Liturgy Matters — What’s in a name?

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of “how to pray.” To paraphrase a former best seller, perhaps “All we need to know about prayer is contained in the The Lord’s Prayer.”

In the next few Liturgy Matters columns, this prayer will be the focus with the hope of gaining insight into this most treasured model for prayer.

It is safe to say that The Lord’s Prayer is common to all Christian religions and is the prayer included more often than any other in worship services throughout the world. For Catholics, this prayer begins the Communion rite of the Mass and, with few exceptions, is also a part of every sacramental celebration, funeral liturgy, Liturgy of the Hours, etc.

The value placed on The Lord’s Prayer stems from two important facts: It has a scriptural base, first recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and more importantly, it was taught to us by Jesus Christ himself.

The address: ‘Our Father’
How we address someone is very revealing. It is frequently based on the respect we have for the person or for the characteristics we believe they possess. For those we love, our address may be characteristic of our feelings for them. A recent article in the news reported that there are more than 900 names for God in the Jewish and Muslim religions, some so sacred they cannot be spoken.

To my knowledge there are no such statistics for Catholicism. Nonetheless, there are numerous titles or names for God in the volumes of prayers that have been written over the centuries. In just one liturgical source alone, “The Order of Christian Funerals,” the following titles are used to address God: Almighty God; Lord God; Merciful God; Good and Gracious God; Loving God; God of Faithfulness; God of all Consolation; God of Loving Kindness; God of Holiness and Power; and Almighty and Ever-living God.

In the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we have an account of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. When asked by one of his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus taught them what we now call The Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer he taught them to address God as Father.

The significance of this title is astonishing — not that Jesus would call God “Father,” but the fact that he taught his followers to use this address.

Although there are citations in the Old Testament where God is referred to as Father, in those accounts the title was used in a corporate sense, not as a direct address. The manner in which Jesus used it is more personal.

In this prayer, Jesus expresses a relationship with God as the caring, loving parent. When we are asked to address God as “Father,” this title cannot be misinterpreted; only children can rightfully use this address. This relationship is supported in many of the subsequent writings in the New Testament where Christians are referred to as the adopted sons and daughters of God.

Giving further credence to this teaching, when The Lord’s Prayer appears in the Gospel of Matthew, the prayer has already been enriched for liturgical use. The address is now “Our Father,” the title intended for communal prayer, which expresses this relationship more explicitly. This personal address of God has much to say about “how we are to pray” and the relationship God desires for each one of us.

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

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