O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church: and, because she cannot continue in safety without thy succour; preserve her evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘This is one of the most popular of the collects, especially loved by the clergy who are inclined to include it in any set of prayers they are called upon to say.
And why should they not? It is concerned with the Church, the special family of God to whose service they are pledged, and it emphasises the intimate relation the Church bears to God. It is his Church, the particular instrument of his revelation and redemption, the means by which the work of his Son is continued through the generations, the ‘body’ by which the Christ still functions on the earth.
As such it is of immediate concern to everyone of us. It is not a remote, inaccessible ideal. It is our near neighbour in the local parish church; it brings heaven to the meanest mission altar; it is on our doorstep in the figure of vicar or curate.
...“Let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church”. God’s agape or love, which is the very essence of his being, when it is directed towards men, the human element in the Church, necessarily manifests itself as pity or compassion. From the supreme height of his power and purity we must appear of a frailty that must call out all his desire to protect. Consequently having been cleansed, the Church prays to be defended, having full confidence that God will answer the prayer.
...The fact is that in the midst of all these dangers, open or disguised, the Church cannot continue in safety without God’s succour. We therefore ask him not only to set up a defensive barrier against its perils but also to preserve his Church evermore by filling it with his goodness.
What precisely the goodness of God means in this connection it may not be easy to say. But at least it includes the notion of kindness, which is of the essence of God’s nature and the foundation of all human virtues.
The safety of the Church depends entirely on God’s kindness, that is, compassionate love, and if all depends on kindness, obviously the Church herself must endeavour to reflect the same fundamental virtue. Our essential safety depends on our continued possession of it.
If we become afraid of losing love, or fear that kindness is disappearing from the Church, let us remember that the indwelling life of the Church is the Spirit and that Spirit is love. We can only lose the Spirit by losing life itself, and that the Church can never do’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Fr Lee Kenyon