March 2019 Print


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: The Collect

by Fr. Christopher Danel

The Church prays with a lively faith in the mediation of Jesus Christ, and an unshaken confidence in His merits; as Christ has merited grace for us all, He has therefore also secured a favorable answer to our prayers. For Christ’s sake, we are favored and blessed by God. Whenever God looks upon the face of His Anointed, in whom He is eternally well-pleased, He will, through Christ and for the sake of Christ, graciously receive and hear our petitions by pouring out upon us His abundant mercies and blessings.

– Monsignor Nicholas Gihr

Introduction

In this article we will examine the Collect, presenting the work of Monsignor Nicholas Gihr in his fundamental liturgical commentary The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained. Monsignor´╗┐ Gihr was a priest of the Archdiocese of Freiburg in Breisgau whose work of liturgical research took place during the time frame spanning the pontificates of Popes Pius IX to Pius XI, including that of Pope St. Pius X. The early years of his work were contemporaneous with the last years in the work of Dom Prosper Guéranger. The English translation of his study appeared in 1902; the original is: Gihr, Nikolaus. Messopfer dogmatisch, liturgisch und aszetisch erklärt. Herder: Freiburg im Breisgau, 1877.

The Collect

After the Gloria or the Kyrie follows the principal prayer, that is, the particular prayer of the day or of the feast, and which, as a rule, is called the Collect. Like the Mass prayers in general, this prayer before the Epistle is not merely a private prayer of the priest, but a liturgical one, that is, a public prayer which the celebrant recites in the name and by the commission of the Church, and with a special intention for the welfare of the whole Christian people.

The priest stands at the altar as mediator between God and man, he presents there the desires and interests of all before the throne of God. The faithful assisting at the Sacrifice are of one heart and one soul; they pray interiorly and unite with the priest who, as their representative, gathers up and collects, so to say, their supplications and desires to present them before God. The celebrant is the angel of the Lord who puts the holy incense, namely, the devout prayers of fervent Christians, into the golden chalice of his heart, whence they sweetly ascend to the throne of the Most High (Apoc. 8:3-4).

As a collective prayer, the Collect is still to be considered under another aspect. It is considered, namely, as a prayer which, in comprehensive brevity, embodies the most important petitions, that is, the sum or idea of all that we, in consideration of the day’s celebration, especially seek to obtain from God.

Finally, some persons discover in the word Collecta an admonition for priest and people to gather and keep all their senses and thoughts collected together, in order to offer to God in profound recollection of spirit (collectis animis) the supplications comprised in the prayer.

Dominus Vobiscum

The priest kisses the altar and would not turn to the people without having previously evinced this reverence toward the sanctuary. The priest would at the same time indicate that all the help and all the blessings of grace that he wishes to the people present must come from the altar and from our union with the Savior sacrificing Himself upon it. With hands joined before his breast and with downcast eyes, the priest with grave and measured step turns toward the people; then, while slowly extending and joining the hands, he salutes the entire Church in the person of those present with the benediction “Dominus vobiscum—The Lord be with you.”

This formula of well-wishing dates back to the Old Testament. In the book of Ruth it is related that Booz greeted his reapers in the field with the words: “Dominus vobiscum” (Ruth 2:4). To the blessed Virgin the Archangel Gabriel said: “Dominus tecum” (Lk. 1:28). The aforesaid salutation is frequently repeated during the celebration of Mass (eight times), in order to constantly excite, increase and awaken afresh the spiritual union and the communion of prayer during the Holy Sacrifice between the priest and the people.

And how do the people respond to this greeting of the priest? By the mouth of the acolyte or by chanting, they answer with the corresponding greeting: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The same or a similar wish for a blessing was frequently employed by St. Paul in his Epistles (cf. II Tim. 4:22; Gal. 6:22). Out of gratitude for the imparted salutation and blessing, the people express the wish that the Lord would, with His enlightening and strengthening grace, replenish and penetrate the spirit of the celebrant, that he may, as a man of God, and a truly spiritual man, be enabled to present in a worthy manner the petitions and supplications of the whole Church. The priest does indeed greatly stand in need of the assistance of this grace, when he is standing at the altar; the priest appears at the altar by commission of the Church, the immaculate Spouse of Christ, there to recite for the welfare and salvation of the living and the dead those venerable prayers which she herself, inspired by the Holy Ghost, has composed and prescribed.

The bishop ordinarily salutes the faithful during Holy Mass with the Dominus vobiscum, except that before the Collect the bishop’s salutation on those days on which the Gloria is said, is: “Pax vobis – Peace be to you!” Both the sacerdotal and the episcopal salutation come from the lips of the representative of Christ, not as some mere empty wish, but as a blessing spoken with the efficacy of a higher power, containing within itself supernatural strength; so that in reality it imparts the good it expresses to all whose hearts are susceptible to it. “The Lord stands at the door and knocks; to anyone who hears His voice and opens the door to Him, He will come and enter with His peace” (Apoc. 3:20).

The Form of the Collect

After this introduction follows the Collect itself, a prayer distinguished as much for the beauty and perfection of its form as for the copiousness and depth of its contents. The Collect is, therefore, a prayer of petition for the particular grace of the day: but in what form is this petition clothed? Amid all the variety and diversity of the Collects, there still prevails a certain uniformity in their construction, which shows that they have been composed after a specified and general rule. The petition is not simply presented to God by itself, but is supported by other acts of prayer, in order that it may be made so much the more fervent and efficacious. St. Paul mentions supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings (I Tim. 2:1). These four methods of prayer are not only found alternately in the course of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, but they are, for the most part, combined in each Collect, which forms these acts into a perfect and most effectual prayer of petition. The person praying must approach God, draw nigh unto God, elevate himself to God (oratio); and then present his petitions (postulatio), and to obtain more speedily what is asked for, he joins to it his motives: one of which is gratitude or thanksgiving (gratiarum actio); for in so far as we are grateful for benefits received, do we obtain graces yet more plentifully; but the most efficient means for having our petitions granted is to beg them of God by the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ: hence the concluding words “through Christ our Lord,” words which express the entreaty (obsecratio). Thus, the Church complies with the admonition of the Apostle: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

Offered to the Holy Trinity

The prayers of the Holy Mass may be addressed to the holy and indivisible Trinity or to any one of the divine Persons: when the latter is done, it is self-evident that the other two Persons are not excluded, but rather virtually included, and to make this obvious they are, as a rule, expressly mentioned. It is the same with respect to the Collects. Whether they be directed to the Father or to the Son, there follows at any rate at the conclusion an explicit confession and solemn acknowledgment of the Holy Trinity.

The Collects were originally and without exception (and are now usually) addressed to the Father. For the Father is the first Person of the Blessed Trinity and as such He is, in a manner, the original source not only of the divine nature which from all eternity He imparts to the Son and with the Son to the Holy Ghost, but of all created things. To the Father are principally attributed (appropriated) power and majesty, revealed in the creation of the world; the Father has sent us His only-begotten Son, and together with Him He has given us all things. Jesus Christ Himself offered His whole life, actions, sufferings and especially His prayers to God the Father. The Savior in His prayer to God was not only our advocate, but also our model and leader in prayer. He always prayed to His Father to show that the Father is His origin. The Father, whom Jesus, from eternity, receives His divine nature and by whom His human nature also was created, and from whom it received all the good that it possessed. Inasmuch as the Church when praying usually has recourse to the Father, she in this respect follows not merely the example but, moreover, the teaching of Christ, who said to His Apostles: “Amen, amen I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it to you” (Jn. 16:23). In this we see another example of why the Collects, for the most part, are addressed to the Father. Our petitions should be presented “in the name of Jesus.” Jesus is the Mediator through whom all our prayers and supplications ascend to Heaven, and through whom all graces and merits descend upon earth; hence for the sake of the Son we pray to the Father who sent Him, by concluding the Collects with these words “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This rule is especially observed at Holy Mass, in which the Son offers Himself to the heavenly Father.

Some of the Collects are addressed to the second Person of the Holy Trinity, because they have a particular and closer relation to the mystery of the Incarnation or to the Incarnate Word. On the other hand, we do not find in our Missal a single Collect addressed to the Holy Ghost, while in the liturgy there are other prayers to the Holy Ghost and hymns in His honor wherein He is invoked and glorified as God.

The form of the conclusion of the Collect is modified in a five-fold manner, according as the Collect is addressed to the Father or to the Son. (According as in a Collect addressed to the Father mention is made of the second or third divine Person). The usual form of conclusion is as follows: Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum—Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.” Thus, the Collects end and thus they rise to a magnificent praise of the Most Holy Trinity.

Conclusion

Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum: How solemn, how overpowering, how grand are these words! With what courage and confidence, with what consolation and consciousness of victory should they fill us! “Were it not for the intercession of our Mediator, without doubt, the cry of our supplication would go up unheard in the presence of God” (St. Gregory the Great, Moralium). In our prayers, therefore, we put our trust and reliance in the power and goodness, in the merits and mercy of our living and reigning Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ. Thus sings the Church in the sequence for Easter: “The Prince of life, who died, now liveth and reigneth.” Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus!