O  Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. 

This collect recalls the Advent collect.  Both collects refer to and contrast the first coming and the second coming of Christ.  Both collects also include the general Advent theme of preparation in this life for the judgement that will accompany the second Advent.  As with all the Prayer Book’s Advent collects, however, this collect for Advent III also refers to the lessons for the particular Sunday, and thereby does not simply recapitulate themes from the Advent collect.

The two collects differ in their address.  While the Advent collect is addressed simply to the Father (‘Almighty God’), the collect for Advent III is one of the relatively infrequent collects addressed to God the Son:  ‘O Lord Jesus Christ’.  The address is then expanded to make reference both to the general theme of Advent (‘who at the first coming’) and also to the gospel lesson that follows with its discussion by Jesus of John the Baptist (‘didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee’).  The address to Jesus, of course, changes the pronouns and verb endings in the collect and its doxology to second person singular (thou forms in the pronoun, –est endings in regular verbs) from the normal third person singular (he for the pronoun, –eth endings in regular verbs).   In the English Prayer Book the holy Name in the address is ‘Jesu’[1], while in the American book it is altered here (and everywhere else where the English book uses ‘Jesu’) to ‘Jesus’.

The petition begins by taking the term ‘ministers and stewards of thy mysteries’ fairly directly from the first verse of the day’s epistle:  ‘ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God’ (I Corinthians 4:1).  The term fairly clearly refers to the role of the clergy, whose duty now is therefore implicitly compared to the original duty of John the Baptist.  Both John and the clergy are to ‘make ready’ the way for Christ by turning disobedience to the ‘wisdom of the just’ and the disobedient into ‘an acceptable people’, not least by speaking of the judgement to come.

Usually in Saint Paul’s letters ‘mystery’ refers to the end of the former sharp division between Jews and Gentiles and to the new inclusion of both together in the Church.  Now, however, the end of the Jewish/Gentile distinction no longer seems, as it were, particularly mysterious or strange.  After New Testament times the term ‘mystery’ came increasingly to refer to the sacraments in general and to the Eucharist in particular.  Since the celebration of the sacraments is one of the particular duties of the clergy, the collect seems specially to refer to their devout performance of that duty and their instruction of the laity in the devout reception of Holy Communion and the other sacraments.  This sense for ‘mysteries’ may be an expansion of Paul’s original meaning, but one that is consistent with the Advent theme of careful preparation.

The doxology has, as noted above, verbs in the second person, because the one who is addressed in the collect (Jesus Christ) is being spoken to directly rather than referred to in the third person.

[1] ‘Jesu’ is an English word, and therefore should not be pronounced ‘Yea-sue’ or ‘Yea-zoo’ as if it were Latin.  It is ‘Gee-sue’, just as one would pronounce ‘Jesus’, but with the second syllable turned from ‘-sus’ to ‘-sue’.

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