Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead; we may rise to the life immortal; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
In the opening Collect of the liturgical year, the Church directs her prayer to God the Father in supplication, pleading his strength and his protection on the Christian faithful. In so doing Our Holy Mother lays before her children three parallels, setting the scene for the season that is upon us, and focussing our hearts and minds on the choices and tasks we must face in this privileged and holy time.
The first of these is the works of darkness and the armour of light. In our fallen world, surrounded as we are by the effects and consequences of sin, we find ourselves aliens in a strange land (1 Pet. 2:11). And yet despite this, it is to these works of darkness that still we cling. By our attachment to those things that can lead ultimately only to death, we become enslaved; bound to the things of this world, and thereby incapable of achieving the graces necessary for the life of the world to come. Our Collect, though, does not simply diagnose the ailment, but prescribes the medicine. It is, we are told, by means of the armour of light—the protection that comes from a life lived in virtue and infused by grace—that we are truly prepared for the battle against the works of sin and death, and defended against the snares and assaults of the enemy.
The second of these is this mortal life and the life immortal. Here the consequence of preferring the trappings of this world is put to us in stark relief. We are made for glory and for heaven—the life immortal—but in order to achieve this lofty goal, we must first pass through the portal of this mortal life. The first, the life of this world, is a given. The second, the life of the world to come, is still ours to attain. Thus, in the season that now we keep, we are presented with a choice: darkness or light? mortality or immortality?
The third of these is came to visit us in great humility and shall come again in his glorious majesty. This is a parallel, to be sure, but one that differs in kind from the other two we have considered. Here we speak not of fallen things, nor of things uncertain, but of the Christ, whom the Church honours in this prayer by extolling both his meekness and his supreme power. And why? To laud the Father? Certainly, but still more to encourage us to model our lives—and especially in this season—on the perfect example of Christ’s docility to the Father’s will: “The humility of the Son of God she sets before us as well deserving of our imitation.” Christ, and in turn his Holy Church, calls us to that abandonment of self-interest shown us by the cross, and reflected in our midst by the example of his saints, most chiefly our Blessed Mother.
It is in considering these that we see the path our Advent journey must, then, take. In imitating the humility of Christ in his first coming, we receive the grace to reject the works of darkness that surround us in this mortal life, and accept the armour of light. By this we are protected from the guilt that would otherwise condemn us, that in the last day, when Christ shall come again in his glorious majesty, the life immortal will be no longer a distant hope, but a reality; the reward of a life well-lived; a battle fought, and won.
This post is part of a series on the Collects of Divine Worship, which may be viewed by clicking this link.
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