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Collect-ing for Advent

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Dec 02, 2013

Advent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. While it is penitential, the element of joyful expectation for Christmas really shines through the tone of the liturgy. It reminds me of the final weeks of gestation, with the anticipation and preparation for the new baby to finally arrive. But Advent’s expectation is even greater, with centuries of parched souls crying with such pleading and impatience for their Redemption: Come! Do not Tarry!  And the preparation theme runs even more deeply, calling not just for exterior tidying, but deep interior cleaning and spiritual reorientation to this great Coming of Emmanuel. The Advent liturgy remembers the First Coming of Christ, but then applies all that intense longing and preparation for Parousia.

There’s always a bit of scrambling right before (or sometimes during) the first week of Advent to get ready. “People Look East” is the hymn we often sing as our family prepares the house for Advent. We have many Advent traditions, but our main family Advent prayers center around the liturgy of the day and the Advent wreath.

While I absolutely love the smell and the look of fresh evergreen wreaths, I know my limitations. A live evergreen wreath is ideal, but it won't be ready on time. Instead I have an brass ring wreath intertwined with artificial garland. I prefer beeswax candles for aesthetic and practical reasons: they look pretty, they smell wonderful, but they also burn longer. To ensure I’m never out of candles, I buy in bulk, and store them in the same place (not that “safe” place I always forget). This isn’t because I’m a very organized person—it’s to ensure I will have the Advent wreath ready the 1st Sunday of Advent, even if nothing else is!

I’ve written about the Advent wreath prayers and devotions we use in our family, including a poster—all inspired by the key Advent figures, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary. But the supporting columns of our family tradition are the Collect prayers from the Mass.

When I was a child our Advent Wreath prayers incorporated the Collects from the Sundays of Advent from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized they were the traditional Collects. I continued to use the traditional prayers because I love how the language—"stir up”, hasten, rescue, deliver—paints such longing and desire:

1st: Stir up your power, O Lord, and come to our help with mighty strength that what our sins impede the grace of your mercy may hasten. Through our Lord Jesus Christ....

2nd: Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the paths of your Only Begotten Son, that through His coming, we may be found worthy to serve You with minds made pure. Through our Lord Jesus Christ....

3rd: Incline a merciful ear to our cry, we pray, O Lord, and, casting light on the darkness of our heart, visit us with the grace of Your Son. Who lives and reigns....

4th: Stir up thy power and come, we pray Thee, O Lord, and with great might succor us; that by the help of Thy grace that which hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness. Who lives and reigns....

The Collect (pronounced KÄL-ekt, the “o” as in odd or cot) is one of the more ancient prayers of the Mass, tracing back to the early Roman church. Its history is a bit obscure, but it is believed to be part of the Roman tradition of the stational churches. Originally the congregation would meet in one place and then solemnly process to the station church where Mass would be celebrated. The ecclesia collecta was prayed before the congregration processed. Later the prayer was moved as a part of the Mass. The Collect is the principle liturgical prayer of the day, the Church’s keynote that is repeated throughout the Liturgy of the Hours, binding the Mass and the Divine Office into an interconnected whole. It concisely embodies all our petitions and intentions while including the themes of the feast or season.

Our family tries to familiarize ourselves with the daily Collect in different ways at home. (The Collect for the Day can be found by clicking on “Liturgical Year” on the home page.) We incorporate the prayer into our home education, such as copywork, and we also incorporate it into our family prayer. On days we do not attend Mass, we listen to the Mass readings and pray the Collect of the day. 

I'm very grateful for the new Third Roman Missal translations, especially for the Collect prayers. But for the Advent wreath, I have to admit I'm partial to the original Collects, probably for sentimental reasons. As I thumbed through my missal this week, I found that three of the four original/Extraordinary Form Advent Collects are actually still used in the Ordinary Form, just found on different days of the week. So this year we are using the first three of the Traditional Sunday Collects, and the current 4th Sunday Collect, which is the prayer used in the Angelus:

Pour forth, we beseech You, O Lord, Your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Who lives and reigns....

Like most females, I like to have options, so I am including three versions of our family's prayer leaflets to use with your family's Advent wreath. Choose the set of Collects you prefer:

And as a final note, don’t forget to put out your shoes for St. Nicholas’ Eve! This is one of our most eagerly awaited feast days of Advent. My sons will have a few goodies in their shoes left by St. Nicholas. Sadly, it won’t include my absolute favorite St. Nicholas recipe and tradition, speculaas cookies. I have baked Speculaas (following Mrs. Berger’s recipe) every year until we had to deal with food allergies. I even made these cookies for our wedding favors! I typically don’t bake feast day goodies that not everyone can eat, and haven’t found a recipe that is allergy free that can rival the original, so I won’t be baking them this year. But I highly encourage you to bake a batch and enjoy some for me in honor of dear St. Nicholas!

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