Commentary: Collects for the Second Sunday of Lent

There are a couple of things worth noting here about the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent.

First of all, the current (1979) BCP collect is actually a departure from the Anglican tradition.  The 1928 BCP collect is more-or-less identical to the 1662 one, which itself is basically a translation from the Latin of the Sarum missal and the Gregorian sacramentary. The 1979 prayerbook has not done away with this collect entirely; rather, it’s now used for the Third Sunday in Lent.

Now, the 1979 prayerbook collect for this Sunday is actually drawn from a Good Friday solemn collect found in the Missale Gallicanum vetus, the Gelasian sacramentary, and the Gregorian sacramentary (see Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayerbook, 174). Prayers very similar to the 1979 collect were also used as one of the options for the day in the LCA/ALC Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and as the only collect appointed for the day in the LCMS Lutheran Worship (1982). Indeed, the Missouri Synod (and possibly the ALC/LCA as well; I just don’t have my hands on all the necessary liturgical books) made the same shift that the Episcopal Church did: the collect used in The Lutheran Hymnal and in the 1928 prayerbook was shifted to the Third Sunday in Lent and replaced with the 1979 BCP/Lutheran Worship collect. Based on what I know about the development of the LBW and LW, I am guessing that the immediate source of their collects for this day was in fact the 1979 BCP, then in draft form. Interestingly enough, in the current LCMS hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, the “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves…” collect is back in its traditional position for the Second Sunday of Lent.

The current Common Worship collect is similar to the 1979 collect; both focus on the correction of error and repentance among Christians. There is, in my reading, at least, a slight difference in emphasis. The petition in 1979 prayerbook collect is that God be gracious to those of us who have fallen away from God’s ways and that God bring us back through penitence to embrace the truth of Jesus, God’s Word. That petition is very similar to the attribution in the Common Worship collect, which describes God as Someone who shows error in order to lead back to truth. The petition proper, then, is that God may grant that Christians may avoid those things which are contrary to Christianity, and follow those things which are Christian. To me at least, there is less of a focus on repentance and return here and more of a focus on acting rightly to begin with. I think I prefer the 79 collect to the Common Worship one, especially for Lent. While it is good and right to pray to avoid heresy and sin, the Lutheran in me wants to stress that we all, in fact, are deeply in captivity to sin and need, all of us, God to inspire in us the penitence and faith to bring us back to right relationship with God and with each other. I should add that the collect traditionally associated with this Sunday has not disappeared entirely in Common Worship; it appears as the post-communion prayer.

One final note: in looking at the collect for this Sunday, particularly as it developed in American Lutheranism, we cannot avoid seeing the impact of move from a single-year to three-year lectionary culminating in the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary by many mainline Protestant churches, including the Episcopal Church (with some adaptations, I believe), the ELCA, and the PC(USA), whose collects for the day we’ve looked at. I’m less sure about the Presbyterians, but my understanding is that the Lutheran church bodies, the Episcopal Church, and the Roman Catholic Church all used single-year lectionaries for Sunday Scripture readings until late in the twentieth century. The Roman and Episcopal ones also only included two lections, an Epistle reading and a Gospel reading (I’m not sure about the Lutherans). In the wake of Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church switched to the now-familiar three-year system with four readings (Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel). In response, many American Protestant churches developed lectionaries based upon the new Roman one — we see one example of this process in the Sunday Eucharistic Lectionary in the ’79 prayerbook. The Common Lectionary was a pan-mainline-Protestant project developed out of the Roman and Episcopal lectionaries; the Revised Common Lectionary was a further revision of the that.

Now, this is important because the collect (and the rest of the Propers, for that matter) is typically related to the Scripture readings appointed for the day. If you have a yearly collect cycle and a yearly lectionary, this is no problem. However, if you try to maintain the traditional yearly collect cycle while switching to a three-year lectionary, things get a little bit trickier; your collect now needs to relate to three different sets of lections.

One solution to this problem is to jettison the traditional system of having only one collect appointed per week of the church year. The LBW begins to offer alternate collects for some Sundays and feasts. For the Second Sunday of Lent, the alternate collect appears to be based upon the Gospel reading from Year A in the LBW lectionary (John 4:5-26). Note, however, that not all of the alternate collects seem to be based on different sets of Sunday lections. The ELW, then, has entirely done away with the traditional one-collect-per-week system; instead, there are three collects for each Sunday of the Church Year, one for each year of the lectionary. While I am leery for a variety of reasons of abandoning the traditional system of collects, this approach does have some clear advantages. The collect for Year C (the current year of the lectionary), weaves together language and themes from the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings in quite a beautiful way. “God of the covenant” refers to the Old Testament, “the mystery of the cross” to the Epistle (a bit of a stretch, but I think it works), and “Gather all people into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy” to the Gospel. It is much easier to craft a collect like this when each collect will only be used with one set of lections; while lovely, this collect wouldn’t quite “work” in the Episcopal system. In Lent, of course, the themes are similar enough across the years that it isn’t such a stretch to find a collect that functions for all three sets of readings; it’ll be interesting to see if that becomes less true once we reach Ordinary Time.

Commentary: Collects for the Second Sunday of Lent

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