June 11, 2011

Audemus Dicere

I probably think about things too much, but lately I've been reflecting a little on the introduction to the Our Father at the beginning of the Communion Rite. Probably for most of us it's not a big deal, just a transitional phrase to get from one part of the Mass of to another. Some of this, at least from the point of view of the priest, probably has to do with the usual arrangement of American sacramentaries, in which the prayer after the Our Father is on the top of a new page. Since most priests know the Our Father, it is usually this page that one turns to after the doxology, and so the introductions to the Our Father are rarely consulted.

I think most of us do this introduction ad lib, or at least with some phrase that we have made habitual for ourselves, even though it's not one of those places where the rubrics allow for 'these or similar words.' I've always done this myself, with some introduction that is close to, or incorporates parts from the actual text in the sacramentary, but not following along exactly. Some of this comes from early experiences offering the Mass; as a new priest, there's a great relief in having arrived at this moment in the liturgy, and with that feeling one feels a bit more loose moving forward.

I've often said something like option A, Let us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Savior gave us, or option D, Let us pray for the coming of the kingdom as Jesus taught us. I don't know why, but lately I've started to wonder about the theological adequacy of these statements. Maybe it's because one of the other priests here in the friary always introduces the Our Father with a version of the classic introduction: "Faithful to the Savior's command, and formed by the Word of God, we dare to say..."

What bothers me is this sense of the prayer 'that Jesus taught us' or 'the words our Savior gave us.' Yes, Jesus teaches us to pray the Our Father, but does he not also command us to offer the whole of the Mass? I worry that these introductions could import a subtle distinction between the Our Father as the prayer that is from Jesus, as opposed to the rest of the Mass.

Maybe hanging out with students has made me overly sensitive to such a thing; sometimes I perceive in them impious understandings of the faith having crept in as ordinary assumptions. I was speaking to one beginning theology student about the Old Testament. When I asked him, 'Isn't the Old Testament about Christ?' he responded that the early Christians had reinterpreted it as such. As if Christ came to exist because the 'early Christians' dreamed him up! And yet sometimes such assumptions, which belong properly to the unbelieving and confused world, can find their way unquestioned into the ordinary discourse of the theological classroom.

That's why, if I'm going to invite people to pray 'as Jesus taught us' or 'in the words our Savior gave us,' I'm going to do it before Mass begins, in reference to the whole of the prayer and sacrifice Jesus Christ gave us and commanded us to offer, including the Our Father.

In any case, this is another question that will be moot when the new translation goes into effect. There are no longer options for this moment in the Mass, only At the Savior's command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say:


sam said...

That's interesting, and a part of the Roman Rite that I don't know very well. Similarly, most of my brother Anglican/Episcopal priests probably loosen their mental hold on the book at that point, even if our only rubrical option is the choice between "hath" and "has" in "And now, as our Savior christ hath taught us, we are bold to say."

Not to give you excessive BCP quotations, but I've never thought that the introduction to the Our Father places it on other grounds. Not, that is, when you have phrases like this one in the canon: "Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Savior Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy divine Majesty..." Etc.

So I don't really find it worrisome to have the particular dominical instruction mentioned again at the Our Father. Surely it is worth noting that, aside from the words of institution themselves, the Our Father is a verbatim obedience to the Lord's words, rather than the more subtle obedience demanded in the whole celebration. (Though this is not to imply that I do not have a happy imaginative picture of our Lord instituting the Eucharist wearing a laced alb, fiddleback and maniple in the Upper Room!)

Greg said...

What a wonderful way to introduce the changes coming up ...

Brother Charles said...

Just to clarify, I have no intention to rearrange the text of the Mass to use what is intended as the introduction to the Lord's Prayer at the beginning; I only meant that as little rhetorical punch in the post. I apologize for the unclarity, which I can see now.

I am well known for making every effort to 'say the black and do the red,' and for sticking to liturgical texts as written and to following rubrics as closely as I can, all of which I consider an act of faithfulness to God and of gratitude for the ministry the Church has entrusted to me.

Ad Abolendam said...

Wow, that option for the Our Father is a blast from the past! There was a priest who used to use it when I was a kid, but I haven't heard it since. Reading your explanation, I think I would prefer if it were used more often.

Katherine said...

I may be getting into too much detail, but I was wondering if you could explain why, in the Our Father, we say "..and lead us not into temptation..". It almost sounds as if we didn't implore him not to, God might actually lead us into it! Are the other translations different at that point?

Brother Charles said...

Dear Katherine,

My understanding is that this petition has an eschatological sense to it; the "temptation" is the test which the end time will put upon us. We pray not to be put to that test, but saved from it, knowing we are not worthy of the salvation we have received.