Collect, the name now used only for the short prayers before the Epistle in the Mass, which occur again at Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers. The word collecta corresponds to the Greek GK cn vaEts. It is a noun, a late form for collectio (so missa for missio, oblata for oblatio, ascensa, in the Gelasian Sacramentary, for ascensio, etc.). The original meaning seems to have been this: it was used for the service held at a certain church on the days when there was a station somewhere else. The people gathered together and became a “collection” at this first church; after certain prayers had been said they went in procession to the station-church. Just before they started the celebrant said a prayer, the oratio ad collectam (ad collectionem populi); the name would then be the same as oratio super populum, a title that still remains in our Missal, in Lent for instance after the Post-Communion. This prayer, the collect, would be repeated at the beginning of the Mass at the station itself (Bona, Rer. liturg., II, 5). Later writers find other meanings for the name. Innocent III says that in this prayer the priest collects together the prayers of all the people (De Sacr. altaris myst., II, 27; see also Benedict XIV, De SS. Missy sacr., II, 5). The Secret and Post-Communion are also collects, formed on the same model as the one before the Epistle. Now the name is only used for the first of the three. Originally there was only one collect (and one Secret and Post-Communion) for each Mass. The older sacramentaries never provide more than one. Amalarius of Metz (d. 847) says (De officiis eccl., in P.L., CV, 985 sqq.) that in his time some priests began to say more than one collect, but that at Rome only one was used. Micrologus [De eccl. observ., probably by Bernold of Constance (d. 1100), in P.L., CLI, 973 sqq.] defends the old custom and says that “one Prayer should be said, as one Epistle and one Gospel”. However, the number of collects was multiplied till gradually our present rule was evolved.
The way in which our collects are now said at Mass is the fragment of a more elaborate rite. Of this longer rite we still have a vestige on Good Friday. The celebrant, after greeting the people (Dominus vobiscum), invited them to pray for some intention: Oremus, dilectissimi nobis, etc. The deacon said: Fleetamus genua, and all knelt for a time in silent prayer. The subdeacon then told them to stand up again (Levate), and, all standing, the celebrant closed the private prayers with the short form that is the collect. Of this rite—except on Good Friday—the shortening of the Mass, which has affected all its parts, has only left the greeting Oremus and the collect itself.
Here, as always, it is in Holy Week that we find the older form. It should be noted, then, that the Oremus did not refer immediately to the collect, but rather to the silent prayer that went before it. This also explains the shortness of the older collects. They are not the prayer itself, but its conclusion. One short sentence summed up the petitions of the people. It is only since the original meaning of the collect has been forgotten that it has become itself a long petition with various references and clauses (compare the collects for the Sundays after Pentecost with those for the modern feasts). On all feast-days the collect naturally contains a reference to the event whose memory we celebrate. Its preparation is the kissing of the altar and the Dominus vobiscum. Before inviting the people to make this prayer the celebrant greets them, and, before turning his back to the altar in order to do so, he salutes it in the usual way by kissing it. The form Dominus vobiscum is the common greeting in the West. It occurs in the Gallican, Milanese, and Mozarabic Liturgies under the form: Dominus sit semper vobiscum. Germanus of Paris notes it as the priest’s (not bishop’s) greeting (P.L., LXXVII, 89). It is taken from the Bible. When Booz came from Bethlehem he said, “The Lord be with you”, to the reapers (Ruth, ii, 4), and St. Gabriel used the same form to Our Lady at the Annunciation (Luke, i, 28; cf. II These., iii, 16). A bishop here says, Pax vobis, unless the Mass has no Gloria, in which case his greeting is the same as that of the priest (Ritus celebr., V, 1). This distinction is as old as the tenth century (Ordo Rom., XIV, 79, notes it). The Pax is a joyful and solemn greeting to be left out on days of penance. Its connection with the Gloria, that has just gone before (et in terra pax hominibus), is obvious. The greeting of peace (eirene pasin) is the common one in the Eastern liturgies. In either case the answer is: Et cum spiritu tuo. This is a Hebraism that occurs constantly in both the Old and the New Testament. “Thy spirit” simply means “thee” (cf. e.g. Dan., iii, 86; Gal., vi, 18; Phil., iv, 23; Philem., 25). Nefesh (Heb.), Nafs (Ar.), with a pronominal suffix, in all Semitic languages means simply the person in question. The Eastern liturgies have the same answer, kai meta tou pneumatos sou (and with thy spirit), as in the Apostolic Constitutions (Brightman, Eastern Lit. 3, 13), or kai to pneumati sou (ibid., 49, 137, etc.).
At the Dominus vobiscum the celebrant, facing the people, extends and then again joins his hands. It is here a gesture of greeting. With folded hands he turns back to the altar and goes to the Missal at the Epistle side. Here, again extending and joining the hands and bowing towards the cross, he sings or says Oremus, and then, with uplifted hands (not above the shoulder, Ritus Celebr., V, 1), goes on at once with the collect or collects. The present rule about the collects is this: on doubles only one collect is said (that of the feast), unless any other feast be commemorated, or the pope or bishop order an oratio imperata. The imperata is, moreover, omitted on doubles of the first class, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, the eves of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday, in Requiems, and solemn votive Masses. On doubles of the second class it is left out in high and sung Masses, and may be said at the others or not, at the celebrant’s discretion. For a very grave cause an imperata may be ordered to be said always, even on these occasions. It always comes last (De Herdt, I, 72). The collect of the Blessed Sacrament, to be said when it is exposed, and that for the pope or bishop on the anniversary of their election, coronation, or consecration, are particular cases of imperatae. The rules for commemoration of feasts, octaves, ember days, and ferias of Advent and Lent are given in the rubrics of the Missal (Rubr. Gen., VII; cf. De Herdt, I, 70-71). On semi-doubles, Sundays, and days within an octave, three collects must be said; but on Passion Sunday, on Sundays within an octave and throughout the octaves of Easter and Whitsunday there are only two (Rubr. Gen., IX; De Herdt, I, 75, where the rules for these collects will be found). But in these cases the number may be greater, if there are commemorations. On simples, ferias, and in Requiems and (not solemn) votive Masses, the celebrant may also add collects, as he chooses, provided the total number be an uneven one and do not exceed seven (Rubr. Gen., IX, 12; De Herdt, I, 83).
The rule about the uneven numbers, on which the S. Congr. Rit. has insisted several times (December 2, 1684; September 2, 1741; June 30, 1896), is a curious one. The limit of seven prevents the Mass from being too long. In any case the collect of the day always comes first. It has Oremus before it and the long conclusion (Per Dominum, etc.). The second collect has a second Oremus, and all that follow are joined together without intermediate ending nor Oremus till the last, which again has the long conclusion. This separates the collect of the day from the others and gives it a special dignity, as a remnant of the old principle that it alone should be said. The conclusions of the collects vary according to their form and references (Rubr. Gen., IX, 17). The people (choir or server) answer Amen. During the conclusions the celebrant folds his hands and bows towards the cross at the words Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum. It should be noted that the great majority of the collects are addressed to God the Father (so all the old ones; the common form is to begin: Deus, qui); a few later ones (as on Corpus Christi, for example) are addressed to God the Son, none to the Holy Ghost. At low Mass collects are said aloud so that they can be heard by the people, at high (or sung) Mass they are sung to the festive tone on doubles, semi-doubles, and Sundays. On simples, ferias, and in Masses for the dead, they have the simple ferial tone (entirely on one note, fa). The rules of the tones, with examples, are in the “Caeremoniale Episcoporum“, I, xxvii. At high Mass the deacon and subdeacon stand in a straight line behind the celebrant (the deacon on the top step, the subdeacon in piano) with joined hands. At the col-‘ects, in high Mass, the people should stand. This is the old position for public prayer; originally the sub-deacon explicitly told them to do so (Levate). The custom of standing during the collects, long neglected, is now being happily revived. At low Mass they kneel all the time except during the Gospel (Rubr. Gen., XVII, 2).