Collects Receive a Rich Translation

Come Advent, the prayer after the Kyrie and Gloria will sound quite different — and it will have a profound effect, says a Benedictine liturgist. Part of the Register's series on the new Missal. An Oct. 9 issue feature.

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During the sacrifice of the Mass, the last part of the Introductory Rites is a prayer called the Collect.

In our current version, this is called the Opening Prayer, but, in fact, “collect” is a richer word, and it will be useful for us to begin employing it to refer to this prayer.

All that we have done so far in the liturgy — the entrance procession with its chant, the Penitential Act, and on some days the Gloria — is now “collected” in a focused way by the prayer the priest proclaims. This prayer is always proper to the day, and, as such, it gives a precise focus to the particular celebration that is now under way.

The collects of the new translation are much richer. They follow more closely the structure of the original Latin form for this prayer.

In fact, each of the various prayers of the liturgy has its own literary form. Just as there are rules for composing a sonnet and the sonnet finds its beauty by expression within that form, so a collect has its form on which innumerable variations are possible.

In Latin, a collect is usually one long sentence. Our current English breaks this up into several sentences, but the new version restores the single sentence.

This will help us to grasp the unity of the various parts and how they all fit together into forming the “logic” of the prayer. It will require greater attention by the priest who proclaims it and by the people listening, but, surely, greater attention will mean a kind of renewal for us all.

In fact, there are several forms possible in collects. I will speak here about the most common form.

It begins 1) by addressing God, often simply “O God,” or just as often with a slightly expanded title like “Almighty ever-living God.” It is interesting to note that collects never begin by addressing God as “Father,” as happens in scores of collects in our present version, where the liberty was taken to change the Latin forms of address.

Next, 2) the prayer continues with a phrase that begins with the word who, that is “O God, who …” Here, any number of possibilities may follow, but it is always remembering something God has done in the past or does for us now. So, in fact, we are naming God and calling upon him as the one who saved us in the incarnation of his Son or who raised his Son from the dead or who sanctifies the Church by the Spirit.

The present version does not translate this “who” structure. It turns it into a declarative statement: O God, you saved us; you raised your Son, etc. The introduction of the who, small as it is, will make an enormous difference in the long run, cumulatively over many prayers.

A collect does not mean to tell God what he did in a declarative statement. Rather, it calls upon God as one whom we know precisely through what he has done for us. Indeed, that is somehow part of his name. It is he whom we address.

Then, 3) in the middle of the long sentence, there is a verb that requests something, often surrounded by several other words that express our respect, even a sort of courtesy in asking, like “Grant, we humbly pray …”

Our current version moved this to the end of all the prayers, finishing with the standard phrase “We ask this [or ‘Grant this’] through our Lord Jesus Christ …”

But the deferential form in the middle of the prayer is better because what we request is always something big indeed, for it is based on the “God who” has already done so much in the past.

Now, 4) we ask for something in our present, and, of course, the possibility of variation is very wide, as wide as the God who has done so much for us. All this is held together in one long sentence, which expresses in its very form how much God holds together in a single whole: past, present and future, his doing and our asking.

This is much more graceful than a declarative statement followed by a new sentence with a request that can appear blunt if it is not connected to the “God who” and not framed with phrases of courteous asking.

After this, the prayer 5) always finishes in the same way: with the phrase that begins “Through our Lord Jesus Christ …” This phrase is meant to cast its force over the entire prayer. It is not meant to be restricted, as in the present version, simply to “we ask through,” but it wants everything referred to in the prayer to be drawn into this sentence, which is Trinitarian and, indeed, a celebration of the Trinitarian mystery.

The new Trinitarian ending restores the suggestive phrase “in the unity of the Holy Spirit” rather than the plainer present version, which simply says “and the Holy Spirit.”

The new collects are much stronger for their following this literary form more closely. Add to this the richer vocabulary and imagery taken from the Latin, and the improvement will be heard in prayer after prayer.

Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll is a monk of Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Oregon.

In 2002 he was named as advisor to the Vox Clara Commission for the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican. 

In 2004 he was named a member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology.  In 2005 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II as consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship.