In ancient times, fewer prayers and rites surrounded the reception of the Eucharist. By the time of St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), the recitation of the Pater Noster or Lord’s Prayer was a regular feature of Mass. He often mentions reciting the Our Father. In ancient times, everyone would have said the Our Father aloud. In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, however, and for many centuries the priest alone would sing or recite the Our Father, though in the 20th century some permissions were given also for the congregation to say or sing it.
The present location of the Our Father – in some liturgies it comes at a different moment – goes back to St. Gregory the Great (+604). By having the Our Father recited after the Canon, Gregory was accused of introducing a Greek practice. Before, it seems that the Our Father was recited immediately before Communion rather than immediately after the Canon. Gregory explained himself in a letter to a certain Bishop John of Syracuse in Sicily (cf. Bk. 9, ep. 26). The Apostles, according to Gregory, simply consecrated the Eucharist and everything else was an addition. Gregory reasoned that if some other prayer was going to be said then the Lord’s Prayer had to have precedence. (We’ve learned a few things since G’s day.) So, the priest recited the prayer while standing over the Eucharistic elements on the altar in much the same manner as he recited the Canon itself. This certain gave stress to the importance of the prayer.
As the liturgical scholar Joseph Jungmann explains in his Mass of the Roman Rite, the Lord’s Prayer was even seen as being a summation of the Canon:
“The sanctificetur is a synopsis of the triple Sanctus; the adveniat regnum tuum is a kind of epitome of the two epiklesis prayers: Quam oblationem and Supplices; and the fiat voluntas tua sets forth the basic idea regarding obedience from which all sacrifice must proceed. The spirit and disposition in which our Lord Himself had offered up His sacrifice hand which we must draw from our co-performance of it, could hardly have been expressed more cogently.”
It is by the instruction of the Lord Himself that we pray the Our Father. He taught us this prayer. Nevertheless, it is truly audacious to ask for those things we petition when we recite it.
St. Augustine speaks about why we say the Our Father at Mass. He says it is like washing one’s face before going to the altar to communicate (… ut his verbis lota facie ad altare accedamus, ut his verbis lota facie corpora Christi et sanguini communicemus – s. 17,5). The Doctor of Grace explains:
“Why is it spoken before the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood? For the following reason: If perchance, in consequence of human frailty, our thought seized on something indecent, if our tongue spoke something unjust, if our eye was turned to something unseemly, if our ear listened complacently to something unnecessary… it is blotted out by the Lord’s Prayer in the passage ‘forgive us our trespasses’, so that we may approach in peace and so that we may not eat or drink what we receive unto judgment.” (s. 229,3)
When Ash Wednesday comes we will reaffirm that we are dust.
Yet here we stand, in the presence of Christ on the altar, and raise these petitions.
It was the practice of Augustine’s flock to strike their breasts at the words “forgive us our sins”, so much so that it made a great noise in the Church.
Saying the Our Father during Mass, in the preparatory rites for receiving Communion, is just “the next thing we have to do during Mass”.
Let’s have a look at the introduction or invitation the priest speaks for the recitation of the Our Father.
It is perhaps symptomatic of the attitude of those of assemble, and approved, the Sacramentary with the lame-duck ICEL version still in use that several optional formulae were given in addition to the actual text in the Missale Romanum. Those were the days when both tinkeritis and optionitis reigned supreme, so much so that priests and people alike got the sense that we could do or saying anything we wanted.
Instead, the Latin text gives one text to be said or sung:
LATIN TEXT (2002MR):
Praeceptis salutaribus moniti, et divina institutione formati, audemus dicere:…