“Why don’t we use the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer in worship any more?”
This question starts a conversation I’ve had many times with individuals and groups in the church. I’m sensitive to the fact that we all feel deeply about the words we use in prayer. The ritual words of the Lord’s Prayer, spoken in cadences that have been with us since before the dawn of memory, connect us with our loved ones—whether they are with us in the flesh or gone to be with the Lord. They connect us to our roots and some of the most profound moments of our lives. They connect us to God. When the words are changed it can feel like that fundamental connection is diminished. “The old Lord’s Prayer is just the language of my heart,” one person said to me.
So then why change?
Because language is a living thing that changes over time. Words that once meant one thing come to mean another. Other words fall out of use entirely. If a new generation is to be able to internalize the prayers of faith, then they must be expressed in language that is accessible.
An example is the petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” as it reads in the “old” Lord’s Prayer. The Greek word behind the English text is peirasmos,which referred to a time of testing or trial, brought on by the powers of this world – suffering that could lead to loss of faith. It does not imply that God might lure or entice people to evil, as a modern reader of the word “temptation” might mistakenly think. “Save us from the time of trial,” is a more straightforward rendition of the original Greek text.
Aware of the need to speak afresh to new generations of faith, the church has always undertaken to update its language of prayer. This is what the first two lines of the Lord’s Prayer looked like to previous generations of English speakers:
Fæder ūre, ðū ðē eart on heofonum,
Sī ðīn nama gehālgod. – Old English, 995
Our fadir that art in heuenes,
halwid be thi name. – Middle English (Wycliffe), 1389
Our father which art in heauen,
hallowed be thy name. – King James Version, 1611
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name. – Book of Common Prayer, 1928
(This is what most of us know as the “traditional” or “old” Lord’s Prayer.)
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name. – English Language Liturgical Consultation, 1988
This last version of the Lord’s Prayer is what I myself grew up with, and is closest to my own heart. It is also ecumenically what most mainline English speaking churches, including the ELCIC, have agreed officially to use in their worship.
I choose to use the 1988 ecumenical version of the Lord’s Prayer for Sunday morning worship at Hope so that we as a congregation can learn the prayer that is most widely used in English speaking churches today, and speaks its meaning in the clearest contemporary language.
All this said, it is still very acceptable to pray the version of the Lord’s Prayer that is closest to your heart, even if it is different than what the congregation as a whole is saying. I have been in groups where everyone spoke the prayer in a different language altogether, a Pentecostal cacophony that was still bound in a deeper spiritual unity. Even when spoken in different versions, dialects, and languages, it is the same Lord we all address with the same basic prayer for healing and wholeness in our world. In the end we all acknowledge that
(thine is) the kingdom, the power, and the glory (are yours)
now and forever. Amen.