GRANT to us, O Lord, we beseech thee: so to wait for thy loving kindness in the midst of thy Temple, that in readiness of heart and mind we may hail the coming feast of our redemption. Through Jesus Christ etc.
In parishes that use the Anglican Missal, American Missal, English Missal, or for that matter the Tridentine Missal, two prayers are bracketed with the collect for the day. If there are commemorations or seasonal collects, two more prayers are bracketed with each of those. Each collect is accompanied by a proper secret and proper postcommunion.
The ‘secret’ is a prayer said in a low or inaudible voice after the response to the Orate, fratres (‘Pray, brethren’) at the end of the offertory. Only the conclusion of the final secret (‘world without end’) is said audibly by the priest, to which audible conclusion the people respond, ‘Amen.’ The Sursum corda dialogue follows. The result is an extended exchange between priest and people: the priest says the silent offertory prayers and invites the people to join in his offering with the bidding ‘Pray, brethren’. The people consent and join their prayers to the priest’s with their response (‘May the Lord receive this sacrifice…’). The priest caps the people’s response with ‘Amen’, then he silently says the secret or secrets, with an audible conclusion (‘world without end’), to which the people now respond, ‘Amen.’ The dialogue of the Sursum corda follows, leading immediately into the Sanctus and Prayer of Consecration.
In addition to the proper secret that goes with the collect, the missals provide a proper ‘postcommunion’ or postcommunion collect. The postcommunion is said just before or after the Prayer Book’s fixed postcommunion thanksgiving. In Latin these three bracketed prayers are the oratio (collect), secreta (secret), and postcommunio (postcommunion), though all three have the form of collects with an address, petition, and concluding Trinitarian doxology.
The Prayer Books from 1549 onwards omitted both the secrets and the postcommunions that were assigned in the medieval English missals and replaced them with fixed prayers. The Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church replaces both the variable secrets and also some of the fixed intercessions found at the beginning of the Western or Gelasian Canon of the Mass. This replacement is particularly clear in the case of the first Prayer Book (1549), which makes the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church the first part of the Consecration. Likewise, the fixed Prayer Book thanksgiving after communion replaces the older variable postcommunion collects.
Why did the English Church make these replacements of variable prayers with fixed prayers? In a largely illiterate culture, such as mid-16th century England, the severe reduction of variable elements of the liturgy made that liturgy much easier for the people to follow. In the medieval English Church the laity were largely passive observers and auditors of Latin liturgy, much of which was said silently by the priest and most of the rest of which was said by priest and server or sung by priest and choir. In this medieval situation, complexity due to variable elements did not matter: the basic pattern of the Mass would have been understood by all, and the variation of Latin texts which were not in any case understood in detail by most people did not much matter. But when the liturgy was rendered into English for an illiterate laity after 1549, comprehensibility and uniformity became valued goals.
With the rise of virtually universal literacy and the availability of inexpensive books and service bulletins, it became possible to restore variable elements to the liturgy without interfering in any substantial way with comprehensibility. For this reason the Anglican Eucharist in modern times increasingly has reincorporated variable liturgical elements. Metrical English hymns, which largely began with the Wesleyan movement in the 18th century, at first were resisted in the Church of England. Because of their Methodist origin, hymns seemed disloyal to the Prayer Book and the Established Church. In the 19th century, such objections faded, and metrical hymns began to enter Anglican worship. Not long after the introduction of hymns from a Protestant source, the medievalist and Gothic revival tendencies of the Oxford Movement and the Ritualists’ attraction to Latin liturgy combined to encourage the development of missals and service books for Anglo-Catholic clergy and parishes. These missals incorporated the Prayer Book texts but added English versions of the variable chants and of the fixed and variable prayers from the Latin missals.
These missals were initially controversial, with ‘Prayer Book Catholics’ eschewing them because they were unauthorized by the Church of England (or its daughter Churches) or because they seemed disloyal to the Prayer Book. But just as metrical hymnody eventually gained wide, and then almost universal, acceptance, so ‘missal interpolations’ became increasingly common during the 20th century. In the 1920s the addition of the Agnus Dei was kept out of the American Prayer Book by the vociferous opposition of some Low Church Episcopalians in Virginia and elsewhere. By the time of the Hymnal 1940 such opposition was largely gone, and Agnus Dei appeared in authorized hymnals. The addition of the Benedictus qui venit to the Sanctus became widespread a little later. Enrichment of the calendar and provision for many additional feasts and fasts in the American Church came officially in a book called Lesser Feasts and Fasts (authorized in 1964).
This process of addition to the Prayer Book grew with the Continuing Church after 1976. The Anglican, English, and American Missals are officially authorized in the Continuing Church as consistent with the mind of the Church and her Prayer Books. Such official authorization has ended most opposition to the missals, though individual parishes show a spectrum of usage ranging from a ‘straight Prayer Book’ rite to the use of the full range of missal interpolations. Most parishes now add to the Prayer Book metrical hymns and all of the interpolations mentioned in the previous paragraph. The addition of the ‘minor propers’ (introit, gradual, offertory and communion sentences, secrets, and postcommunions) occurs in the majority of parishes. These additions come from the ancient and medieval Latin rites that were in use for a millennium before the Prayer Book.
Since the secret and postcommunion go with the proper collect, and since the Advent and Ash Wednesday collects are by Prayer Book rubric repeated daily in Advent and Lent respectively, the Advent postcommunion is heard in missal parishes for almost a month. It is a particularly attractive prayer with its notes of preparation and anticipated joy. Often postcommunions make mention of the communion just received and offer thanks for it. This postcommunion does not, but it has other virtues.
The address is not typical but is fairly simple: ‘Grant to us, O Lord, we beseech thee’.
The petition refers to the approach of Christmas in two ways: as ‘thy loving kindness’ and as ‘the coming feast of our redemption’. That the ‘feast of our redemption’ is coming rather than already present is a salutary reminder at every Mass in Advent that Advent is not Christmas and that the feast is approaching but not here yet. The Christian needs ‘to wait’ for that which is approaching and to prepare himself with ‘readiness of heart and mind’. These are all appropriate Advent themes. Joy is anticipated, since what is coming is God’s loving kindness and the feast of our redemption, which will deserve to be hailed and greeted with joy when they arrive. But anticipation is spoiled by premature celebration.
A striking phrase in the postcommunion is ‘in the midst of thy Temple’. The postcommunion is read and heard in the church at the end of Mass, and as such very much is a prayer ‘in the midst of [God’s] Temple’. More subtly, the idea of preparation for Christmas ‘in the midst of the Temple’ recalls the first two chapters of Saint Luke’s gospel, which are certainly appropriate for the season. Luke begins his gospel literally in the midst of the Temple, with Zacharias performing his priestly office ‘when he went into the temple of the Lord’ to burn incense (1:9). Likewise, the Holy Family go to the temple for the Lord’s Presentation and Mary’s Purification and the prophetic encounters with Simeon and Anna (2:22-39). Finally the stories of the Lord’s annunciation, nativity, and infancy end with the Finding in the temple (2:42-50). The temple, then, brackets the beginning and end of Luke 1-2 (and of Luke as a whole, since the gospel as a whole also ends in the temple, 24:53).[i]
When, therefore, the postcommunion speaks of us waiting for God’s loving kindness ‘in the midst of [the] Temple’, it implicitly invites us to place ourselves in the position of the Jewish world on the eve of the Incarnation: the world of Zacharias, Simeon, Anna, Mary, Joseph, and all the saints of the Old Testament, who patiently ‘[waited] for the consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2:25). As those saints awaited the Lord’s first Advent in the midst of his temple, so now we also await the anniversary of his first Advent and the unknown day of his second Advent in the midst of the new temples of his Eucharistic Church.
[i] This bracketing of a section of text with the same element at the beginning and end is the literary device called inclusio or ‘inclusion’.