A collect for the closing days of Christmastide
The Church of Ireland BCP 1926 offers this collect 'upon the days between the Circumcision and the Epiphany'. In the PECUSA BCP 1928, it is the collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day. Whereas a Second Sunday after Christmas occurs only in some years, the Church of Ireland provision ensures that this beautiful collect is used each year, from Mattins on the 2nd January until Mattins on the 5th.
The collect is from the late first millennium Gregorian Sacramentary and was the collect for the Dawn Mass of Christmas Day in the Tridentine rite. As with the collect offered in the Prayer Book tradition for the First Communion of Christmas, it gives an ancient prayer of the churches of the Latin West in a resonant, dignified vernacular.
The placing of this collect in the Prayer Book tradition enriches the observance of the closing days of Christmastide. The 1662 requirement that the collect for the Circumcision is used between that feast and the Epiphany fails to recognise the particular character of these days. Christmastide is drawing to a close and the Epiphany approaches. The collect offered in Ireland 1926 draws us to reflect on both characteristics.
As with the collect of the Christmas octave - "who hast given us thy only begotten Son ... as at this time ... may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit - the petition of this collect is that the celebration of the Lord's Nativity will renew and transfigure us:
who hast poured upon us the new light of thine Incarnate Word ... enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives.
The collect, then, continues the Christmas celebration, following the octave: "who hast poured upon us". Between the collect for the octave and this collect for the days between the Circumcision and Epiphany, the twelve days of Christmas are marked by two collects which celebrate the Nativity and draw us to experience sanctifying communion with the Incarnate Word.
The collect also orients us towards the celebration of the Epiphany by holding together the "light shineth in darkness" of Christmas and the "leading of a star" of Epiphany:
new light ... the same light, enkindled ... shine forth.
Looking back to the light of Christmas it simultaneously looks forward to the light of the Epiphany, the same Light made manifest. These days after 1st January, then, are not lost days, with Christmas behind us. They are days infused with the grace and glory of Christmas and anticipating that grace and glory in the Epiphany.
By taking the collect of the Dawn Mass and using it in these days, the Prayer Book tradition also demonstrates its ability to imaginatively reform traditional Latin liturgy in a manner which only increases the resonance of texts and phrases. We might draw a parallel here with Cranmer's collect for the Circumcision, based on a benediction for the feast in the Gregorian Sacramentary, and his collect for the Annunciation, which was the post-communion in the Sarum rite. With the resonant, dignified vernacular of the Prayer Book tradition, we see here an imaginative and attractive liturgical vision, at once Catholic and Reformed.
As the days of Christmastide draw to a close, as the feast of Epiphany draws near, this collect holds us in the gracious Light of these feasts. In the collect's most compelling phrase, may this Light be "enkindled in our hearts" that we may be transfigured by our Christmas and Epiphany celebrations.