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The Introductory Rites of Mass (5)

Posted by Father Joe on August 26, 2006

The following notes are largely derived from a thorough reading of Rev. Josef A. Jungmann, S.J.’s classic work, The Mass of the Roman Rite.

Collect or Opening Prayer

The priest prays as the spokesperson of the congregation and summons them to prayer. Sometimes called the Collect, (a name borrowed from the Gallican liturgy), it was implemented in the ancient Roman liturgy as a specification for the gathered assembly. It came also to designate the “collecting” of petitions. Having done this, the priest presents them to God. “The ceremony of entry reaches a peak in the oration of the priest, in the same way that the presentation of the offerings and the reception of Communion come to a fitting conclusion with an oration” (Jungmann, p. 240). Because the priest is the spokesperson for the people, they themselves are first called to prayer.
 
Following the invitation to prayer, priest and people alike observe a brief silence, “so that they may become aware they are standing in God’s presence, and may formulate their petitions in their hearts” (General Instruction, no. 32). According to the new Missal, this pause for silent prayer is no longer optional, but obligatory.
 
For a long time in the early Church, the priest was allowed to liberally extemporize or to read a prayer text composed by himself or another. This did not always work well, not all are gifted at such things, and Saint Augustine in his work, The First Catechetical Instruction, urges candidates for the catechumenate (who are well educated) not to mock them. Indeed, Saint Augustine would suggest that only approved texts should be permitted.
 
These prayers are to the point and are petitionary in character. Although the closing signature of this prayer usually invokes the Trinity, it is most common for the intercession of a saint to come at the beginning if there is a sanctoral memorial. Unless there is, a particular solemnity, -the content of the prayer must necessarily be general. It represents our approach to God.  Rev. Jungmann writes beautifully regarding this matter:  “Many formulas do not mention any specified object, but merely ask to be heard – for all the desires in the hearts of the assembled petitioners. Or perhaps one or the other constant and ever-recuring desire is mentioned: Help of divine power, overthrow of error and overcoming of danger, inclination to good, forgiveness of sin, attainment of salvation.  At the same time, however, these prayers often mirror the powers that stand opposed to each other in the spiritual combat, especially in the form of pairs of contrasting ideas, a literary device which matched the notorious fondness for antithetical phrasing: Corporeal and spiritual, thinking and doing” burden of one’s own effort and the heavenly intercession of the saints, abstaining from nourishment and fasting from sin, freedom from oppression and devotion to good works, profession and imitation, faith and reality, earthly life and eternal blessedness” (Jungmann, p. ,251).
 
Although the Roman liturgy never renounced Christ’s divinity, until about 1000 AD, it retained the rule set at the Council of Hippo that prayers directed to the Father should not be transferred to Christ. Even today, most of the Collects are addressed to the Father. (Of course, in personal piety and corporate devotions outside of Mass, as well as in the Scriptures, there were many examples of prayers and petitions addressed directly to Jesus, i.e. Romans 1 :8; 16:27; 2 Corinthians 1 :20; Hebrews 12: 15; 1 Peter 2:5; 4:11; Jude 25.) However, the name of Christ does appear in the closing formula of the Collect. Showing something of the economy of salvation, our prayer is offered “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is through Christ our Mediator that we come to the Father (Hebrews 7:25). We make our petitions through our eternal high priest. In olden times, figures of influence or importance might send a message (more so memorized than written) through a runner. When he reached the designated person, the messenger would recite the message in the person of the sender. To some degree, this is the case with Christ as our “pontifex” or bridge-builder to the Father. Through Christ, communications are fully restored and with them, our relationship to God.

The Collect is the Church at prayer, not only conceptually but really. The unity expressed by the greeting is given words in the opening prayer. However, this appreciation of the Church extends beyond the gathered communality and also embraces the people and structures of the Church universal. The people’s “Amen” confirms the prayer offered by the priest as the head of the local church. Although the liturgy has many opening orations, this was not always the case. “The Roman Mass for a thousand years had only one oration” (Jungmann, p. 255). Later they proliferated at the start of Mass. The eradication of the Prayer of the Faithful (until modem times) and the shortening of the Kyrie (litany), induced the Church to implement the Collect, Secret, and Post-communion prayers as the locus to express the wants of the Church and her current needs. 

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