Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies


Beginning next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, I will offer weekly reflections on the Collect prayers of our Roman liturgical patrimony. Since we are a dual-form parish, I will draw from both  the 1962 and 1970 editions of the Roman Missal. Since we are likewise a parish entrusted to the patronage of Our Lady, I will tend to emphasize the Collects of Marian feast days as a way of  keepening our devotion to her.

Unfortunately, so many times we hear the Collects at Mass and we are not in the warmth of devotion. They go in one ear and out the other (they are short and direct, after all). If we pause to break them open, however, we begin to discover virtually never-ending riches and spiritual insights that can deeply nourish our minds and hearts for prayer. The Collects can even become for us particularly beloved parts of the Mass, and a stalwart aid to our personal devotion, increasing and fortifying our knowledge and love of Christ.

In today's Epistle, St. Paul prays for his flock in Colossae, "that [they] may be filled with the knowledge of his [i.e., God's] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" and may be "increasing in the knowledge of God" (vv. 9-10, RSV). One of the best ways to grow in this kind of spiritual knowledge is to study and love the liturgical prayers of the Church, as the lives of the saints often  show us. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council explicitly desired that both clergy and laity alike understand the riches of the liturgy in order to enhance authentic participation (Sacrosanctum Concilium nos. 11, 14). If we want to know our faith well, and if we want to learn how to pray better, it is in our best interest to learn from the source texts at the heart of the Church's life.

Before examining our first Collect next week, I want to set forth our working method for examining and interpreting these prayers (cf. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, pp. 244-253, and Anscar Chupungco, The Prayers of the New Missal: A Homiletic and Catechetical Companion, 9-17). We look first at the structure of a Roman Collect. Generally, it has five elements:

1. The Name of God in one form or another (e.g., "Almighty, ever-living God," or "Lord")
2. An ascription of God in the form of a relative clause, telling us something about one of God's qualities or His work of creation and redemption, (e.g., "who ______ "),.
3. A central petition, sometimes cast in two parts, (e.g., "mercifully grant that ______"),
4. Another clause which lays out the hoped-for outcome of the petition, or one or more motives for the petition, (e.g., "so that ________" or "we who _______"),
5. And the concluding doxological formula, "Through Christ our Lord," or the longer, "Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."

One may apply this five-fold schema to virtually any Collect and identify its constitutive parts. Having laid these out, one may then reform them into a syllogism, that is, a three-part "argument," in order to identity the controlling idea or main point, and it looks like this:

A) If God does/is... (the ascription of God),
B) And if we... (the hoped-for outcome or the motive for the petition),
C) Then God will... (the petition).

This is just a generic way of looking at the terms of a syllogism, and it will make more sense when we look an example. But I show you this methodology, because it is when we have broken  down the Collects to their most basic elements and reworked them into a syllogism, that we really can begin to see very clearly what the liturgy is teaching us about God, Christ, and the saints, as well as how we are to understand and pray within the mysteries of the faith we are celebrating (Chupungco, Prayers of the New Missal, 10). I hope you enjoy this new series!

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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