The Words of our Worship | The Collect for Purity

In this series, Fr. Allen Willis expounds upon the text of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer in order to give greater clarity and a deeper connection to the language we use to worship God in the Anglican Tradition.

ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This beautiful prayer, called the Collect for Purity, is among the oldest and most treasured liturgical prayers in our tradition and sets the tone for our Sunday morning service of Holy Eucharist.

What is a collect?

In the Anglican, Roman, and Lutheran traditions, a collect (prounounced “call-uct”) is a type of prayer used in a worship service that is meant to gather, or “collect” the intent or heart of the people before Almighty God. It typically has only one theme or intention and follows a basic pattern of Address (“Almighty God…”), Petition (“Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…”), Aspiration (“that we may perfectly love thee…”) and a Doxology (“Through Christ our Lord…”).

The Anglican tradition has a broad collection of incredibly moving, well-written collects that serve to focus our minds and articulate our intent as we come before the Almighty God. In liturgical worship, every word we use is incredibly important and the language in our prayers and petitions is no different.

“…unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid..”

This is such a striking, sobering opening statement made in the presence of an All-Powerful, All-Knowing God. No matter how good I think I am as I enter church on Sunday morning, how well I think I have done in keeping his commandments through the week, this prayer never fails to prick my spirit and causes me to recall all the ways in which my heart has betrayed me, all the secret sins I may have committed, all the selfish desires I may have harbored. This part of the collect openly recognizes that we are fully exposed before a Holy God. Like Adam and Eve in the garden after their rebellion, we feel an urgent need to cover our shame. But no covering can cloak our sin. There are no hidden places in our hearts with God.

“…Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit…”

The only remedy for the shame of secret sin is the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our only hope for a clear conscience and a pure mind is through His work of sanctifying our Spirits.

The juxtaposition of this prayer with the Summary of the Law that will follow (“thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart..”) is significant as well. Just as the children of Israel go through a process of purification at Mt. Sinai before the law is given, so our minds must be cleansed before we hear the words of Jesus to be able to truly absorb and apply the commandments of God.

“…that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name…”

I think the intent of the prayer at this point is to proclaim our desire to fully and completely love God with our entire being. If our hearts are fully aware of the sin they can possess and know beyond doubt that they have been washed white by the blood of the lamb, our affection and gratitude for the Lamb of God will only continue to grow. Cleansed hearts seek to love Him ever more fully and magnify Him (or “proclaim the greatness of”) more consistently.

The prayer concludes with a short doxology, “through Christ our Lord”, helping us to understand that it is only through Christ that we are able to make any petition to the Father. He is the Door through which we approach an Almighty God, bringing our souls and bodies before Him in worship.

I pray that you will hear the words of the Collect of Purity this Sunday and that they will echo the desire of your heart to be fully cleansed by His Spirit as we seek to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.