Liturgy Matters — How we pray the Lord’s Prayer

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

The Lord’s Prayer has been included in the Mass for many centuries. As early as the fourth century, St. Ambrose mentioned that it was included in the liturgy in Milan. Although the Lord’s Prayer comes at the end of the intercessory prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, in the Mass it has served as the first part of the immediate preparation for the reception of holy Communion.

What is our posture and gesture during this prayer?
Our posture for the Lord’s Prayer is standing. However, there are no directives or rubrics given that suggest any type of gesture for the people. The majority of people fold their hands or leave them by their sides during this prayer. Since the priest prays this prayer using the “orans” gesture, with arms extended and palms open, many people in the congregation have taken this stance as well. In some parishes it is common practice to hold hands during this prayer. Since rubrics are silent on this, respect for the individual is important. There should never be the expectation that all will want to hold hands. Keep in mind that with arthritic hands or a compromised immune system, etc. not everyone is comfortable with this gesture.

Should the Lord’s
Prayer be sung or recited?
Even though the rubrics give the option to sing or recite the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, this prayer is not inherently a musical element. There are some key considerations which influence this decision. The first and foremost is the fact that this prayer belongs to everyone. It may never be a solo performance in the Mass. This requires that the musical setting is one familiar across cultural and parish boundaries. The chant setting we learned when the Mass was first introduced in English falls in this category. Another factor to consider in the decision to sing or not, is the possible overabundance of musical elements in this part of the Mass. The “Amen” that concludes the Eucharistic Prayer, the Lamb of God litany that accompanies the Fraction rite; and the Communion song during the distribution of holy Communion are the sung elements that surround the Lord’s Prayer.

Why is there an embolism and final doxology?
Matthew’s account of the Lord’s Prayer is the one Scripture scholars tell us reflects a liturgical use. The prayer ends by asking God to spare us from evil. As the liturgy developed over the years, two additions were included for use in the Mass. At the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, an “embolism” or expanded text based on the last phrase of the prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” was included for the priest. Following this embolism, a doxology or acclamation of praise was also added for the people. The doxology is sung if the Lord’s Prayer is sung or recited if the prayer is spoken. Liturgists believe that these two additions were added so that the prayer did not end with a negative thought.

A well-known prayer
Probably more than any other prayer in the Mass, the Lord’s Prayer is the one we know the best. Familiarity with the text of this prayer means that we can pray it with ease. The challenge is to pray this prayer given to us by Jesus Christ with our minds and hearts engaged.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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