Almighty and everlasting God: mercifully look upon our infirmities; and in all our dangers and necessities, stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; 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 Third Sunday after Epiphany from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The preoccupation of the medieval world with the thought of danger comes out again in this ancient prayer for peace. In this case the collect… begins with an almost pathetic acknowledgment of man’s weakness.
“Mercifully look upon our infirmities”. Actually this is the beginning of all religion. To recognise our weakness is perhaps humiliating, but it is nevertheless wholesome. It is in any case a piece of realism: it shows that we are in touch with facts. All the nonsense about “my unconquered soul”, and “my head is bloody but unbowed”, is seen at its true value. No man who really knows himself dare make such claims for his own, unaided strength. Far nearer the truth, however unpalatable, is the line of the hymn: “We are frail earthen vessels and things of no worth”.
Our infirmities are of every kind, physical, mental, moral. No one needs to stress our bodily weakness: it is so obvious that writers have been known to blame the Creator for having made man’s body so inefficient a tool. Our mental weakness is equally clear. How little can we remember to take in, and how difficult do we find it to think straight on any matter. Our moral weakness is even more glaring. We have indeed made so great a failure of the moral struggle that the modern novelist and dramatist try to avoid the issue by pretending that there are really no such things as morals. The cult of the passing moment, without any reference to permanent standards, is all that matters’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Fr Lee Kenyon