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Ordinary time after time

by
24 May 2024

Adrian Leak continues his occasional series on the collects

Alamy

Carving of the Holy Trinity, from a church in Vienna

Carving of the Holy Trinity, from a church in Vienna

TRINITY Sunday was one of the last of our significant church festivals to be officially recognised. As late as 1334, Pope John XXII proclaimed it a feast in its own right. Until then, the day had been observed as the Octave of Pentecost. In England, however, there had been for many years greater attention to this day than on the Continent — possibly because of its association with Thomas Becket, whose consecration had taken place on this day in 1162.
 

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity: keep us steadfast in this faith, that we may evermore be defended from all adversities . . .

Collect, Trinity Sunday, CW


Most of the Sunday collects conform to a trinitarian pattern. That is to say, they are addressed by us to the Father, as manifest in the Son, and apprehended by us through the power of the Spirit. The collect for Trinity Sunday breaks this rule. It places us, as it were, outside the life of the Holy Trinity, looking in. We become observers of the mystery, not participants. Perhaps that is why there has been historically an awkwardness about dedicating a special day to the Holy Trinity when, in the life of the Church, every day and every act of Christian devotion is a celebration of the central mystery of our faith.

 

AFTER Trinity Sunday there follows a long period of “Ordinary Time”: 20 or more Sundays, depending on the date of Easter. The poem “After Trinity”, by John Meade Falkner (1858-1932), tells how the Church’s year, dominated during the first five months by Christ’s redeeming work, turns now to the natural order of God’s creation:
 

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast. . .

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.

After harvest comes the flight of swallows, then autumn with the scent of gathered apples, and dew-laden webs festooned on brambles. And then it’s back to the beginning again:

An end of tombstone Latinity,
Stir up sober mirth,
Twenty-fifth after Trinity,
Kneel with the listening earth,
Behind the Advent trumpets
They are singing Emmanuel’s birth.

“Stir up sober mirth” is a reference to the BCP collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent, retained in Common Worship as as optional post-communion collect. “Stir up Sunday” is a reminder to stir up the mixture in preparation for the Christmas pudding. Cranmer translated the prayer from the Sarum Missal:


Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded …

Post-communion, Sunday next before Advent, CW

 

FALKNER’s poem refers to the wheat harvest and the crop of autumn fruits, hinting at nature’s seasons which run parallel with the Church’s calendar — the integration of sacred and secular, a consequence of the Incarnation. Plough Sunday in January; Rogation Days before Ascension Day, bidding a blessing on the crops; Lammas (loaf-mass) in August, in thanksgiving for our daily bread. To these ancient customs of our once rural population we can now add intercessions for industry, commerce, and education.

Common Worship provides us with a wealth of new collects and liturgies to enrich the worship of our parish churches, both rural and urban. It also provides us with 22 collects for the Sundays after Trinity, of which 14 are adapted from Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. Some deserve particular attention.


God, which declarest thy almighty power, most chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Give unto us abundantly thy grace, that we, running to thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christe our Lord.

Collect for Trinity 11, 1549 and 1552


Surprisingly for Cranmer, this is not at all pleasing to the ear. It does not flow. The 1662 revision replaced “Give unto us abundantly thy grace, that we, running to thy promises’” with the more elegant “Mercifully grant unto us such a measure or thy grace. that we, running the way of thy commandments … ”.

 

NINE of the 22 collects after Trinity are modern compositions. The one for Trinity 3, written by David Frost, is a good example of contemporary prayer-writing. It conforms to a tradition that goes back to the eighth century and yet is comfortable to the modern ear:


Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; through. . .

Collect, Trinity 3, CW


Like many good collects it resounds with biblical allusions. In this case, there are echoes of Galatians 4.6 (“God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”) and Romans 8.21 (“that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”). The awkward beginning (“Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin”) — which appears to be telling God what he must surely know — is the effect of complaints by some members of the General Synod who objected to relative clauses. Not every such objection, however, was upheld, as can be seen in the collect composed by David Silk, who based his prayer on 2 Corinthians 5.19:


Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Collect, Trinity 13, CW

 

The Revd Adrian Leak is a retired Anglican priest, whose recent publications include The Golden Calves of Jeroboam and After the Order of Melchizedek.

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