Prayers and Change

In today’s readings, we hear the St. Matthew’s version of Lord’s Prayer (there is also St. Luke’s version). The prayer has been constant over the ages because it is there in Sacred Scripture. When reviewing the two millennia of Christian writings (liturgies, breviaries, prayers, commentaries, etc.) there is a real constancy in the wording of this prayer.

While there might be differences depending on the preferred version, small variations because of translations, and other linguistic preferences. For example, in American English you are just as likely to hear “your kingdom come, your will be done” as you are “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The latter gifted from English of the British Isles. And I would point out that St. Luke’s version simply reads: “your kingdom come” before moving on in the prayer. The differences are many – for example:

  • Roman Missal: “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
  • New American Bible (NAB): “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”
  • New International Version (NIV): “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  • English Standard Version (ESV): “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB): “’And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  • New King James Version (NKJV): “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
  • King James Bible (KJV): “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
  • American Standard Version (ASV): “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  • Douay-Rheims Bible: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.”
  • Good News Translation: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” (The Good News Bible takes the greatest liberties with translation in an effort to move it close to the modern lexicon of ever changing use of modern English)

The word translated as “trespass, debt, sin, wrong” etc., in Mt 6:12 corresponds to Aramaic ḥôḇâ (“debt”), which, as a derivation of ḥôḇ (“money debt”). In rabbinic literature it become the standard expression for indebtedness to God or to other humans and was used with the sense of “sin.” The Targums (Aramaic translation of the Old Testament with commentary included), frequently render the Hebrew term for sin as ḥôḇâ. As a result of the transference of the image of financial debt to that of the debt of sin, and the transference of the debtor / creditor relationship to the person’s relationship to God, ὀφείλημα becomes the equivalent of and interchangeable with ἁμαρτία. This can be seen, e.g., in the fact that Luke replaces ὀφείλημα with ἁμαρτία (sin) in his version of the Lord’s Prayer (11:4). This fluidity of thought continues in St. Paul’s use of these same words.

No matter what translation you like, the underlying thought always carries the idea that we have sinned, we are in debt to Jesus, we have been redeemed – and we are asked to do for others, as has been done for us.

Still reading? I didn’t lose you in all the Greek, Aramaic and the rest?

But do we Catholics enjoy the same constancy with one of our other familiar prayers – the “Hail Mary?” The first part of the prayer is derived from the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary by saying, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28 – “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.) The next part of the prayer is taken from the Visitation, when Elizabeth greeted Mary with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42 – “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”)

At first the prayer was known as the “Salutation of the Blessed Virgin,” and only consisted of the two verses joined. However, during the plague of the 13th and 14th centuries (Black Death) the prayer was further developed and a second part was added to it. The second half of the Hail Mary began to appear in the breviaries of religious communities, especially those of the Mercedarians, Camaldolese, and Franciscans. The prayer took various forms during this horrific period in Europe, but was officially recognized after the publication of the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the full prayer was then included in the Roman Breviary of 1568.

Either way, any version – today’s reading reminds us to pray, pray without ceasing, and to pray in the context of our times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.