Have you formed the habit of tuning into this part of the Mass? If not, you’re missing out on one of the most beautiful moments of the liturgy.
This “moment” actually only takes a few seconds and it happens so close to the beginning of the liturgy that we run the risk of not yet being tuned in.
This moment is the Collect, or the opening prayer of the Mass.
One of the most beautiful Collects of the whole year corresponds to the 27th Week in Ordinary Time.
The prayer is as follows:
Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
If we take this apart and pause on each blessing and petition, we cannot help but see the wild generosity of our God.
The Church notes that God’s kindness is “abundant,” and the next line shows why that’s an apt description. God is so kind to us that he surpasses both our merits and our desires.
When this prayer first caught my attention, I remember being astonished by what the Church is saying. Unfortunately, it’s not too hard to surpass my merits (thank goodness He does that!), but I am quite skilled at having some pretty incredible desires! Even so, this Collect says, no matter how far-reaching and unrestrained our desires, no matter what I can dream up, God is always, always more.
This echoes what St. Paul says about heaven:
No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him.
The Collect keeps going, though. We recall that He is a God defined by mercy — as Pope Francis has said, “the name of God is mercy” — and in that mercy, He will pardon even “what conscience dreads.”
This might be a good refrain to put in our minds before our next Confession, particularly if there’s some particular sin we’ve been carrying around, or which feels humiliating to mention, or if we’re tired of confessing the same thing over and over again. (Don’t worry about being humiliated though! Father has heard it all before, I promise. And, God witnessed you doing it in the first place, so nobody is that confessional is going to be scandalized.)
Repeating this over and over would be a fine way to stand in the confessional line:
“Pour out your mercy, Father, even on that which I dread to admit, dread to remember. Wipe me clean.”
The last line of this Collect might be the best of all: We ask Him, in His mercy, to give us “even what prayer does not dare to ask.”
Like the line about the desires, this petition is pretty astonishing. I can be extraordinarily daring in prayer, and yet, no matter how big my petitions, God will give even more.
Naturally, this shouldn’t make us think that if we ask God for a million dollars in our bank account by tomorrow, that He’ll oblige. He’s the best of Fathers and will only give us what is truly good for us. But if we were to ask him, for example, to pour out his Holy Spirit, or to make our hearts more like His, or to teach us to pray, would He resist even such a big intention? And if we can’t bring ourselves quite to desire or ask for that, yet still, the Church is assuring us, He will “give what prayer does not dare to ask.”
Again, this echoes something Paul teaches us:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Or as our new saint, John Henry Newman, puts it: “God will give us what we ask, or He will give us something better.”
The only conclusion we can draw from this Collect is perhaps something that St. John said in his first Letter:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
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