Gleanings from the Collects: The 4th Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect is new to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It was adapted from a prayer in The Prayer Manual.[1]

The collect seems to pull us out of Lent, since it is a radical departure from the collect that it replaces.[2]But that is likely the intent because the 4thSunday in Lent is called “Laetare Sunday.” This is the mid point of Lent. The introit begins “Rejoice” (laetare), the vestments are rose, and the Gospel is the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. All of this comes together to suggest a Lenten intermission.

To add to the sense of celebration, the 4thSunday in Lent has also been known in Britain and some other English speaking countries as “Mothering Sunday.” It is the custom since the Middle Ages to return on this Sunday to the parish in which you were baptized or to attend the Cathedral, which is the mother church of the diocese. 

The collect begins, “Gracious Father.” While many collects correctly refer to God as “Almighty” it is important to be reminded that He is also full of grace, kindness and mercy. We do not approach Him as enemies seeking quarter; we come to Him as His children, drawn by His love. It is this relationship that makes us “bold to say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’ ” 

The prayer focuses on Jesus as the Bread of Life.[3]Our request for the Father to “evermore give us this bread” has dual meanings. First is to unite us with Christ as Jesus prayed, “so that the love with which You have loved Me, may be in them and I in them.”[4]

Second this request has clear Eucharistic implications. In asking for this bread we are asking for the LORD to continue to feed us “with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ…”[5]

Lastly the collect captures why Holy Communion is the zenith of our worship. We receive it so “that he may live in us, and we in him.” These words come from the Prayer of Humble Access that is prayed just before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. It declares that this is not an empty ritual. We pray as we receive Holy Communion, “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”[6]

For the Lord to answer this prayer we must cooperate with Him. If we hope to evermore receive the Bread of Life we must be diligent in seeking Him and we must be faithful in receiving the Sacrament. It would be foolish of us to pray for food but then ignore the call to dinner. We must not allow time to be a constraint as we almost always have time for the things that truly matter to us. 

[1]London: Mowbray, 1952

[2]“Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of they grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”

[3]John 6:35

[4]John 17:25 NASB

[5]1928 BCP p.83

[6]1928 BCP p.82

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