Collects, Prayers, and Prefaces

I am embarking this fall on a series of articles called ‘Anglican Practices’ that I hope will address why we do what we do on Sunday mornings as Anglicans. Worship is central to what it means to be an Anglican. I am not suggesting worship is not important for other Christian traditions. But what differentiates Anglican worship from any other kind is we assume we pray what we believe, and we believe what we pray. For Anglicans, worship shapes the Christian life, or at least, it is supposed to.

It is hard to be shaped by something you do, that you do not understand. From my conversations with the average Anglican, many have either forgotten, or never been instructed on the particulars of our Sunday morning liturgy that guides our worship of God. And so, over the next few months, I will endeavor to inform you on different aspects of our Anglican liturgy. First, a warning! There are, and I believe unfortunately, a variety of new Eucharistic liturgies, not just the few that are found in the Book of Alternative Services, in the Anglican Church today. I am not going to get into why I think the creation of these different liturgies is ill advised. All I will say is for me, the Book of Common Prayer best represents what our Anglican forefathers intended and is faithful to the tried-and-true ancient liturgies of the Church. Consequently, I will focus most of my investigations on what happens in the BCP, albeit I will make the odd side reference, when appropriate to the BAS. So, let’s begin.

The first topic I wish to address is the use of what are called ‘collects, propers, and prefaces’ in the BCP. What they have in common is that they are well thought out ‘written’ prayers. What differentiates them are their functions. Let’s begin with the Collect. The word ‘collect’ originally came from Eastern Orthodox Church liturgy. In case you didn’t know, the Church has been divided even before the Reformation between the East and West since around the 6th century AD. The reasons why are for another article. Their liturgy began with a series of prayers offered up by the people. At the end of these prayers, they were in a sense, ‘bundled’ together in one short summary prayer. It was called the ‘collecting’ prayer. In the Western Church, the collect took on a special feature in its liturgy. It was structured into four parts. The first part addresses or names the God we worship. Second part talks about God’s attributes or what He is like or done for us. The third part consists of a petition the congregation can confidently pray to God based on who and what God has done. Lastly, it concludes with the recognition that only through Christ we can make this prayer.

For example, let’s consider the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent on p. 97. Part one, addresses God as ‘Blessed Lord’. Part two states what God has done: ‘who hast caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning’. Thus, in part three, we can say, ‘Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, make, learn, and inwardly digest them …’. Lastly, we can confidently ask this because ‘thou hast given us this in our Saviour Jesus Christ’.

Collect for the First Sunday in Lent | blackbeans

The notion of the collect ‘bundling’ our prayers together has been lost in the West. Still, vestiges of this use are apparent on p. 70 where the priest says, ‘The Lord be with you,’ and we respond, ‘And with they spirit’. The ‘collect’ continues to serve a function. It summarizes the main themes of the readings assigned for any one Sunday and is consistent with the overarching themes of each season (e.g., Lent or Advent), in the Church calendar year.

Let’s turn to Prefaces. To get up a steep uneven hill it is helpful to have a ramp. Likewise, prefaces serve as ramps to help people prepare themselves for the main event in the liturgy, the Eucharistic prayer. From ancient times and the earliest Christian liturgies, the following sentences were said as you find them on p. 78,

The Lord be with you.

And with thy spirit.

Lift up your hearts;

We lift them up onto the Lord.

Let us give thanks unto our Lord God;

It is meet and right so to do.

To further prepare us for the Eucharistic Prayer, there are what are called ‘Proper Prefaces’ on pp. 79-81. The use of any of these prefaces is determined by the season, special week, or feast day in the Church calendar year. Now that we are geared up for the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest invites us ‘with Angels and Archangels’ to praise God and say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy …’. These prefaces are unique to the Western Church. In the Eastern Church, the preface prayer never changes because, like in the BAS, the Eucharistic Prayer changes. It does not in the BCP.

Finally, what is a Proper? There is a fixed part in the liturgy, which Roman Catholics call the ordinary. Likewise, there are certain things in both the BCP and BAS Sunday liturgy that do not change. Certain things, like the Collect (or the prayer after communion and over the gifts in the BAS), change every week. The word proper, according to the Latin root, means ‘belonging to someone or something’. We have proper prayers (Collects and Prefaces) for Christmas, Advent etc., special week, or day (Saints’ Day). For instance, at the time I am writing this article, the proper in the BCP is THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. For that Sunday a collect, lesson, and Gospel reading are assigned. When the BAS was introduced, proper was still used, but everything else changed, including the collect, readings, and name of the Sunday. For instance, the proper for the THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY in the BCP is called FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST or PROPER 22 in the BAS. Yes, it is confusing. I have decided to stick with the BCP propers and accompanying collects and readings this fall because, one, they are consistent with what the ancient church used, and two, they thematically make more sense.

There you have it. If you have more questions, that does not surprise me. But I hope you have at least gained some insights into our Anglican liturgy, that can enrich your worship experience on Sundays.

In the spirit of my favorite travel guide, Rick Steves,


Keep on praying!

Collects, Prayers, and Prefaces