Monday, October 8, 2012

The place of the Lord’s Prayer in the Eucharistic Celebration

It is a known fact among those who have gone through the RCIA process that there is a special place in the journey where the catechumens are handed the Lord’s Prayer.  It is symbolically done in ceremonial form when either the celebrant in the Mass hands it to them in a printed form, or when the sponsors speak it aloud to them line by line, and have them repeat it in front of the gathered community.  There are various ways this can be done, and some have done this with much meaning and depth.  But why is this very well known prayer something that is given such a special treatment?  After all, there are many who are not Christians who can recite this prayer by heart, perhaps because they came from Catholic or Missions schools where this was part of the morning prayer in the school assembly.  Besides, even Sir Cliff Richard made it a #1 hit by singing it to the tune of Auld Lang Syne back in 1999 (horrors!) So isn’t this ‘ceremony’ rather contrived or unnecessary?  Is it adding pomp to something that doesn’t seem to require it?

We have to understand that historically, this prayer holds a pride of place in the life of a Christian worth his baptism.  It is after all, the Lord’s Prayer, meaning that he taught it to his disciples.  There is a divine handing over of something of deep significance.  Jesus was teaching his disciples how to truly live, and true life, is not just for the moment, but for eternal beatitude with God the Father. 

At every Mass, just before the entire congregation launches into this prayer, there is a very important introduction that the priest says.  He says (or intones): “At the Saviour’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say”.  This means that in the prayer’s original setting, it required a certain formation of the heart and soul before one could publicly recite it.  It was not meant to be recited or prayed by simply anyone who wished to say it.  If one truly takes some time to look at the words of the prayer, it gives the one praying a direction to take in life. It also ‘displaces’ one from the ways of the world and causes one to re-evaluate one’s priorities and aims in life.  It is among other instructions, a call to put God first in life; to seek holiness in our daily living; to seek his will and his kingdom; to yearn for what truly feeds the person and not just the body; and to make forgiveness of others something that we strive to carry out.  Life seems hard enough as it is, and these instructions that Jesus gives us through this prayer can be very challenging to make real in our lives.

Without adequate instruction and without the help of a community which strives to live this out as much as they can, living out just one of those instructions is hard enough.  The early Church knew that it was extremely important that this kind of ‘subversive’ teaching requires a long process of formation of the heart and mind, in order for the catechumens to truly live out the hard teachings of the prayer.  This is why I am keen to agree with some spiritual writers who say that the underlying meaning of the phrase “… formed by divine teaching, we dare to say” actually refers to baptism.  This prayer in its deepest roots makes the most sense when it is prayed by the baptized who want to live the Christ-ed life. 

Having said that, does it mean that we should ‘restrict’ this prayer henceforth?  Of course not.  That would not only be silly, but also literally impossible.  But if we know and can re-appreciate the historical and liturgical context of the prayer, perhaps we can pray it with a better consciousness, live out the words with a little more awareness, and more importantly, be able to share with others the deep meaning of this prayer which we so often mouth throughout the course of the day.  


  1. This ‘Our Father’ prayer was recited by all of us as the daily morning prayer for the beginning of each school day in the mission school that I attended….even though the majority of us were un-baptized or pagans. Even after baptism, like most Catholics, I have been unquestioning about the what and why - in the saying of this prayer until I started to journey with catechumens in the RCIA. Then what you said, - ‘This prayer in its deepest roots makes the most sense when it is prayed by the baptized who want to live the Christ-ed life….…’ makes sense for me. For before this, I was of the impression that God being creator implies that his fatherhood is universal and everyone (baptized or pagan) can say this prayer meaningfully calling him father. But I was told ( in RCIA catechesis) that in this prayer, we are to come before God, regarding him as father not through creation, but through adoption and the new birth ( baptism) - for he created so many things and the angels too and they were never told to call him father! We are indeed privileged.

    So in the mass, when the celebrant says that “at the Saviour’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say”,…….it becomes clear to me that it is through Christ’s saving action and my baptism that has earned for me the un-merited grace to call God, father.

    Thank you Fr for a very meaningful post.
    God bless you.


    1. Thank you Tessa, for a most meaningful and insightful reply. That part about even the angels not having the privilege to call God "father" makes one appreciate the tremendous depth of God's love for us. Indeed it IS unfathomable!
      God bless.