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by
05 April 2024

Adrian Leak continues his occasional series with an exploration of the Eastertide collects

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Triptych depicting the story of salvation (c.1340-50), by the Master of Cologne, in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

Triptych depicting the story of salvation (c.1340-50), by the Master of Cologne, in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

THE collect set for Easter Day in Common Worship (CW) comes from one composed for the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). It was based on a prayer that had originally appeared in the Gregorian Sacramentary:
 

Lord of all life and power, who through the mighty resurrection of your son overcame the old order of sin and death to make all things new in him: grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit . . .

Collect for Easter Day, CW
 

Cranmer’s intention was to provide prayers to be sung or said early on Easter Day, “in the morning afore Mattyns the people beyng assembled in the Churche”. These included a recitation of biblical texts (the Easter Anthems) and the collect from the pre-Reformation Latin rite.

Before the Reformation, these prayers had accompanied the ceremony at dawn on Easter Day, when the reserved sacrament was taken from the “sepulchre”, or altar of repose, where it had been placed on Good Friday, and carried in procession to the high altar. Cranmer borrowed some of the words to create his own brief, pre-matins devotion, thus preserving in the reformed liturgy of the Church of England this fragment of an ancient rite.

Later, he removed the pre-matins devotions from the 1552 revision of the Prayer Book, replacing them with the instruction that, on Easter Day, the two anthems (Romans 6.9-11 and 1 Corinthians 15.20-22) be said at matins instead of the Venite. To these was added in 1662 the antiphon (1 Corinthians 5.7b, 8: “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us”), forming what became the first of three anthems.

 

THE two collects for Ascensiontide, based on pre-Reformation texts, have served the Church for many centuries. Cranmer’s versions, translated from Latin for the 1549 Prayer Book, have now been modernised in CW for our use today:


Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with him continually dwell; who is alive and reigns with you. . .

Collect for Ascension Day, CW


O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you. . .

Collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day, CW


Ascension Day has been, from earliest times, a major festival of the Church. Its unique position in the calendar was established as long ago as the fourth century, when Etheria (or Egeria) made a pilgrimage from her native Spain to the Holy Land. In the account of her peregrinatio, she described how the Ascension was celebrated in Jerusalem as the last of the 40 days of Easter. An event of greater significance than simply the end of Christ’s ministry here on earth, it was the consummation of his life on earth, not merely its conclusion.

 

COLLECTS designated for a special day or season — in this instance, Ascensiontide — often contain references to the Bible texts chosen to be read on those days at matins and evensong. Among other associated texts are Psalms 47 (“God has gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump”) and 24 (“Lift up your heads, O ye gates . . . : and the King of Glory shall come in”).

There is a significant change in the wording of the collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day. The pre-Reformation antiphon on which Cranmer based this collect had been addressed to our Lord himself. It was Christ who was worshipped as the “King of Glory”, a title accorded to him in the Te Deum and elsewhere. In Cranmer’s collect for that Sunday, however, it is the Father who is addressed as King, not the Son.

The Prayer Book accorded Ascension Day and the seven days after it a proper preface in the eucharist, ranking it with Christmas Day, Easter Day, Whit Sunday, and Trinity Sunday.

 

THE collect for Pentecost (Whitsun) is a modern version of the one in the Prayer Book:


God, who as at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour. . .

Collect for Pentecost, CW


Cranmer’s translation can be traced back through the Sarum Use to the Gelasian Sacramentary. The dominant concepts are light, judgement, joy, comfort. There is no mention of the rushing mighty wind, or tongues of fire, prominent in the biblical account of the day of Pentecost. Neither is there any reference to the ecstasy of conversion usually associated now with Pentecostalism.

This prayer was composed some centuries after the first day of Pentecost. By then, our ancestors had learned to experience the Holy Spirit, not as a spasmodic and violent incursion of divine power, but as Christ’s continuing presence within the normal life of the Church. The collect asks that the Church be illuminated by a right judgement in the ordering of its life, and that its fellowship be strengthened (“comforted”) by a quiet and enduring joy.

As John Keble (1792-1866) put it:


When God of old came down
   from heaven,

In power and wrath he came;
Before his feet the clouds were
   riven,

Half darkness and half flame:


But when he came the second
   time,

He came in power and love;
Softer than gale at morning prime
Hovered his holy Dove.


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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