Liturgy Matters — The Lord’s Prayer

By  Dr. Judy Bullock

What is the origin of the text of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray at Mass?

In the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel and in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we hear accounts in which Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. The account in the Gospel of Luke more closely reflects the text of the Lord’s Prayer we pray together at Mass, since Scripture scholars tell us this version is most likely derived from a liturgical setting. One of the most remarkable characteristics of this prayer is that Jesus taught us to call God, “Father.” When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we approach God as his children.
For Christians, the Lord’s Prayer is arguably the most familiar prayer worldwide. The Lord’s Prayer is included in almost every sacramental celebration of the church, Liturgy of the Hours, etc. This prayer is also included in many devotional prayers such as the rosary. There is evidence that at least as early as the fourth century the Lord’s Prayer was included in the Mass.

What is significant about the placement of the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass?

The Lord’s Prayer is the first element of the Communion Rite. In this location it serves as part of the immediate preparation for the reception of holy Communion. Two aspects of the prayer make it particularly appropriate for this location in the Mass. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the liturgy today this carries the spiritual interpretation of the celebration of the Eucharist. The petition in the Lord’s Prayer asking for forgiveness of our sins, as well as the importance of our forgiving others, prepares us to receive holy Communion with a pure heart.

What is the form of the Lord’s Prayer at Mass?

At Mass the priest celebrant introduces the Lord’s Prayer and then everyone prays the prayer together. After we say “deliver us from evil,” the priest prays the “embolism,” which is an extension of the last phrase of the prayer asking for God’s help in avoiding sin and seeking peace in our lives. The prayer concludes with everyone proclaiming a doxology of praise to God.

What is the posture and gesture for the Lord’s Prayer during Mass?

The church does not give any directives on gesture for the congregation during the Lord’s Prayer. The people are instructed to stand but the church remains silent on gesture for this prayer.
The priest celebrant gives the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer with hands together but extends them in an “orans” gesture, the praying pose, for the prayer itself.
Some parishioners of their own accord or at the invitation of their pastors have initiated holding hands with those near them during this prayer. Others have mirrored the “orans,” praying hands gesture, of the priest celebrant.

Should the Lord’s Prayer be sung or recited?

The Lord’s Prayer may be recited or sung. Since this is the prayer of the entire worshipping community it is important that if the Lord’s Prayer is sung, the particular setting should be well known by the people. A soloist or choir may never replace the congregation in singing this prayer at Mass. If the text is sung, the doxology, “for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever” should also be sung.

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

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