Structure of the Collect: Praying in Jesus' Name
Flesh is happy to “pray” on its own terms. “God, grant me a winning lottery ticket that’s big, give that bully the comeuppance he deserves, land me a job with power and prestige.” Flesh is even happy to baptize its petitions, ending them “in Jesus’ name.” This is what flesh does—it seeks its own lusts from a god of its own design.
The structure of the Collect protects against this. The Collect delivers to the baptized who gather before God to pray—reverent tradition, theological depth, linguistic brevity, sturdy structure . . . but most especially faithful prayer in the Name of Jesus heard before the throne of God. Here I’ll focus on how the Collect’s structure empowers prayer in Jesus’ name. The Rev. Dr. Eckardt has earlier this week offered insights on the meaning of the Collect and its Ceremony.
First, the structure. Each Sunday’s Collect of the Day summarizes the Church’s central petition usually on the basis of the appointed Gospel text. In Worship (1959), Reed notes that across the centuries the Collect has generally had five parts: (1) an invocation, (2) a basis for the petition, (3) the petition itself, (4) the purpose or benefit desired (sometimes omitted), and (5) the concluding doxology (often called the termination). Reed; Piepkorn, The Conduct of the Service (1965); and Lange, Ceremony and Celebration (1965) note how (1) the invocation to a given Person of Holy Trinity, or to the One, Holy Trinity, and (3) the petition, with its address to, or mention of, a given Person of the Holy Trinity, set (5) the appropriate, corresponding termination. Also, when Collects are prayed sequentially, Collects other than the first and last use a short termination, e.g., through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Not just the summary content and theological depth, but also the intricacy and interdependence of the parts warn against tampering with the texts of Collects.
As an example of structure, consider the Collect from last Sunday (the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity): (1) Almighty and merciful God, (2) by Your gift alone Your faithful people render true and laudable service. (3) Help us steadfastly to live in this life according to Your promises and (4) finally attain Your heavenly glory; (5) through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Acts 4:24-30 reflects this same Collect structure.
So how does the Collect’s structure empower prayer in Jesus’ name?
In the Gospel for Rogate Sunday (St. John 16:23b-30), Jesus promises, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” Certainly the Church desires to pray with such boldness, confident that God will grant her requests, but to pray “in Jesus’ name” does not mean appending those words to fleshly desires.
Jesus’ promise uses a common idiom from two thousand years ago. Ancient business records clearly show the meaning of “in ones name.” A man charged with running a rich owner’s farm might go to buy seed and tools for the farm. At “checkout,” he would say that he was buying these things “in the name of the owner.” This meant that the purchases were for the owner’s farm. The man would pick up the goods, but the bill would go to the owner’s account.
To buy something in someone else’s name meant that it was being purchased based on that person’s word and for his work. In short, the phrase “in one’s name” provided the basis or authorization for the purchase. This is the exact function of the second part of the Collect, the basis for the petition which follows.
The basis for the petition forms the authorization—the divine words and deeds—for the Collect’s petition, so that we may be certain that the prayer is heard and will be answered by God in His mercy. The bases for the petitions of the Collects vary—e.g., from a promise of Scripture, to a remembrance of God’s mercy to an appeal to His righteousness—but in each case, the petition’s basis ought to be understood in it fullness in the redemptive words and deeds of Jesus, in whom all of God’s promises are tendered for us. The sacrifice of his body and blood authorize His servants to ask and receive the goods of His kingdom. On this basis, the Collect leads us to approach the Presence, to petition God to find grace to help in time of need.