Sometimes it’s very hard to find what to say in a new situation. Perhaps we are meeting a potential employer for the first time, or starting our first day of class as a teacher, or trying to start a conversation with someone who has aroused our curiosity.
When we come together on Sunday, we come from a wide variety of backgrounds and activities. In many parishes, the Catholic community has come from an array of ethnic communities, some of whom are just breaking into the American experience. In other parishes, people run the gamut of social backgrounds, some barely making it, and some amply blessed with abundance.
Yet we all come before the same God, all of us lowly before this God of unlimited love and grace. We come as weak and vacillating humans before a God of faithfulness. So how do we begin?
The Opening Prayer of the Mass is said right after the Penitential Rite in Advent and Lent, and right after the Gloria during the rest of the year. It pulls the congregation together and gives it a unified voice before God. The Church calls this prayer the Collect because its purpose is to gather all the prayers of the people into one. It is one of three prayers that is different for each Sunday, along with the Prayer over the Offerings and the Prayer after Communion near the end of Mass.
The Collect and the Prayer after Communion begin with a greeting that calls the congregation to attention. Look! The Church is praying on our behalf, bringing our inner disposition to formal express. “Let us pray,” says the priest. After all, it’s not just the priest praying: it is all of us, now gathered by God’s grace, entering the deepest exchange with God. All three prayers, including the Prayer over the Offerings, end with the acclamation of the whole congregation: “Amen”. Yes! Let it come about! Let this prayer be from all our hearts!
What kind of attention are you able to give to the Collect? How do you participate spiritually as it is recited?
Next Sunday, before you go to Mass, take a moment to write out your own collect prayer, one that brings together your experiences over the past week.
By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death. 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.
(Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Lent)