One of my favorite collects is one that Thomas Cranmer composed specifically for the new English prayer book (1549); the collect for Scripture:
(1662) Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, marke, learne, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
With this collect, Cranmer is verbalizing the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura for the English Church within the vocabulary of prayer. All Scripture is for our learning (1 Tim. 3:16) and Scripture burrows its way into us through our ears, eyes, minds, memory, and into our very bowels (Ez. 3:3).
This process takes time and as a result takes patience. Scripture is not a meal in a can that we quaff down to quickly give us a quick boost, but an ongoing lifegiving diet that allows us to have a life of endurance (or what Eugene Peterson would call “a long obedience in the same direction”). The end result of this continual meal is that we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life which is only given to us through Jesus Christ.
So where in the church calendar would you put a collect such as this, and does it matter? Thomas Cranmer placed this collect on the Second Sunday of Advent. With Advent being the beginning of the Church year, placing this collect during this period sets the tone for how we should pattern our lives, a New (Church) Year’s resolution as it were. Peter Toon in his commentary on the collects puts it this way:
It is most fitting that at the beginning of the Christian Year the gift from God of the Holy Scriptures is celebrated by the Household of God. We, who are Christians, live in the light of the First Coming in humility of the Lord Jesus even as we look for his Second Coming in glory. All the time in this interim period of grace we are to be taught by his sacred Word, the Holy Scriptures.
Cranmer’s collect for Scripture remained assigned to the Second Sunday in Advent in subsequent prayer books, but then moved in the Episcopal prayer book of 1979. A new collect, based on a collect from the Book of Common Worship of the Church of South India takes its place with a stronger Advent theme.
In the 1979, Cranmer’s collect is relegated to the Sunday of Proper 28, the penultimate Sunday of the Church calendar. In this shift, Cranmer’s reformed collect, and its emphasis on Scripture, can easily get lost in the liturgical busy-ness of November. The 2019 ACNA prayer book restores Cranmer’s collect to its original placement.
Perhaps you are in an ACNA parish and will be praying this collect in a few weeks. Make the most of it. Start the Church year off right with an emphasis on Scripture, how it was written for our learning, and helps us hold fast to the hope of everlasting life given to us through Jesus.
If you’re in a TEC parish, one way to utilize this collect and it’s wonderful theology, while also being true to the 1979, would be to use Cranmer’s collect as a concluding collect to the prayers of the people. This is rubrical (see pg. 394 of the 1979) and more so will give an additional opportunity for your parishioners to become familiar with one of the richest reformed collects that our prayer book tradition has to offer.
Zac Neubauer is the president of EFAC-USA.