Writing My Own Collects

The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins

A collect is a short prayer named for its function: “collecting up” the prayers of the individuals in a congregation into one prayer. The liturgies developed by John Calvin for the churches he served in Strasbourg and Geneva included a collect for illumination prior to the Scripture reading and sermon. The 1595 Scottish Metrical Psalter included collects for each of the 150 psalms. The best known collects in the English language were developed in the 16th century by Thomas Cranmer for the Book of Common Prayer. Many of these are adaptations of ancient prayers used since the 5th and 6th centuries in the Western church’s liturgies.

C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F.M. Zahl note that the collect is a literary form of sorts, “comparable to the sonnet.” It usually consists of five parts.

  1. The address or invocation — a name of God.
  2. The acknowledgement — a doctrine or attribute or work of God that is the basis of the petition that follows.
  3. The petition — what’s being asked for
  4. The aspiration — the purpose or aim of the petition.
  5. The pleading — recollection of the mediatorial role of Jesus Christ as the ground of confidence that the prayer will be accepted.

The well known collect for purity from the Book of Common Prayer illustrates the pattern:

  1. Almighty God,
  2. unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,
  3. cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
  4. that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name,
  5. through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

I’ve made extensive use of both Cranmer’s collects and those from the 1595 Scottish Psalter in my own prayer life. Recently I’ve begun experimenting with writing my own collects based on my daily reading from the Psalms. I don’t pretend to have the poetic or literary artistry of Cranmer, nor am I trying to produce something to be admired for its aesthetic quality. Instead, I’m seeking to engage my heart with Scripture more fully.

Here are two rough drafts. I may revisit them at some point to add a bit of polish.

Collect for Psalm 118

O Lord, whose steadfast love endures forever, guard us by your presence, that we might not fear those who hate us on account of your Son but rather take refuge in you and extol your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Collect for Psalm 120

O God of peace, who gives true peace to your people through Jesus Christ, guard us from the lies, deceit, and misinformation that pervade the world in which we live; protect us from fear of our enemies and grant to us the peace that surpasses all understanding, that we might press on toward the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city of peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions.