The opening prayer of the Mass is one of the most ancient parts of the opening rites of the Eucharistic liturgy. The General Instruction of the Sacramentary notes that the opening prayer "expresses the theme of the celebration." (32) One of the objectives of the revision of the present Sacramentary is to fulfill this goal better by providing more choices of the opening prayer of the Mass based on the three year cycle of the Sunday Lectionary.
This prayer begins with the presider inviting the assembly to pray, then providing a period of silence for members of the assembly to pray their personal prayer in the silence of their hearts, and then the presider praying this oration in the name of the faithful. This silence is a deliberate communal silence inviting the members of the assembly to recollect their thoughts and recall the petitions that each person brings to a particular celebration of the Eucharist. The spoken prayer of the presider is to sum up the silent prayer of the people. This opening prayer has traditionally been referred to as "the collect" based on the fact that the presider, so to speak, collects the prayers of the faithful in this prayer addressed to the Father, through Jesus, the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. When there is adequate shared silence then the "collect" will truly have something to collect.
There is much the precedent in our tradition for the presider chanting the opening prayer, using a simple chant pattern. Such a practice, at least on major feasts, expresses the importance of the principal oration of the Mass.
During this prayer the presider also extends his hands. This gesture is referred to as the "orans posture of prayer" and conveys that it is to God the Father to whom the prayer is addressed. The out-streteched arms was also a gesture of the early Christians that symbolized liberation - a gesture of being free from the shackles of slavery.
[Source: Sunday Bulletin, St. Paul Roman Catholic Cathedral, Saskatoon, SK, Canada; March 16, 2008]