Thy kingdom come, thy will be done… There is something charming, appealing and comforting about this formulation of the words of the ‘Pater Noster’. These are the words of our daily liturgy and prayer. These are the words of praying at school and family prayer. Necessary and beautiful.
Yet, two years into the new English translation of the roman missal, I struggle to come to grips with these words. Not because they have changed. Precisely because they haven’t changed. In all the changes, tweaks, improvements, poetry and wonder of the new translation of the mass, why was this the one prayer section that wasn’t changed?
When I asked the question of the Bishop responsible for Liturgy in Southern Africa, I was given the simple answer- because nobody asked for it to be changed. Without wanting to get into the politics of why change- a dead fish flayed on far too many rocks- I am astounded that in our entire sacral register of language, no one in the English speaking world thought to ask why we are left with the archaism of an English no longer used except in university courses… and the Catholic Church.
My gentle prodding has also seen another reason emerge. For Ecumenism. Because other churches use this in their prayer. I really wonder if this holds true. Throughout the universal, orthodox and liturgical world of Christianity, this may be the case, but straying even a fraction from this fold, I’m not sure that the ‘Pater Noster’ is even used. Certainly, in the South African context, it shouldn’t be being used in the school environment. The broad non-liturgical Pentecostal movement seems to have little place for the Lord’s Prayer… Or anything more formal than ‘amen brother’. Certainly not in the supposed environment of ‘sola scriptura… In my experience at recent weddings and funerals and even at joint events, hardly anyone knows the Our Father other than the Catholics and a few Methodists and Anglicans. Maybe it is an indication of just how veneer our Christianity has been and how many are no longer professing a veneer of relationship to the Most Holy Trinity.
So where does that leave me. Still puzzled by the ‘Thees and thous’ of a language that is 450 years old, a language found nowhere else in our renewed liturgy and certainly not used in our real life language. And it leaves me addressing God my Father not in the archaic register, but as Our Father, in heaven, may your name be kept Holy, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us or debts as we forgive those in debt to us. Lead us not into temptation and keep us safe from all evil. Amen