ALMIGHTY Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification; Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
The First Sunday after Easter goes also by several other names. It is ‘Low Sunday’, a name popularly taken to refer to a decline in attendance after the usually extraordinary attendance on Easter Day. It is also Quasimodo Sunday, from the first words (Quasi modo) of the Latin of the day’s introit from I St. Peter 2 (‘As newborn babes, alleluia: desire the sincere milk of the word, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.’). The hunchback of Notre Dame was born on this day and the novel plays on the theme of innocence. The more formal Latin name for the day is Dominica in albis, the ‘Sunday in white’: from the liturgical color in the Latin Church and perhaps also from the custom of wearing baptismal robes through the octave by those newly baptized at the Easter Vigil.
In any case, the collect for the day can be read as referring to the state of the newly baptized. The Prayer Book collects for Eastertide have eliminated the clear and unmistakable references to Easter baptisms, which are seen most clearly in the missal collects for the Easter Vigil and for Easter Thursday. Nonetheless, there are several phrases in this collect which can be related with ease to baptism.
The address is to God as ‘Almighty Father’, which is particularly apt since Easter is the gift of the Father’s ‘only Son, to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification’. The collect is about the fruits of Christ’s triumph at Easter. The connection of Christ’s death with remission of our sins and his resurrection with his gift of our justification should not be pushed too far, as if only his death takes away the bad and only his rising brings renewal. These two sides of things are obviously related. Nonetheless, the collect’s distinction is imaginatively sound, Scriptural, and well-attested in Patristic and later thought. Almighty God is, through Christ’s work, not only God but also Father, and not only the Father of Christ but now also of those for whom he died and rose. The redeemed in turn are both forgiven and renewed.
The collect’s most striking part is certainly its petition, particularly the final part thereof. The petition’s reference to ‘the leaven of malice and wickedness’ is taken from I Corinthians 5:8, a verse with peculiar importance in the Prayer Book’s observance of Easter. The verse is part of the first anthem which replaces the Venite, exultemus in Morning Prayer on Easter Day in both the 1662 English and also the 1928 American book. In the American book the same verse is also part of an epistle provided for a second, early Eucharist on Easter Day. I Corinthians 5:7 (or 7 & 8) also is quoted in the Gradual and Communion Sentence for Easter Day in the missals. One might, finally, also note that a great Anglican novel by Robertson Davies bears the title Leaven of Malice and quotes this collect.
The use of Pauline language is not unusual in the collects, as the example of Advent I suffices to prove. This example, however, is particularly rich, with its nod to the gospels (‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees’) and with, more specifically, its Passover background and, therefore, its relevance for both Eucharist and baptism.
Putting away the leaven of malice in the first part of the petition perhaps should be taken as parallel with the address’s phrase, ‘die for our sins’. If so, then the address and petition have a second connection, with ‘always serve thee in pureness of living and truth’ parallel to ‘rise for our justification’. In any case, the pair of objects in the final prepositional phrase, ‘of living and truth’, neatly embraces both Christian behavior, ‘orthopraxy’, and Christian doctrine, orthodoxy. The whole final phrase, ‘that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth’, gives the positive heart of the petition. The prayer is essentially a petition for sound living and sound believing. Pureness of doctrine is not enough if it is not accompanied by service in living. To be sure, sound behavior is difficult to sustain or even discern when doctrinal aberrations are accepted. But ‘malice and wickedness’ surely savor as much of behavior as of belief.