Commentary: Collects for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

First of all, you might have noticed that I have added another source to the ones we’ve been looking at, namely, the Anglican Church of Canada’s 1985 Book of Alternative Services, which (its name notwithstanding) is, I believe, the liturgical resource used by most Anglican Church of Canada parishes today. As we have seen in ELW and (once) in the LBW, the BAS adapts to the three-year lectionary cycle by sometimes offering multiple prayers of the day for a given day based on the year in the lectionary cycle. Interestingly, it appears as though this split only happens in Lent in the BAS — otherwise, there is only one set of proper prayers per day.

As you have doubtless seen, there are three BAS proper prayers for each Sunday; there is not only a collect of the day, said in the beginning of the service, but also  a prayer over the offerings said at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist and a prayer after communion said, well, after communion. While few Protestant orders of worship that I know of incorporate these three proper prayers (Common Worship, as we have seen, incorporates two of the three, omitting the prayer over the offerings), this is not a Canadian innovation — rather, it is a restoration of the full set of proper prayers used in Catholic worship at least since Trent and, I believe, well before. In pre-Novus Ordo Catholic liturgies, what the BAS calls the prayer over the offerings is referred to as the “secret”; in contemporary Catholic usage it is also called the prayer over the offerings. The prayer after communion, it’s worth noting, is actually optional. The BAS also offers a congregational postcommunion prayer similar to the ones in the 1979 prayerbook. I think there’s a lot to be said for this expansion of the proper prayers: the addition of more variable parts to the service means that there are more opportunities to express the particular meaning of each individual Sunday. It is worth noting that only one of the six eucharistic prayers in the BAS use a proper preface, however — so that is one way that the American prayerbook incorporates seasonal content that the BAS decidedly does not emphasize.

Finally, a liturgical note: many of the Anglican prayerbooks (although not the ’79 BCP) describe this Sunday as “Passion Sunday” or the beginning of Passiontide. Passiontide denote the last two weeks of Lent. It’s during this period that all crosses, statues, images, etc., are typically veiled and there are also changes in the Daily Office. Post-Vatican II, the Roman Church no longer celebrates Passiontide but it is preserved to some degree in Anglican usage (and probably by Latin Mass Catholics as well).

With all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the collects for this week:

As usual, the 1928 BCP/1662 BCP/LSB/LH collect of the day are all the same prayer. It’s a fine enough prayer, although hardly theologically rich or particularly strongly connected to the season. Indeed, Marion Hatchett argues rather forcefully that, as a simple prayer for protection it is “not at all suited to the time of the church year” (175). Apparently, this position was the one that carried the day for whatever set of individuals were charged with examining the collects of the day in the revision that produced the 1979 prayerbook, as the 79 BCP uses instead a prayer which was actually originally a collect appointed for use in the Easter season; we’ll encounter it again in the 1928 and 1662 prayerbooks on the Fourth Sunday after Easter. I think, all things considered, that the revision was a good one. While this prayer would also function well late in Eastertide, the prayer to “grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise” is surely a good one for a season of penitence and self-reflection, especially as the season wears on and those of us who have given up our favorite vices are finding it hard indeed to love God’s commands and desire God’s promises. Moreover, the reminder that this work we do (by God’s grace) on ourselves during Lent is not just mortification for mortification’s sake but rather because it is only by fixing our hearts on God that we can find true joy is surely a helpful one.

The Common Worship and Book of Alternative Services collects of the day for this day are quite similar. The ascriptions are different, with the Common Worship one generically appropriate to the season and the BAS one more closely linked to the week’s readings, but the petition is nearly the same. The wording is a little different, though — and I think I prefer the BAS wording, which highlights the transforming power of Christ’s cross for those who have faith in it rather the faith that Christians have in that the cross of Christ. Both are, I think, theologically correct, but the Common Worship one threatens – to use an old Lutheran turn of phrase – to make faith a work, in my opinion, while the BAS one resolutely focuses on the cross.

Not too much to say about the ELW collects; as usual, they are quite lyrical and draw well upon the appointed lections. I do wonder about the use of the term “Creator God” in the Year C collect a little. Is it supposed to be replacing “Almighty God” or “God the Father” in the style of inclusive-language substitutes for traditional trinitarian language? If so, identifying the act of creation solely with the first person of the Trinity tends towards modalism/Sabellianism and contradicts the Nicene Creed; we Christians have historically confessed that the Word and the Spirit as well as the Father were involved in creation. Now, I don’t want to get into a whole discussion of the use of inclusive language “substitutes” for the Father/Son/Holy Spirit trinitarian formula like Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier — the short version of my stance on them is that I understand and respect the reasons for which people advocate for them and enthusiastically support the use of feminine and gender-neutral language  and pronouns for God alongside the traditional masculine ones, but believe hat none of the substitutes in common usage actually mean the same thing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that the replacement of the traditional terms threatens to erase a robustly trinitarian theology in favor of either a modalistic unitarianism or a sort of tritheism. In short, I like the prayer but would prefer an “O God” to “Creator God” at the beginning. Of course, the Apostle’s Creed identifies God the Father primarily as Creator, so one might argue that I am making much ado about nothing here; certainly addressing God the Father as Creator on occasion is not problematic — but the collects have traditionally been expressions (as the Apostle’s Creed, worthy though it is, has not) of developed trinitarian theology, and I see no pressing reason to move away from that!

I want to close with a brief discussion of the Lutheran Worship collect in the context of Passiontide. Now, to the best of my knowledge, few Lutheran churches, Missouri Synod or otherwise, observe Passiontide; certainly I did not growing up. The Lutheran Hymnal does call the Fifth Sunday in Lent Passion Sunday, probably following the 1928 prayerbook as usual, but Lutheran Worship simply calls it the Fifth Sunday in Lent. Yet I believe that understanding that the Fifth Sunday of Lent is, historically, Passiontide/Passion Sunday helps us make sense of the Lutheran Worship collect for this Sunday. The petition in this collect asks God to “help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord’s Passion that we may receive remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death”; it’s the first collect in Lent that refers explicitly to Christ’s passion and death. I believe that the reason this collect is put here rather than some other week is as a sort of commemoration of Passiontide, preparing the congregation (as Passiontide did) for the Holy Week observance to come.

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Commentary: Collects for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

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