Gleanings from the Collects: 1st Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It is adapted from the book Ancient Collects[1]that in turn drew from a collect in the Gregorian Sacramentary[2]of the 8thcentury. 

This prayer is an improvement over the collect for the First Sunday in Lent in the Sarum Rite[3]that reads, “God you cleanse your church with the annual observance of Lent: grant your family that what they strive to obtain from you by fasting they may follow up with good works.” This collect has been correctly described as having pelagian[4]overtones. The words “what they strive to obtain from you by fasting” seems to paint a quid pro quo relationship with God that betrays works righteousness.

The 1979 collect however is not an improvement over the 1662 collect. It reads, “O LORD who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may every obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honor and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The 1662 collect hits the mark for a number of reasons. First it is addressed directly to our Lord Jesus Christ who overcame temptation and therefore is the very One to give us grace to do the same. Second, while avoiding pelagian overtones, it is not as passive as the current collect. It has us correctly calls upon His grace but then goes on to declare our role in overcoming temptations. Our abstinence is to subdue our flesh to the Spirit and we are to obey the leadership of the same Spirit (“obey thy godly motions”) to pursue righteousness and holiness.

That being said, the current collect has its merits. It perfectly captures the focus of the day’s Gospel that is on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Thus as we enter the 40 days of Lent with Christ it reminds us that we do not do so with bravado or with trust in our own power. 

The collect acknowledges our true condition that we are “assaulted by many temptations” and because of our weakness we stand in need. The collect wisely has us to call upon the Lord to find Him “mighty to save.” 

This balanced approach of admitting our weakness but finding the Lord “mighty to save” will lead to a fruitful Lenten season. It will help to prepare us for the glories of His resurrection, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[5]

[1]William Bright, 1824-1901, Anglican Priest and Historian.

[2]A Sacramentary is a book that contains the prayers used by the Celebrant.

[3]Sarum Rite was the Rite of Salisbury Cathedral from the 11thcentury

[4]Pelagius was a British monk of the 4thcentury who put such an emphasis on free will and asceticism that St. Augustine condemned him for denying the necessity of God’s grace for salvation.

[5]Romans 6:4 NASB

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