The Collect: the prayer that begins Mass

All such prayers share a common structure and can teach us who God is and what to pray for

By Father Randy Stice

Every Mass is provided with three orations (prayers) proclaimed by the priest: the Collect at the beginning of the Mass, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion. These prayers, says Pope Francis, are “concise but rich in meaning.” 1 In this and the following two columns, I want to look at each of these prayers in more detail, beginning this month with the Collect.

The name itself, collect, originally referred to the gathering of people and was the prayer offered when everyone had arrived. In the early centuries of the Church, the celebrant had the option either “to extemporize . . . or to recite a text previously fixed and written down by himself or by another.” 2 St. Augustine knew both practices, describing on the one hand celebrants who address God “in language marked by barbarisms and solecisms,” and on the other celebrants who do not understand “correctly the very words which they are pronouncing, and make confused pauses.” Such faults, said Augustine, should be corrected, but he also reminded the congregation that the voice God hears is “the affection of the soul” and “in the church it is in the desire that the grace of speech resides.” 3 The earliest compilations of Collects were likely formed from the third to the sixth centuries, when the Church’s liturgy was moving from the Greek to the Latin language.

Today the priest introduces the Collect with the invitation, “Let us pray.” This is followed by a brief silence so that the people of God “may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions.” 4 The priest then “collects” the unspoken prayers of the assembly into the Church’s prayer, the Collect, which he proclaims with arms outstretched to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. This gesture, said Pope Francis, “is the prayerful manner practiced by Christians ever since the first centuries—as attested in numerous frescoes in the catacombs in Rome—to imitate Christ with his arms outstretched on the wood of the Cross. And there, Christ is both the One praying and also the Prayer! In the Crucifix, we recognize the Priest who offers God the worship He cherishes, namely, filial obedience.” 5 Through the Collect, “the character of the celebration finds expression.” 6

All Collects share, with some variation, a common structure. Each Collect begins with an address to God, often expanded by a descriptive clause. This leads to a petition and the purpose of the petition. The conclusion expresses the hope for God’s action. The Collect for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time illustrates this basic structure. The address to God, “O God,” is expanded by a descriptive clause: “who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see,” leading to a petition, “fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love” and the motivating desire and hope for God’s action: “so that, loving you in all things and above all things, we may attain your promises, which surpass every human desire.”

The Collect can form and enrich our personal prayer, first by teaching us who God is, who we are addressing. Consider these examples from Collects during Sundays in Ordinary Time: God, “from whom all good things come” (10th); God, “you are the strength of those who hope in you” (11th); God, “you show the light of your truth to those who go astray” (15th); God, “protector of those who hope in you” (17th); God, “Creator and ruler of all things (24th); God, “who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy” (26th).

The Collect also teaches us what to pray for. Petitions during Ordinary Time include the following: “direct our actions according to your good pleasure” (third); may we “be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you” (sixth); may we “always revere and love your holy name” (12th); “fill your faithful with holy joy” (14th); “put into our hearts the love of your name” (22nd); “increase our faith, hope, and charity” (30th); may we “hasten without stumbling to receive the things you have promised” (31st).

The Collect, wrote one scholar, “makes visible to us the grand outlines of that spiritual universe in which our prayer lives and moves and is; it arises in the communion of holy Church and ascends through Christ to God on high.” 7 Pope Francis has suggested how the orations can help us enter more deeply into this spiritual universe. “One can have beautiful meditations on these prayers. Very beautiful! Returning to meditate on these texts, even outside the Mass, can help us understand how to address God, what to ask and which words to use. May the Liturgy become for all of us a true school of prayer.” 8

1 Pope Francis, general audience of Jan. 10, 2018.
2 Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, vol. 1, p. 373.
3 St. Augustine, On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed.
4 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 54.
5 Pope Francis, general audience of Jan. 10, 2018.
6 GIRM, 54.
7 Jungmann, vol. 1, p. 379.
8 Pope Francis, general audience of Jan. 10, 2018. 


Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at

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