Yesterday I wrote about over-relying on the Book of Common Prayer, particularly when the assembly prays for the whole state of Christ’s Church and the world. Yesterday I focused on how the forms of the Prayers of the People can be used more as guides and not necessarily explicit scripts. I used a specific example from the San Francisco Bay Area of how using them as scripts can sometimes miss the point of the Prayers of the People.
The second part of the Prayers of the People that gets to me when the Prayer Book is too heavily relied on is the Collect at the Prayers. One of the things Hatchett points out in “What’s in a rubric?” is that the collects given as options are the fourth choice of the Prayer Book’s preference. “Selecting a Collect” as I read it doesn’t necessarily mean using one from the Prayer Book — it’s praying a prayer that follows the collect form and collects the thoughts.
In seminary I learned the form of the collect. I was drawn to them in college because of their conciseness and focus that is also greatly trinitarian. Many of them have what I call the “why” to them — why are we asking this? I have written collects for various occasions and am prone to selecting them (i.e. making them up) on the spot.
There were many times in seminary that I would hear an outstanding sermon and pray that the presider would connect something from the lessons and sermon to the words of his/her Collect at the Prayers. Other times now I hear biblical texts and can’t help but hope the presider will incorporate them into the Collect. I make it a point, almost always, to do that unless everyone has the collect I’m supposed to be praying in front of them.
I don’t know exactly what I prayed at the conclusion of the Prayers of the People on Sunday. I do know, however, that Jesus had been telling the disciples that the Kingdom of God had come near and that they were to be proclaiming it. I know that when we look for it and when we ask for certain things, we see the Kingdom of God drawing near — and that God knows the best way to answer how we ask. I prayed something about God’s knowing what’s best for us, our being able to see the Kingdom of God drawing near, and that we have been called to proclaim that — and we need help.
“Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask: Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen,” would have worked, but I worry that it would have sounded rattled off and disconnected. The readings were about healing and the Kingdom of God drawing near. The sermon was too. Form V of the Prayers wasn’t expanded to include a plane crash or recent deaths to gun violence in the church’s area or uprisings in the Middle East. We weren’t praying for specific things like rain, so a collect about asking only what accords with God’s will (since the petitions were pretty intentionally aligned to do that) wouldn’t have connected I don’t think.
I think we may be scared of praying. I grew up Southern Baptist but think the Prayer Book has made me better at praying. I’ve learned a better language, I’ve learned to gather my thoughts into a collect (thus doing pre-prayer meditation to some extent), and learned how to keep prayers Godwardly focused, not incessantly treating God as a cosmic vending machine.
The Prayer Book is a beautiful tool. I don’t think we need to get rid of it or really any part of it (well, a few lines here and there) or just start making things up all on our own. Our connection of the Book of Common Prayer — that my sponsoring priest in Alabama and I said the same opening acclamation yesterday — is one of the reasons I’m Episcopalian. Probably the biggest reason, but I wonder if we don’t sometimes get in the way of paying attention to what’s around us, what’s in our hearts, and where God might be calling our attentions.
If you’re a priest, how often do you use something other than one of the eight options on pp. 394-395 of the Book of Common Prayer? When you do, what informs your words? Do lay people notice when the same collect is used every week, regardless of anything else? How do you feel about it? Were you aware that this is a place where the Prayer Book gives great flexibility?