After ‘Let us pray’

15 February 2011

Raymond Chapman on a hardy set form


The Collect in the Churches of the Reformation
Bridget Nichols, editor

SCM Press £55
Church Times Bookshop £49.50

THE title of this book could be misleading, although a glance at the contents page dispels any doubt. It is not a study in Reformation history, but an examination of the way in which collects developed through the three main branches of Reformation Churches: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican.

A collect is a short prayer to be used in the liturgy, so named as gathering the worship of the day rather than referring to the assembling of the people. It has been treated in many ways — as part of the entrance rite or the beginning of the Ministry of the Word; based on the commemora­tion of the day or the lections. In various ways, it has been adopted by Churches less committed to a set liturgy, and has generally retained some of its medieval roots. The Primers, the Sarum rite, and the new English collects of 1549 have influenced both style and form.

Essays in this collection consider the Swedish Church, at first gener­ally conservative and slow to move from earlier influence. Methodism for many years held to the Book of Common Prayer, until internal divisions and expansion in the United States required new prayers. The Presbyterian tradition em­phasised scriptural and pneu­mato­logical references, and even the Baptists, most resistant to written forms, have come to accept a certain mixture of set and free prayers.

The Church of England, seeking no change for several centuries, suddenly burst into innovation in the second half of the 20th century, writing collects for new lectionaries, adding post-communion collects, and approving a number of supple­mentary books. Michael Perham writes a clarifying account of the somewhat confusing development of these additional prayers, and David Kennedy discusses the sometimes tendentious relationship between collects and lectionaries.

Some of the collects directed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy departed more radically from tradition and produced some infelicitous prayers. Alan Griffith, in a valuable Roman Catholic contribution, notes these faults in his own Church as well as the Anglican, and praises some of the translations in the Book of Common Prayer.

All the contributors are well informed on their subject and know how to present it to an interested but not specialist reader. The editor has contributed a very helpful introduction, and has overseen the collection of developments from many confessions into a coherent whole. After such wide-ranging experiments, it is good to know that here is still a discernible shape across most of the liturgies. As Fr Griffith wisely says, “Shape is important, it marks the difference (for the congregant at least) between the experiential assurance of ‘This is what we are doing’ and the chaos of ‘Whatever will they get up to next?’”

Congratulations to the publishers for using the civilised reference method of footnotes.

The Revd Dr Raymond Chapman is Emeritus Professor of English in the University of London.

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