Why does Pope Francis want to change the Lord’s Prayer?

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As the church prays, so the church believes — so we should pray with clarity and theological correctness

Q: Is it true that Pope Francis recently suggested changing the wording of the Lord’s Prayer?

A: Your question most likely concerns some comments Pope Francis made in early December 2017 about one of the final petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, in which we say, “Lead us not into temptation.”

The Holy Father’s suggestion was made to correct the misunderstanding some people might have when they pray that petition. Historically, some have argued that St. Jerome’s Latin translation, “et ne nos inducas in tentationem,” misses the rich nuances of the original Greek. Thus some people could falsely believe that God is the one who tempts us and that, therefore, God is responsible for our sin. Such an understanding is clearly contrary to God’s own self-revelation in the Scriptures and tradition. God does not lead us into sin, the evil one does. (See Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1, Matthew 4:1 and James 1:13 for biblical references that clearly demonstrate that while God allows temptation and testing, it is always Satan who is the agent of that temptation.)

To avoid this misunderstanding, the French bishops recently clarified that petition of the Lord’s Prayer to read, “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“Do not let us enter into temptation”). This new translation makes it clear that God is not responsible for our sin, but that we are responsible when we willingly choose to “enter into temptation.” The church in France began praying this new translation on the First Sunday of Advent in December 2017. (Previously, the church in France prayed, “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,” meaning “Do not submit us to temptation.”)

France is not the first or the only part of the church to pray with this clarity and theological correctness. A similar phrasing of the Lord’s Prayer is prayed among Spanish-speaking Catholics when they say, “No nos dejes caer en tentación” (“Do not allow us to fall into temptation”).

In order to better understand the appropriateness of the Holy Father’s comments, we need to remember two important guiding principles when it comes to translations of biblical texts which contain the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4 and Matthew 6:9–12).

First, it is important to remember that divinely revealed truth is eternal and infallible but that languages are not because they change over time and words can have different meanings depending upon the time, place and culture in which they are spoken. Therefore, in order to be truly faithful to the intended meaning of a biblical text, it is periodically necessary to make slight alterations in the translation so that the modern language accurately reflects the intention of the author. That is why translations of the Bible are updated every few years.

Second, the prayers of the Christian life, especially prayers used in the liturgy, are an expression of our very faith in God. As the church prays, so the church believes. This connection is expressed in the well-known Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi, which can be understood as “The way we worship is the way we believe.” When the phrasing of a particular prayer does not authentically reflect our Christian faith, it is necessary to clarify that phrasing. This was the guiding principle behind the new edition of the English Missal for the Mass promulgated in 2011 and now used throughout the English-speaking world.

One more guiding principle for understanding and interpreting the Lord’s Prayer is this: We should understand it in the context of Jesus’ life and ministry. The Lord’s Prayer includes many of the very phrases that Jesus himself used in his prayer throughout the Gospel. In a very true sense, every Christian can only pray the Lord’s Prayer in and through Jesus, because only he has fully lived that prayer and only in him can we live it as well. Jesus prayed frequently to his “Father” in heaven. In the Garden of Gethsemane our Lord encouraged his disciples to pray that they not be subjected to the “test” (the same word in Greek, peirasmon, is used for test, temptation, and trial). Our Lord taught us to forgive others in order to receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus also prayed that the Father’s will be done and not his own.

The Lord’s Prayer is the one fundamental prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to us as his disciples to form us and guide us on our pilgrim way to heaven. It is not just one of many prayers — it is the prayer of the church and the prayer of every Christian disciple, the prayer of the children of God. It is meant to shape our lives, our faith community, and our very relationship with the Lord. The Lord’s Prayer must always be relevant and accurate so it can shape our lives correctly as Jesus intends, and so its translations warrant periodic updating.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - April 2018

Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg

Daniel Mueggenborg is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Send your questions to editor@seattlearch.org.