Monday, December 19, 2016

The Collects of Advent: Who is Being Addressed, and What Difference Does It Make?

Probably this has been discussed at length by others elsewhere and I’m just a bit slow on the uptake, but I noticed this Advent as if for the first time — attending the EF and the OF every Sunday because of my dual choir responsibilities — how strikingly different in content and tone are the Collects of the Sunday Masses in the two forms. Then I decided to look into the contrast between the totality of their Advent Collects.[1]

In the traditional Latin Mass, the Collects of the first, third, and fourth Sundays of Advent address the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity:
Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Collect, Sunday I, MR 1962)
Incline Thine ear, we beseech Thee, O Lord, to our petitions: and, by the grace of Thy visitation, enlighten the darkness of our minds: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Collect, Sunday III, MR 1962)
Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come, and with great might succour us: that by the help of Thy grace that which is hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Collect, Sunday IV, MR 1962)
On the Second Sunday, the Father is addressed:
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of Thine only-begotten Son: that through His coming we may deserve to serve Thee with purified minds: Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost… (Collect, Sunday II, MR 1962)
If we look at the Ember days, the picture is more complex. Ember Wednesday’s first Collect addresses the Father (“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God … through our Lord”) while its second Collect addresses the Son (“Hasten, we beseech Thee, O Lord, tarry not”). Ember Saturday’s six different Collects address the Father four times — namely, the second through the fifth Collects — but the first and last are to the Son:
O God, who seest that we are afflicted because of our iniquity, mercifully grant that we may be comforted by Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Ember Saturday, first Collect, MR 1962)
Mercifully hear, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the prayers of Thy people: that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may be comforted by the visitation of Thy loving kindness: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Ember Saturday, last [sixth] Collect, MR 1962)
The Collect on Ember Friday likewise addresses the Son:
Stir up Thy might, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that they who trust in Thy loving kindness may be the more speedily freed from all adversity: Who livest and reignest with God the Father… (Ember Friday, MR 1962)
Apart from special Collects for feastdays (e.g., the Immaculate Conception), these are the only Collects found in the traditional Roman Missal for the Advent season as such (and, importantly, they are never omitted, because even on feasts, the Advent feria is always commemorated). Therefore the missal furnishes a total of 7 distinct collects addressed to the Son, and 6 to the Father, in the following pattern:

          First Sunday – SON
          Second Sunday – FATHER
          Third Sunday – SON
          Ember Wednesday – FATHER, SON
          Ember Friday – SON
          Ember Saturday – SON, FATHER, FATHER, FATHER, FATHER, SON
          Fourth Sunday – SON

Going out on an allegorical limb with my betters, such as William Durandus, I would note that, according to the Fathers of the Church, the number 6 represents creation, because of the 6 days in Genesis, and because 6 is one of those rare numbers whose component parts, 1, 2, and 3, are equal whether they are added (1+2+3) or multipled (1x2x3), suggesting the relative integrity and solidity of the created order: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” At the same time, six falls one short of the number seven, the number of perfection and of rest, indicating that creation, particularly the rational creature, is incomplete until it rests in God — and that, after the fall of Adam, it is groaning for redemption from sin. Jesus Christ, in other words, is the One who, “added” to creation, brings it to its perfection and ultimate rest in the beatific vision. Thus, a group of six Collects for the Father, to whom is appropriated the power of creating the universe, and a group of seven collects for the Son, to whom is appropriated the wisdom and mercy of redemption, appears beautifully fitting.

In the redaction of the Ordinary Form, on the other hand, many of the ancient Advent Collects were scrapped or reconfigured, and nearly all of the Collects were forced into the Patricentric mold so favored by reformers in the grip of archaeologism or antiquarianism, who removed prayers directed to the Son whenever and wherever possible.[2] We have this new series of Sunday Collects, none of which addresses the Son:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Sunday I, Collect, MR 1970/2002)
Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. Who lives and reigns with you… (Sunday II, Collect, MR 1970/2002)
O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Sunday III, Collect, MR 1970/2002)
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you… (Sunday IV, Collect, MR 1970/2002) [3]
The ferial Collects added to the new missal also follow the same subordinating pattern, with only two exceptions addressed to the Second Person: Friday of the first week uses the same prayer as the first Sunday of Advent in MR 1962, and the Collect of the morning Mass on December 24 uses a version of the second collect for Ember Wednesday in MR 1962. Because there is a different Collect every day in the MR 1970/2002, while the MR 1962 uses certain prayers again and again, a little math will give us telling results. Of all the Advent Collects in the usus recentior, 27 are addressed to the Father, and only 2 to the Son. During the same season, the usus antiquior will have prayed Collects addressed to the Son as God 21 times, and to the Father 12 times.

What do we make of this difference?

These Christocentric Collects of the usus antiquior, both in their addressee and in their repetition, emphasize the urgency of the Church’s cry during the Advent season, the cry of all mankind and of all creation longing for its very Lord to come, by an ineffable miracle, into its bosom, to heal it and elevate it from within: VENI, DOMINE — Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay. Maranatha. Rise up and save a fallen race. Come to rescue us from our misery and sin. We are calling out to the Messiah, the Christ of Israel, who has already come to earth, whom we wish to invite again into our hearts, and who will return to judge the living and the dead. Advent is the season of expecting the long-awaited Redeemer and Savior, and we, in our holy impatience, cannot resist calling out to Him. EXCITA, we boldly say, over and over: Stir up Thy power and come, do not delay, do not be silent, do not be invisible, do not leave us to our wretchedness. O Word, eternal Life, take on flesh and touch us with Thy flesh. Only Holy Mother Church, filled with the Spirit of God, could dare to pray thus, placing these words on the lips of our ancestors and of so many saints who worshiped with the traditional Roman Rite.

In short, the usus antiquior missal presents us with a spirituality of Advent that is distinctive and fitting to it, whereas the usus recentior missal conforms its prayers to a generic rule prescribed by academic liturgists. The old Collects are highly expressive, emotionally charged, as of the longing of the bride for her Bridegroom, to whom she sings and whispers directly. In her passionate love she is more caught up in beseeching Him whose face she longs to see than in politely asking His Father to send Him when the time is right (though, of course, with her gentle courtesy, she also speaks humbly to His Father, since the two are inseparable in their Godhead). It is the fervor of the Song of Songs carried over into liturgical prayer.[4]

Modern liturgists approach liturgy as if it were an a priori science: you start with principles and deduce consequences. Therefore you have to change around the Collects (for instance) if they don’t conform to your particular set of principles. In reality, liturgy is thoroughly a posteriori: it is an historical testament to which countless individuals contributed, a massive organic complexus of particulars that could have been otherwise but are the way they are, a river running down the ages into which innumerable streams have flowed. Thus, we must look to the liturgy as it is and seek to understand why it unfolded in this manner, rather than doing violence to it by forcing it to embody one’s mental presuppositions.

The change to the Advent Collects is a good exampe of the cold rationalism of the reformers. It would be one thing if a liturgical rite had always addressed prayers to the Father on a certain feast or in a certain season. No one, obviously, is saying there is anything wrong with doing that, for it is the customary mode of address in all historic missals. But it is quite another thing if one's actual liturgy for many centuries, perhaps for as long as we have records (and, moreover, the liturgy that one had prayed oneself!) always prayed to the Son on certain days, marking them out as special and deserving of a special devotion to the Lamb of God. To care little or nothing about the fact that, by a series of committee decisions, one would be cutting out and ceasing to utter those hallowed prayers to Our Lord in the weeks running up to His Nativity shows the extent to which the liturgy, for these men, must have already ceased to be something deeply felt and lived. It had become, instead, the prey and sport of their theories of improvement, and in this sense, something believed to be inferior to their wills and intellects. This is perhaps the worst indictment of their entire modus operandi: that prayers for which Catholics would in former ages have been prepared to lay down their lives were treated as so many raw ingredients to be chopped and mixed in an industrial kitchen.

Indeed, it is more than a little ironic that the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in the traditional Roman Rite is 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, wherein St. Paul says, in words that are repeated again and again at Lauds and Vespers throughout the fourth week:
Brethren: Let a man so account us, as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now here it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful/trustworthy.
St. Paul is telling us that the minister of Christ, the steward of His mysteries, is required to be faithful to that which he is dispensing or administering, namely, the sacraments, the liturgy, the heritage he receives from another, in regard to which he is not a master but a servant. Of course, this reading, too, disappeared from Advent in the sack of the Roman Rite, no doubt because it was deemed seasonally inappropriate.

These final days of Advent, when we address the Son of God in the great “O Antiphons” at Vespers, let us cherish the many subtle and obvious blessings He has given to us through the traditional liturgy. Let us thank Him for the countless ways it forms and nourishes our souls in the school of the Lord’s service. And let us seek its return on the widest possible scale to churches everywhere. For this intention, too, we pray to our Sovereign King and Eternal High Priest: Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni.


[1] Lauren Pristas is naturally the preeminent scholar on all such questions. See chapter 3 of her The Collects of the Roman Missals.

[2] I discuss the many instances of this subordinating tendency and their implications in chapter 6 of my book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis.

[3] I am aware that much of the language in these prayers is drawn from historical sources, but their placement and arrangement here, and the corresponding displacement of the customary prayers, is, for the Roman Rite, an innovation pure and simple.

[4] Readings and antiphons from the Song of Songs are found much more often in the traditional Missal and Divine Office than in the Novus Ordo books, but to explore the reasons behind that anti-medieval shift would require a separate article.

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