No changes, please, to the Lord’s Prayer


I find it interesting that even people who go to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite and are accustomed to modern language default to the thees and thous of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.

But me oh my, try attending a liturgical celebration where the Magnificat is prayed together.   Unless there is a handout, it is cacophony.

That is sad.

Now Pope Francis has mused in one of his off-the-cuff statements that the translation of the Lord’s Prayer should be changed.

One U.K. priest reported on Facebook today some nice parishioner asked him why he had not changed the Lord’s Prayer in deference to Pope Francis’ wishes.

Catholic World Report puts the remarks in context:

Pope Francis has managed to get himself in the papers again, this time over remarks to the Italian bishops’ TV magazine program, Padre Nostro. The episode that is the source – or at least the occasion – of the controversy aired on the Italian bishops’ TV2000 network this past Tuesday. In the episode, the Holy Father noted the recent change in the official French translation of the Our Father, as the prayer appears in the official French translation of the Ordo Missae – the Missal of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

The headlines were, predictably, breathless and misleading.

“Pope Francis wants to change line of ‘Our Father’” is what we got from Fox News, while the BBC gave us, “Lord’s Prayer: Pope Francis calls for change”, and NPR offered, “Pope Francis Suggests Changing The Words To The ‘Lord’s Prayer’”.

He didn’t.

What he did was use a part of a serial conversation about the Lord’s Prayer to address a basic point of theology. Only, he did so by invoking a drawn-out and at times acrimonious controversy under the tent of French Catholicism, over the official liturgical translation of the Our Father. Hold on to your hats: it gets awfully confusing awfully fast.

Father Hunwicke has a post up about the translation idea:

And let me make this clear: the Greek original and its Latin version do not mean what PF wants them to mean. Anybody who claims that they do, is either ignorant or dishonest. PF’s proposal is not a translation, but an alteration. But I’ll return, D v, to that tomorrow. (I’m afraid it has occurred to me that all this might be a ploy to provoke yet another disagreement with Cardinal Sarah, with the intention of finally getting rid of him. After all, PF is suggesting that a change be made in liturgical texts which involves eliminating the actual words of what the Greek and Latin and Syrian bibles say the Lord actually said, and replacing them with what a twenty-first century Roman Bishop says he prefers. It is Cardinal Sarah’s job, quite frankly, to resist the imposition of a gratuitous mistranslation of an authorised original.)

My second reason for making no change is pastoral. Back in the 1970s, we in the Church of England did indeed experiment with ‘modern’ translations of the Pater noster. Those experimental forms are now, I think, rarely used. The reason is: the clergy discovered that among infrequent church-goers, including the house-bound sick and elderly, and those attending Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals, and the Midnight Mass brigade, the Lord’s Prayer was the only formula they knew. Any other liturgical memories they had lingering from their childhoods had been rendered out-of-date by the liturgical revolutions of the 1960s. Was it ‘pastoral’ to deprive such people of the only remaining bit of a worship-experience which was in the least familiar to them … which had any sort of purchase upon their memories? So most of us just changed Our Father which … into Our Father who … , and left it at that.

Msgr. Charles Pope has a piece in the National Catholic Register that is well worth reading:

Recent remarks by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, cast doubt on the traditional English rendering of the Lord’s Prayer. To be fair to the Pope, reports that he is calling for the Our Father to be changed are incorrect. He did not propose any change to the Greek text. What he did say, in a recent interview with an Italian Catholic television network, was that the current English translation “lead us not into temptation” is not a good one because God does not lead people to sin. Pope Francis suggested using “do not let us fall into temptation” instead. He added, “It is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell … A father does not do that; a father helps you to get up immediately.”

All of this is fair enough, but I have seldom heard anyone argue that God directly tempts us to sin. Scripture itself makes this clear: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire … Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12-14).


5 thoughts on “No changes, please, to the Lord’s Prayer

  1. I’m inclined to think (and definitely to hope) that this is a tempest in a teapot. “Lead us not” is certainly subject to misinterpretation. I think I remember wondering about it as a child, and definitely did when I was older. But it was explained to me. It’s not hard to explain. Even granting that the theological and/or linguistic point in favor of a change is valid (I’m not qualified to comment on that), I would oppose the change because the existing wording is so deeply embedded in liturgy, personal prayer, and indeed English-speaking culture at large.


  2. How good is the Holy Father’s English? If this has never been a point of serious contention among people whose only language was English, why should Rome insist on a change?


  3. Denyse the Pope said nothing about changing the English prayer -he was talking in Italian about the French version which has been changed by the Bishops there.


  4. There’s actually more substantial history to this issue.

    >> In preparing the English translation of the revised Roman Missal that took effect in 1969, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which was a Catholic body charged with translating liturgical texts, adopted English translations of many prayers from a collection named Prayers We Have in Common prepared by an ecumenical body called the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET). However, the general sense was that it would be best to retain the traditional translation of the Lord’s Prayer, rather than adopting the ICET translation, because so much else was changing at that time. The issue has not been revisited since.

    >> But the official English translation of the “Hail Mary” was revised and promulgated in the Liturgy of the Hours, where it is one of the Marian antiphons for compline. Here is the current official translation, with the changes emphasized.

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
    Blessed are you among women,
    and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary, mother of God,
    pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen.

    Unfortunately, very few pastors actually told their parishioners about this change and very few Catholics would have discovered it on their own — but many have encountered it in the musical setting Hail Mary/Gentle Woman by Rev. Carey Landry, which is very worshipful when it is performed correctly.

    But, that said, Pope Francis actually seems to be proposing a change to the translation of the Lord’s Prayer into Latin from the Aramaic (or possibly Greek) text. The proposed change apparently would be a more precise translation, and thus less susceptible to misunderstanding. If adopted, all vernacular liturgical books would require revision to reflect the correction of the Latin text.

    I have to like a pope who is not afraid to fix a problem!



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