Collect for Trinity XVII

LORD, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, etc.

This is one of the briefest and simplest of the Prayer Book’s Sunday collects.  Before the doxology it has only 24 words, 19 of which are monosyllables.  It is relatively free of pleonasms and pairs:  the only exceptions are ‘prevent and follow’ and then the broader parallel between the two things we ask grace to do (‘prevent and follow’ as one thing; ‘make us’ as the second).  The vocabulary also is simple, again with an exception (‘prevent’).

Its address, ‘Lord’, is a single word and therefore also is about as simple as can be.  The doxology is reduced, as is often the case after the first Sunday collect in a season, to the abbreviated introduction of the full Trinitarian ending.

The petition is more complex, though it is brief and simple in form.   The petition concerns the operation of the Lord’s grace.

First, the prayer is that God’s ‘grace may always prevent and follow us’.  ‘Prevent’, as is usually the case in the Prayer Book, has its root sense of ‘coming before’, as in the still current sense of the related word ‘prevenient’.  Preventing or prevenient grace is the essential and indispensable starting point for spiritual life.  Before we can work, we must be enabled, and that enabling comes from an initial, unmerited, unelicited, undeserved grace.  Grace must come before works, so the first grace is preventing or prevenient from the point of view of the later works.  But grace is not, from the human perspective, a single moment, a once-and-for-all infusion.  Rather grace both comes before our merits and works (so ‘preventing us’) and also needs to ‘follow us’, to accompany us and continually strengthen us.  This complex, lifelong reality is here spoken of in the briefest possible way:  ‘always prevent and follow us’.

Secondly, the prayer asks that God’s preventing and ongoing grace also may ‘make us continually to be given to all good works’.  Good works are the effect and fruit of the graced life, so it is appropriate that they have second place in the prayer.  While the collect certainly prays for that fruit, for the good works themselves, it more fundamentally prays that the praying person may be ‘continually…given’ to those works.  More fundamental than the works themselves is the heart’s inclination towards those good works.  The form of a moral act is the agent’s intention.  The heart’s desire determines the essential quality of the act.  If grace has made the good inclination habitual, then the habit has become a virtue, a settled tendency.  The collect prays for this continual inclination or habit and virtue, but in non-technical language.

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