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Although the Latin term oratio dominica is of early date, the phrase “Lord’s Prayer” does not seem to have been generally familiar in England before the Reformation. During the Middle Ages the “Our Father” was always said in Latin, even by the uneducated. Hence it was then most commonly known as the Pater noster. The name “Lord’s prayer” attaches to it not because Jesus Christ used the prayer Himself (for to ask forgiveness of sin would have implied the acknowledgment of guilt) but because He taught it to His disciples.
Many points of interest are suggested by the history and employment of the Our Father. With regard to the English text now in use among Catholics, we may note that this is derived not from the Rheims Testament but from a version imposed upon England in the reign of Henry VIII, and employed in the 1549 and 1552 editions of the “Book of Common Prayer”. From this our present Catholic text differs only in two very slight particulars: “Which art” has been modernized into “who art”, and “in earth” into “on earth”.
The version itself, which accords pretty closely with the translation in Tyndale’s New Testament, no doubt owed its general acceptance to an ordinance of 1541 according to which “his Grace perceiving now the great diversity of the translations (of the Pater noster etc.) hath willed them all to be taken up, and instead of them hath caused an uniform translation of the said Pater noster, Ave, Creed, etc. to be set forth, willing all his loving subjects to learn and use the same and straitly commanding all parsons, vicars and curates to read and teach the same to their parishioners”. As a result the version in question became universally familiar to the nation, and though the Rheims Testament, in 1581, and King James’s translators, in 1611, provided somewhat different renderings of Matthew 6:9-13, the older form was retained for their prayers both by Protestants and Catholics alike.
As for the prayer itself the version in St. Luke 11:2-4, given by Christ in answer to the request of His disciples, differs in some minor details from the form which St. Matthew (6:9-15) introduces in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, but there is clearly no reason why these two occasions should be regarded as identical. It would be almost inevitable that if Christ had taught this prayer to His disciples He should have repeated it more than once. It seems probable, from the form in which the Our Father appears in the “Didache”, that the version in St. Matthew was that which the Church adopted from the beginning for liturgical purposes. Again, no great importance can be attached to the resemblances which have been traced between the petitions of the Lord’s prayer and those found in prayers of Jewish origin which were current about the time of Christ. There is certainly no reason for treating the Christian formula as a plagiarism, for in the first place the resemblances are but partial and, secondly we have no satisfactory evidence that the Jewish prayers were really anterior in date.
Upon the interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, much has been written, despite the fact that it is so plainly simple, natural, and spontaneous, and as such preeminently adapted for popular use. In the quasi-official “Catechismus ad parochos”, drawn up in 1564 in accordance with the decrees of the Council of Trent, an elaborate commentary upon the Lord’s Prayer is provided which forms the basis of the analysis of the Our Father found in all Catholic catechisms. Many points worthy of notice are there emphasized, as, for example, the fact that the words “On earth as it is in Heaven” should be understood to qualify not only the petition “Thy will be done”, but also the two preceding, “hallowed be Thy name” and “Thy Kingdom come”. The meaning of this last petition is also very fully dealt with. The most conspicuous difficulty in the original text of the Our Father concerns the interpretation of the words artos epiousios which in accordance with the Vulgate in St. Luke we translate “our daily bread”, St. Jerome, by a strange inconsistency, changed the pre-existing word quotidianum into supersubstantialem in St. Matthew but left quotidianum in St. Luke. The opinion of modern scholars upon the point is sufficiently indicated by the fact that the Revised Version still prints “daily” in the text, but suggests in the margin “our bread for the coming day”, while the American Committee wished to add “our needful bread”. Lastly may be noted the generally received opinion that the rendering of the last clause should be “deliver us from the evil one”, a change which justifies the use of “but” in stead of “and” and practically converts the two last clauses into one and the same petition. The doxology “for Thine is the Kingdom”, etc., which appears in the Greek textus receptus and has been adopted in the later editions of the “Book of Common Prayer”, is undoubtedly an interpolation.
In the liturgy of the Church the Our Father holds a very conspicuous place. Some commentators have erroneously supposed, from a passage in the writings of St. Gregory the Great (Ep., ix, 12), that he believed that the bread and wine of the Eucharist were consecrated in Apostolic times by the recitation of the Our Father alone. But while this is probably not the true meaning of the passage, St. Jerome asserted (Adv. Pelag., iii, 15) that “our Lord Himself taught His disciples that daily in the Sacrifice of His Body they should make bold to say ‘Our Father’ etc.” St. Gregory gave the Pater its present place in the Roman Mass immediately after the Canon and before the fraction, and it was of old the custom that all the congregation should make answer in the words “Sed libera nos a malo”. In the Greek liturgies a reader recites the Our Father aloud while the priest and the people repeat it silently. Again in the ritual of baptism the recitation of the Our Father has from the earliest times been a conspicuous feature, and in the Divine Office it recurs repeatedly besides being recited both at the beginning and the end.
In many monastic rules, it was enjoined that the lay brothers, who knew no Latin, instead of the Divine office should say the Lord’s Prayer a certain number of times (often amounting to more than a hundred) per diem. To count these repetitions they made use of pebbles or beads strung upon a cord, and this apparatus was commonly known as a “pater-noster”, a name which it retained even when such a string of beads was used to count, not Our Fathers, but Hail Marys in reciting Our Lady’s Psalter, or in other words in saying the rosary.
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APA citation. Thurston, H. (1910). The Lord’s Prayer. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09356a.htm
MLA citation. Thurston, Herbert. “The Lord’s Prayer.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09356a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Tomas Hancil.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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