A new (really old) way of thinking about the ‘Our Father’ at Mass

Oratio Dominica Our Father Pater NosterIn 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 communicemuss. 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:

Praeceptis salutaribus moniti, et divina institutione formati, audemus dicere:…

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  1. Gregory DiPippo says:

    The Ambrosian Rite still to this day, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, follows the order from before St. Gregory’s change – the Fraction is done immediately after the Canon, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    There is nothing more heavenly to my ears than the chanting of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, the celebrant’s introduction included. And it is so easy! There is no reason why every Latin Rite Catholic couldn’t chant this prayer. Sadly, the only time I hear it in Latin is at Mass in the Extraordinary Form, where the faithful are not allowed to join in the chant!

  3. amicus1962 says:

    Very interesting! Didn’t realize that there is a bit of history behind the placement of the Pater Noster in the Mass. What concerns me though is the rendering of the Pater Noster as “Our Father in heaven…” leaving out the “who are” part. This is not the case in the U.S. but this is prevalent in the Philippines and I suspect probably other progressive English-speaking conferences.

  4. TNCath says:

    Fr. Z wrote, ” Instead, the Latin text gives one text to be said or sung:
    LATIN TEXT (2002MR):
    Praeceptis salutaribus moniti, et divina institutione formati, audemus dicere:… ”

    Nonetheless, will priests abide by this or continue to “do their own thing” as many have done for at least 30 years now? It pains me to say this, but I am convinced that “tinkeritis and optionitis” will continue to rule the day, despite what is on the written page of the new translation of the Mass, simply because the bishops will ultimately not clamp down and insist that their priests “say the black” and “do the red.” My pastor has indicated that he will do as he pleases with the new translation, and if “they” don’t like it, he doesn’t care because who will replace him? You may think this to be presumptuous and harsh, but I assure you this is the reality among most parish priests I know.

  5. Hopefully, a look at how the Pater Noster was used, how it was viewed, could exert some influence on current practice. Thinking about what the Our Father meant might lead some priests to shut up and read.

  6. The Our Father is like the Eucharistic Prayers?

    The brain reels! I can see it now, but… wow. That’s a big thought.

  7. MAJ Tony says:

    Geoffrey, I think you’ll find that the Pater noster is often sung by the congregation in the EF in many less strict Parishes. I have been to a handful of FSSP apostolates and other EF masses, and it varies. Holy Rosary in Indy has been doing this at least as long as I’ve been there (2002), and that’s through two FSSP priests.

  8. amicus1962, what particularly concerns you about the omission of “who art” (qui es) in some translations of the Our Father? Yes, it’s omitting words from the Latin, but I wouldn’t consider “qui es” to be the most substantial words of the prayer.

  9. Patti Day says:

    TNCath wrote “My pastor has indicated that he will do as he pleases with the new translation, and if “they” don’t like it, he doesn’t care because who will replace him?”

    Well, your pastor has a point. My pastor was ordained in the 70’s and seems to be looking forward to the “new” translation.

  10. TJerome says:

    I suggest this. Write to the bishop and tell him precisely what your pastor said. Copy your pastor on the letter. Then we’ll see what “Mr. Big” does. If I were his bishop if he didn’t back down, I would say fine, we’ll find a replacement somehow, even if it is me, and I will remove you from the Diocesan payroll and you can support yourself. I bet he would cave. In my experience most of these liberal bullies are cowards.

    Best of luck.

  11. eucharisted says:

    Is it true the Apostles only said the words of consecration and everything else was just added on?

  12. Goodwin says:

    We would sing the Pater Noster in Latin quite often at St. Patrick’s in Columbus, Ohio, as well as
    the other Mass parts, always the OF. Alas I am no longer able to worship there…..

  13. James Joseph says:

    To my knowledge there is nothing prohibiting the congregation from entering into the Seven Petition Prayer in the Extraordinary Form. A near and dear old priest told me that this idea is a common erroneous belief and that after ‘Vatican I’ there was a lot resistance to participation in the prayers mostly by rigorists. With this in mind, I learnt from a Jewish convert that the ‘Our Father’ is an ancient prayer form pleading for the Heavenly Liturgy to be on earth and that the fruit of the Will of God is His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist of the most blessed Sacrament.


  14. Maggie says:

    Our Bishop just laid down the law: no more hand-holding or “orens position” nonsense for the laity. I’m so glad.

  15. TJerome says:

    Maggie, good for your bishop. I always felt the orans position was pretentious on the part of the laity and even Archbishop Weakland wrote that hand holding at the Pater was downright silly.

  16. Magpie says:

    Fr Z, do you regard the omission of the introductory verse of the Our Father at Mass a serious abuse? A priest in my parish omits it every time. It annoys me a lot but I wonder if it is something I should approach him about or just let it go.

  17. amicus1962 says:

    To Jeffrey Pinyan: “what particularly concerns you about the omission of “who art” (qui es) in some translations of the Our Father?”

    Our Lord used the words “qui est” when he taught the apostles to pray. He could have simnply said “Our Father in heaven,” but He deliberately chose to add “qui est.” Saints and angels are in heaven, but to no one else is addressed as “who art in heaven” even if they are in heaven. I think the “qui est” emphasizes the fact of the Father’s eternal presense in heaven from the beginning of time. At any rate, Liturgiam authenticam does call for the faithful translation of the Latin, and “Our Father in heaven” is not a faithful translation.

  18. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    Praeceptis salutaribus moniti, et divina institutione formati, audemus dicere: Pater noster …

    Having been taught by the commands of the savior, and strengthened by the instruction of God, we dare to say: Our Father …

  19. Tina in Ashburn says:

    How interesting is this history of the Our Father – and the story continues.

    Having straddled Novus Ordo and Tridentine practices all my life, I’ve witnessed much argument about the Our Father.

    In the Novus Ordo where everybody participates – saying it, singing it, holding hands, the orens position, differing options for the preface, all manner of practices. I’ve witnessed such participation at times that the Our Father is the center of the Mass, while the consecration is completely ignored. In one parish in southern Virginia, the entire congregation moves out of the pews into the center aisle to join hands. Yet nobody seems to notice the consecration, no bells, nothing. Yes, this could make a few sincere Mass-goers a bit indignant over the incorrect emphasis.

    In the Tridentine where typically only the priest recites or sings it, in some parishes the congregation stays silent, in others, the congregation sings along. Some severely disapprove of the sing-along version although there is a permission for the congregation to sing the Our Father.

    Keeping in mind that the Mass is all about the words of the priest and the power his ordination gives the very speaking of such words, the laity could stay silent the entire Mass. The participation of the laity does not, can not, affect the power of the priest’s offering [other than their praying for the increased efficacy of his words].

    However the words of the Tridentine preface are “audemus dicere” – WE dare to say. So I get the impression that WE are all supposed to join in reciting or singing the Our Father.

    Its an endless argument in Tridentine circles, and a few get really indignant over the laity joining in. I wonder what the answer is?

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