By Zachary Braddock
This is the first in a series of meditations on the texts of the Mass. Others will follow on succeeding Sundays.
The Collect for Purity dates back at least to the eleventh century (and possibly the eighth). Before its adaptation by Thomas Cranmer in the Book of Common Prayer, it served as a collect for a votive Mass and as part of the priest’s preparation before celebrating. It reads:
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.
The First Part: “Almighty God”
The collect for purity is a prayer of preparation, both for the priest and for the people. It comes near the beginning of the liturgy, after we have gathered as the body of Christ around the altar.
There are two implications here.
First, We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty. This first prayer, directed to God the Father, orients us immediately. Not merely this single prayer, but the entire Mass, is offered to God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The priest, standing at the head of the assembly, leads the worship the congregation gives, addressed to the one who created all things, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We acknowledge that God is God: he is not made with hands; he is not an idol made of wood or gold. Our God is Reality himself, Truth himself, Love himself.
Second, this opening phrase, two words only, is a declaration of who we are addressing, and our claiming of this time, this space, for worship.
The Second Part: “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid”
Who can hide from the Lord? Can you keep a secret from God? The one whom we are here to worship knows all and sees all. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes, “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
Many years before, the psalmist had written:
O Lord, thou hast searched me out, and known me. * Thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine uprising; thou understandest my thoughts long before. …
Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; * the darkness and light to thee are both alike. (Ps. 139:1, 11)
God sees each one of us as we really are. Every thought, both good and bad, every passing fantasy, every deep longing desire, every momentary burst of anger, our every virtue and our every vice are seen by God. He sees us better than we see ourselves, because our eyes and our hearts have been clouded by sin.
It has been this way since the beginning, since humanity’s fall from grace. St. Augustine of Hippo summed it up in a saying: non posse non peccare. You are not able not to sin. Our very nature, the essence of what it means to be human, is corrupted, and can be healed only through Jesus Christ, who offered himself upon the Altar of the Cross, “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”
The Third Part: “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”
We are here to worship. We are here to offer a sacrifice. From our various places of living, of working, of doing all the things we do, we are gathered in one place and, God willing, with one accord. We have nothing to offer because Jesus has offered “his one oblation of himself once offered.” And yet we offer “ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” unto God, that not our wills, but his divine will may be done, and that we may participate in his plan of redemption. Do we not offer other things as well when we gather? The offerings in the alms basin: is that not something of our own sustenance, which we sacrifice and offer up for the work of the Church? And we use other elements as well: We offer the wax of the candles on the altar. When we use incense, the smoke that rises up is a sign of sacrifice, rising up to God. We offer our prayers, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
But the greatest thing that we offer here is in the form of bread and wine. We offer the Son, to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. We do not sacrifice Jesus again. The Holy Communion is our continual partaking of that sacrifice, because Jesus gives himself to us under the forms of bread and wine, which are his body and blood.
Some may ask why we worship in this manner. There are various ways to say it, but the simplest is this: Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
And, so doing, we approach the altar of God, the God of our joy and gladness, asking that our Lord will cleanse our hearts, in order that we may “prefer nothing to Christ,” that we may love and serve and worship as perfectly as is possible on this earth, that we may live our lives in grace, in the communion of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, united to God our Father, through Jesus Christ our redeemer, in the Holy Spirit, our guide and protector.
The Rev. Zachary Braddock is a graduate of Nashotah House Theological Seminary, and serves as curate at the Anglican Cathedral of the Epiphany in the Diocese of the Holy Cross, which is affiliated with Forward in Faith, North America. He blogs at 21st centuryAnglican.
 See preface to the Regula of St. Benedict.
 See Eph. 4:18; St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae I-II q3 a3.