Anthony Towey

Recently I was asked by an organisation to conduct an ‘institutional review’ with colleagues from diocesan and academic backgrounds. It not only involved using the dreaded ‘SWOT’analysis (assessing where the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats lay), it also required hours of immersion in educational jargon and the argot of quality assurance, both of which are an effective cure for insomnia. That said, the more dispiriting aspect of the event was the requirement to modify a number of operational practices purely to map them onto a new set of criteria which seemed to have been changed for the sake of change. Heraclitus did warn that the only permanent thing is change, but in such a context, even the eyes of the most enthusiastic and open-minded can glaze over in zombied gape.

Pointless change is a curse of our times, and some might argue it is a hex that the Church itself is suffering from. As if Pope Francis has not ruffled enough feathers, he has put the cat among pigeons who have never even alighted on a Cathedral roof by proposing that the familiar words of the Our Father be changed. In fairness, he only wants to alter the line ‘lead us not into temptation’, which, he avers, implies that God is the one who leads us into sin. Francis prefers ‘do not let us fall into temptation’, which reminds us that we are the key moral agents (cf. Jas. 1.13) and allows a clear distinction between God’s job – to save, and Satan’s job – to tempt. Yet whatever his intention, since the prayer is commonly regarded as ipsissima verba – the very words of Jesus – some deem it beyond the pale, even for a Pope.

Well maybe. In the first instance, without getting too lost in the linguistic detail, we have to consider in what way they are the words of Jesus, since he spoke in Aramaic, the Gospels are in Greek and we have them in English. This should not be a cause for panic.

We have a divine and human saviour in Jesus and divine and human revelation in the Bible, a diptych of incarnation whereby both may be understood as the Word of God.

There is also context. Although we tend to think of this prayer as a moment of personal piety, it was given in the context of a communal Kingdom-building bootcamp for the disciples. It is therefore salutary to read it as a manifesto of jubilee, an action prayer of identity and belonging, which includes direct instructions for right living in the End Times.

As such, Daniel Harrington1 and others have long understood the force of the line in question to be divine protection in the time of testing, a plea to the Father don’t let us fail in the time of trial.
Given that this is already the common translation of the prayer in Spanish (Francis’ mother tongue), we can see why he might want to nudge the rest of us in the same direction. Yet for some it is not the change in the words but the change on charge sheet that is the problem. Surely it is embarrassing or at best arcane to have personified Evil being given airtime again and perhaps we should not be surprised that the Daily Express has picked up on this angle. A case of plus ça change, in all his guises Old Leather Wings loves attention: Tradition tells us that as Lucifer (‘light bearer’) he had self-image issues at the dawn of Creation and as Satan in the Gospel he thought Jesus would (literally) fall for the spectacular (Mt. 4.5). Small wonder that liturgically we regularly vow to resist his glamour!

Yet it is perhaps salutary to recall the biblical figure of Satan who famously requested in the court of God that Job be tested to interrogate the sincerity of his devotion. In this court motif, where Satan is the counsel for the prosecution, we all the more need an advocate, we all the more need one to bear our faults, we all the more need a merciful judge to disempower the accuser of the brethren. If changing the translation of the prayer helps remind us of our need to live in the love of the Trinity, then perhaps we can all say ‘Amen’ to that.

Of course being told to change the way we pray is akin to being told to change the way we love. The intimacy of prayer explains why liturgy is such a contentious part of our ecclesial life and why both the huge changes wrought at Vatican II and the ostensibly minor alterations ICEL recently authorised continue to reverberate. My own view writ large is that compared to the changes early Christians underwent at the Council of Jerusalem, (Acts 15), our generation of Church has got off lightly in terms of pummelling the wineskin. My own view writ small is I hope any eventual change to the prayer will be easier to remember than ‘right and just!’

Which brings me to the changes which are being made to the Pastoral Review explained opposite. I don’t doubt that they will impact differently on different subscribers to whom I would make a personal plea to stay part of the readership community over the coming twelve months. The Tablet, St Mary’s University and the Editorial Board are wrestling with the changing periodical landscape. Far from pointless, each change has been made for a specific reason, and was it Newman or Bob Dylan who said, ‘to be perfect is to change often’? We are very far from perfection, but we are sincere in our concern to provide the best material we can for those engaged in pastoral ministry. And just as the Early Christian Didache provides a coda to the Lord’s Prayer, so we hope this edition, these changes prove a faithful development of what has gone before. ‘For the Kingdom the Power and the glory are yours, now and forever.’

1 Harrington, D., The Gospel of Matthew (1991) Collegeville: Liturgical Press p.95.