O LORD Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare the way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
All of the propers for this Sunday (the two lessons, the Collect, Introit, etc.) are focused the fact this week is an Ember Week for the Church, one of those quarterly observances set apart for special prayer and fasting and for the ordination of the clergy. The Ember Weeks are the complete weeks following (1) Holy Cross Day (September 14); (2) the Feast of St. Lucy (December 13); (3) the first Sunday in Lent; and (4) Pentecost (Whitsunday). Thus all of the propers relate to the ministry. The two lessons for this Sunday are 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 and St. Matthew 11:2-10.
This Collect was composed specifically for the Book of Common Prayer 1662. You will recall how God sent the great prophet, St. John Baptist, the Forerunner, as the herald to announce the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ into the world. We read Luke 1:17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. This speaks of St. John Baptist, coming before the Christ in the spirit of Elijah, and his work being to prepare the Jewish people to hear and receive the Christ. All of this is referenced in the first line of the Collect.
In the same manner, the Deacons, Priests, and Bishops of the Church today are specifically called upon to prepare the people of the world to receive Jesus Christ at His Second Coming, when He comes in Judgement at the end of time. These are so identified by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, phraseology that we see again reflected in the Collect. In describing their work in the Collect, we see again the words from St. Luke.
The entire Gospel lesson is about St. John Baptist, so we see that he is being presented as the prototype for all clergy today. This is a daunting model when we remember who St. John Baptist was, how he lived, the things he did, his single minded focus on his role as the herald prophet. John never entertained any pretensions that he himself was the Messiah, and he saw with great clarity the fact that when Jesus appeared, he must fade away. In the same way, every true priest knows that he is not the man of importance, but rather that everything he does must point to Jesus Christ. As we pray this Collect this week, let us pray for all of our clergy and ordinands.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.