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Posted: 9/17/2015
Resources in The Book of Common Prayer
Collects and Prayers
Book of Common Prayer
Book of Common Prayer from 1666

For our Labor Day family dinner, I looked for an appropriate prayer to use as part of the grace. In The Book of Common Prayer I found this collect (pronounced 'kal-ekt'):

A Collect for Labor Day: Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with the another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we see a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Book of Common Prayer 1979, 'Collects: Contemporary', page 261.

After the prayer, we reflected on all the meaningful thoughts contained in that brief prayer. None of us acts alone: we are linked for good and bad. Our work should be for the common good. As we think of our pay, keep in mind the right of others for a just wage. And finally, a blunt recognition of and for the unemployed. Wow! What well-crafted words; what messages they conveyed.

I grew up in a church that uses a non-liturgical worship style (Disciples of Christ) and most of my adult life was with another non-liturgical worshiping body, American Baptist. The Anglican liturgical worship form of the Episcopalian Church I am now a part of is quite a change; but, one I am appreciating more and more. I especially appreciate The Book of Common Prayer, the church's book of liturgy.

In my Disciples and Baptist years, I wondered how Catholics and other Christians in a liturgical body could find it meaningful to say the same words just about every Sunday. I thought that repeating liturgy would get boring and be void of any real meaning. But, now that "I am one of them," I experience the liturgy as most meaningful and beautiful. I find myself repeating various phrases of liturgy even while simply taking a walk. Most people in liturgical churches can probably cite and quote various portions of their church's liturgy meaningful to them.

Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

For me, much of the meaning and beauty stems from the realization that many of the words and phrases have been used by worshipers for centuries. In 1549 Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, put together the first Book of Common Prayer, writing much himself but carrying down many portions from earlier times. Cranmer's "Prayer Book" has undergone many revisions over the years, but much retains the original essence. (See Resources below for an interesting 2012 article in the New Yorker recognizing the 350th anniversary of Cranmer's work.)

At the worship service I attend, the entire liturgy for the day's service is contained in the printed bulletin, which many use as their "book". I prefer holding the Prayer Book itself and finding my way through it. There seems to be something special about "holding the words" that our ancestors used over the centuries.

The Collects (from the Latin 'collecta') are brief prayers, usually for a specific purpose or theme. A certain collect is specified for the day or week and included in the standard liturgy. However, there are many other collects available in The Book of Common Prayer and other resources. These can be interspersed as desired and can stand alone as prayers to be used at anytime, as is the one I chose for Labor Day. These 'collective prayers' follow literary forms much like sonnets and odes. Most often: 1) an address to God, 2) a petition, 3) an aspiration or reason for the petition, and 4) a doxology. Here is one used often:

A Collect for Grace: Lord, God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.A Collect for Grace, BCP, in Morning Prayer II, page 100.

And this one:

A Collect for the Unity of the Church: Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.A Collect for the Unity of the Church, BCP in Collects: Contemporary, No. 14, page 255.

Many religious folks can be of a mind that reading a prepared prayer might be nice, but it's the personal prayers that one composes on the spot that are the most meaningful ... and perhaps most authentic. (I must admit that for many years I thought that the person who could bring forth a spontaneous prayer was probably a more "mature Christian" than one who didn't. I'm glad I've put those thoughts behind me.)

In addition to the collects, The Book of Common Prayer also contains many meaningful prayers for a variety of occasions ... in fact 70 petition-type prayers and 11 Thanksgivings!Prayers and Thanksgivings, BCP, pp. 810-841. A few are: For Peace among the Nations; For the Parish; For those who Suffer for the sake of Conscience; For the Good Use of Leisure; For Rain; For a Birthday; For the Victims of Addiction; Thanksgiving for the Diversity of Races and Cultures; and Thanksgiving for Harvest. And of course, the Psalms (also found in The Book of Common Prayer) can be thought of and used as prayers.

A Prayer for the Unemployed: Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.A Prayer for the Unemployed, BCP in Prayers, No. 30, page 824.

And, a most appropriate one as we enter a season of national elections:

A Prayer for those who Influence Public Opinion: Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.A Prayer For those who Influence Public Opinion, BCP in Prayers, No. 39, page. 827.

By their nature, "prepared" prayers are not spontaneous, but they can still be most meaningful as they can be the result of heartfelt thought crafted over a period of time so they say exactly and concisely what it is we want to express to God. And not all such prayers are from yesterday: Some prepared prayers can be as recent and timely as today's headlines. Here are two additional prayers/collects that illustrate the new and the old.

Praying Many of us realize that our prayer life is not as rich as we'd like. Or we really don't know how to start a time of prayer. Collects and prayers, such as found in The Book of Common Prayer and other resources, can be ideal prayers to expand any existing time of meditation or simply serve as the prayer time. I know many Christians I'd consider quite spiritual who say they find private prayer time difficult and usually pray many of these wonderful prayers. These prayers of the faith can be just words ... or they can be prayers from our hearts.

The Book of Common Prayer also includes brief Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families that are not only meaningful but ideal for folks who want to start a time of individual and/or small group devotion or meditation. These include "In the Morning", "At Noon", "In the Early Evening", and "At the Close of Day."Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, BCP, pp. 137-140.

I close with a prayer (No. 6) that I find most meaningful and a favorite. It is a Prayer for Our Enemies: (I usually say the "and us" as if in bold.)

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.A Prayer for our Enemies, BCP, Prayers, No. 6, page 816.

The Lord Be With You!

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Resources Related To this Reflection

New Yorker article on Thomas Cranmer and The Book of Common Prayer, at the book's 350th anniversary.
ONLINE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER: A web version of all that is in the Book of Common Prayer. "BCP Contents" will be most helpful
A PDF version of the entire Book of Common Prayer, with index.

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