the frenzied) in His controlling and transforming nature. The Season was called also "Bethania" after the 1st miracle, the turning of water into wine in Bethany in Cana. The season was originally called also the Season of Lights. The Western Church stressed the Magi's story—Wise men of different races and beliefs who followed the light of their star, came and fell down and worshipped Christ as the greatest truth their wisdom could find. Worship is their ultimate wisdom. Worship which dissolves pride and fear and inspires humility and love. [47/48] They were undismayed that their wisdom led them to a stable. The revelation of God in man was for the purpose of destroying evil, to make us Sons of God. As soon as the light has arisen in our hearts we must bestir ourselves as the wise men did and begin to walk in the direction it indicates, for we are told, "Ye are the light of the World." "God's saints are shining lights," Vaughan wrote in the 17th century. We must manifest Him to others, by perfect obedience.

This is called a theological season rather than an historical one. The Eastern Church tends early to theology, the Western to history. It is a time when we consider eternal values, the nature of God, of man, the purpose of education etc., and so it leads into Pre-Lent.


4. Pre Lent—3 Sundays when we think of the character of His Kingdom and we recognize self control as necessary to glorifying God. We pray for temperance, fortitude and charity, as citizens of His Kingdom. Then we move into Lent.


5. Lent, a period of self-discipline from its first institution in Apostolic times. For 40 days we consider how the Son of God met His trials and passion. His answers to his trials become our standard for judging our progress in becoming children of God. We are filled with sorrow as the first Apostles were desolated during the 40 hours following [48/49] their Master's last sufferings, sorrow for the sins which brought about His death. (The season was expanded to the 40 days by the 3rd century, and Gregory the Great introduced the present mode of observation to remind us of Christ's fasting in the wilderness, and of the prophecy of it by Moses and Elijah.) "For as much then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind," says St. Peter. So we pray for repentance, true sorrow for our sins, and in full confession of them to God, and purposing to amend our lives, we hope by His forgiveness that we will be restored to fellowship with Him. We must own our sins to disown them. "Remember" is Lent's watchword. (The hatred of sin because of the wrong it does to God is called contrition. Because there is joy in heaven over each one that repenteth, the end of Lent, the end of our penitence, of the exercises we go through on this Purgative Way, is to be joy, evenness of mind, and charity for others in Easter.


6. At Easter, by His Resurrection, Our God, our life, our Love, goodness, are proved forever to be greater than evil, in this world. The Son of God has overcome death and exhausted it and opened for us the door to the kingdom of heaven, eternal life. What Christ said is proved to be so—"In the world ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" . . . "as dying and behold we live." So by Christ's special grace [49/50] and continual help, we pray during this season that we may rise from the death of the soul, to life eternal. He, by filling us with good desires, with longings, shall be our strength. (The Council of Nicea 325 ruled that Easter, the principal festival of the year, be celebrated on the Lord's Day, the same day everywhere. It was not until the 8th century that sufficiently accurate calculations were made to insure uniformity.)


7. In Ascensiontide we pray, we, too, may in heart and mind ascend to heaven and dwell continually there as children of God. This is called the Illuminative Way—"Set your affection on things above." Ascension Day in our Church is one of the very highest class of solemn days. It concludes the yearly commemoration of our Lord's life and work, from the cradle at Bethlehem (exhibiting before God and man the various stages of His redeeming work) until we stand with the disciples gazing up after Him as He goes within the everlasting doors. St. Augustine called it a festival instituted by the Apostles. Its name has never varied.

(The truths of the Creed are the summary of the revealed Word of God contained in Holy Scripture. The Creeds had their historic development in the first four Christian centuries as definitions of the Church's faith. The Church intends that their acceptance involve the acceptance of the first four General Councils. These with the Creeds become the primary source of doctrine. The Creeds must be [50/51] accepted with a fixity of interpretation even allowing for the use of symbolic language as the only possible means of explaining supernatural facts. "He ascended into heaven" means there was a specific act of glorification of Incarnate Humanity.)

We realize we must have the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to remain in the way so at—


8. Whitsuntide we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us in all things as He did the first disciples—"God at this time did teach the hearts of His faithful people, by sending to them the light of the Holy Spirit." (At Whitsuntide 1549 the Book of Common Prayer in English was first used.) Much has been learned since that first Pentecost, slowly by the process of events. The Collects themselves are witness of the gradual apprehension of the Word of God—The Pentecostal light in both the experience of the Church and of each of us is a light which "shineth more and more unto the perfect day." We remind ourselves that the nine fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
This carries us into the second half of our year. Starting at Trinity.


9. Trinity we turn to look at the result of His life and teaching, the fruit. We pray that remaining steadfast in our faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit [51/52] we may do our Father's will in all things. So Trinity starts us on the Unitive Way. It involves both doctrine and practice. Doctrine is the road that leads us to our destination—one of the Collects asks "Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness."

The Sanctification of Time

Following the Guide we learn each step of necessary discipline and helpful belief so that we cannot go astray. It is a wonderful journey. There is always something new to learn on it. Each season comes to bring us new spiritual understanding and why not, for are we not passing our time, thus, in His presence?

Evelyn Underhill summarizes the whole point for us. She says, "The homely events of the Christian year directed as they are to successive phases of the Divine redeeming action in history, point beyond themselves and witness to those profound spiritual realities which transcend and yet give history its significance. The Lord still lives in the Church under the same form in which He was once manifest on earth . . . and it is the function of the Church to make those sacred memories living, so that we may witness them again, and take part in them. The Liturgy stands for the total orientation of life toward God." So its use holds us to our purpose, each of us to bring His Kingdom to earth, our little lives taking on a timeless reality, as we live in the presence of God.

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