20Feb A question about the Our Father

After listening to the Reading at Mass one day last week and, at the invitation of my pastor, I read the Letter of St James for myself. There’s a lot there I want to reflect on, but this part of it

“Never, when you are being put to the test, say. “God is tempting me”; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test.” (James 13)

hit me like a thunderbolt.

I have long been troubled by the line in the ‘Our Father’ – ‘Lead us not into temptation’. By saying this line, it suggests to me that we fear that God might lead us into temptation and I’ve always felt that this is so far removed from a loving God as to be bordering on blasphemy.

A loving parent who, we fear, might be putting traps in front of us to catch us out?

I have sought to discuss this wording with various people who are much more educated in matters theological than I am, but I have never yet been given a satisfactory answer. The somewhat glib ‘It’s all in the translation and of course it doesn’t mean that God would try to trap us’ doesn’t really work for me.

If it’s simply a matter of wrong translation, why hasn’t it been corrected long ago? We don’t seem to have any trouble ‘re-translating’ the whole Mass.

I would dearly love to understand why we continue to use words that, turned around into modern parlance say “Do not lead us into temptation”. There a very clearly stated active verb there, and each time the prayer is uttered, it accuses God of setting traps for us.

It seems to me that it would be very simple to change the wording to what is said in Irish “Ná lig sinn i gcathú” (Let us not (fall) into temptation”)

Surely if our ‘betters’ can impose a new translation of the Mass on us it would be a very simple thing to correct a much more disturbing mis-translation?

Jo O’Sullivan

8 Responses

  1. Sean (Derry)

    Jo O’Sullivan

    Simple answer, straight from the ‘Penny’ Catechism:
    When we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” what do we pray for?
    When we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” we pray that God may give us grace not to yield to temptation.

    Answer from Compendium Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    We ask God our Father not to leave us alone and in the power of temptation. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us know how to discern, on the one hand, between a trial that makes us grow in goodness and a temptation that leads to sin and death and, on the other hand, between being tempted and consenting to temptation. This petition unites us to Jesus who overcame temptation by his prayer. It requests the grace of vigilance and of final perseverance.

  2. Sean O'Conaill

    While Jo is waiting for the scholars here she could try putting double inverted commas around “Do not lead us into temptation” and throwing all of that into Google. She will see at least that she is far from alone in questioning that particular wordage.

  3. Martin

    There’s an attempt at an explanation here, examining why Jesus formulated the prayer as He did, from a psychological perspective:
    http://www.chastitysf.com/q_temptation.htm

  4. Eddie Finnegan

    Jo, read the Book of Job – or Chs 1 and 42 as a shortcut.
    Read Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted / tested by the devil.” Luke 4:1 softens the directness of that sentence, maybe for his Hellenic audience.
    Jesus was a Jew. So too the author / source of Matthew. They knew what they were talking about. Kingdoms, bread, trespassing, temptation, testing, (d)evil – all good Old Testament staples, heard every Sabbath at the Nazareth synagogue. What else would a believing Jew tell his followers to say? “Ná lig sinn i gcathú” is more plamás for Greek and Irish minds – no wonder we’re both in it up to our necks. We can resist everything except temptation.

  5. Peadar

    Whatever temptation is, if it is bad, why would God lead us into it; and if it is good, why would we pray not to be led into it???

  6. Jo O'Sullivan

    Thank you all very much for your replies to my questions. I truly appreciate your taking the time to do so. I have read and reflected on every one of your responses and find myself in a slightly different place as regards the praying of the ‘Our Father’ now. We are asking for God’s grace not to yield to temptation, asking God not to leave us alone therein (thank you Derry Seán). This too is what I glean from many of the explanations I found when I ‘googled’ the words (other Seán).
    It is pretty straight-forward and, to be honest, I think I had realised already that that was what was meant by the words. And Eddie, I loved the good old fire and brimstone testing and tempting of the Old Testament (tongue in cheek on your part, I suspect?) which makes the serious point of the necessity to place any reading of scripture in its proper context of place and time.
    The psychological perspective (thank you for directing me there Martin) allowed me to look at it from a slightly different angle. I can appreciate the ‘negative admonition’ – God knows I’ve used it many times myself when rearing my children! By drawing our attention to the temptation that surrounds us at all times, we are then in a frame of mind where we seek/ask/ beseech God to lead us away from it (I hope I’ve got that right).
    All of these answers, however, demand that the person uttering the words has
    1) A willingness to delve into the words being used
    2) An understanding of the context of scripture
    3) A certain capacity to grasp fairly complex psychological concepts (and I suspect I may not have that capacity)
    I can’t quite get my head around the notion that Christ would want only the ‘scholars’ to understand how they should pray. As the author of the chastitysf.com article points out, most people say the prayer most of the time as ‘rote words’ (hand on heart, how many of you always pray the ‘Our Father’ with deep contemplation?)
    So, I’m kind of back where I started! Why can’t the words of the line be changed to say “Let us not be led/ let us not fall into temptation” so that, even when recited as rote words, we are not suggesting that God would ever put obstacles in our path?
    I’m all for the “Ná lig sinn i gcathú” – even if it just confirms that like my compatriot, Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything except it!
    Peadar, I love your question. You’ve just sent my poor addled brain off on another quest!
    Jo O’Sullivan

  7. Eddie Finnegan

    Jo, my own questions about this prayer go a little further. I am very surprised that Cardinals Medina Estévez, Pell, Arinze, Ranjith and all others associated with the CDWDS, Liturgia Authentica, Vox Clara and the National Centre for Liturgy at Maynooth over the past fifteen years have not radically revised the text long ago.
    It seems clear that the root problems were already present in the source text. While many of the linguistic errors and infelicities may have arisen from a growing touchy-feely pseudo-communalism in the early decades of the Church, exacerbated by dynamic equivalencers and other heretics as the prayer was further vernacularised beyond Aramaic into koiné Greek and vulgar Latin, there is good evidence to show that the Nazarene author himself cannot be lightly excused. His pronounced ‘abba’ist-‘fear-not-little-flock’ tendencies are precisely the sort of thing the CDWDS cardinals and liturgists are well remunerated to eradicate.

    I agree that it is not just the ‘scholars’ who should understand how they should pray. The Lord’s Prayer needs to be re-personalised and privatised, just like the Confiteor and Credo. Over the weekend I shall send the following draft to the CDWDS’s local sub-agent, Bishop John McAreavey, for forwarding to Rome for a recognitio:

    “My Father who art in heaven . . . . etc
    “Give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me. And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil . . .”
    For what is Liturgia Authentica if it lacks simple consistency and follow-through? I understand, however, that my simple draft might benefit from a more sonorously Latinate construction.

  8. Maureen Mulvaney

    Eddie, well said. If the wordings in the responses to the Liturgy can be changed, why not in the “Our Father” as you have stated in your draft. Good luck with your meaningful draft to the CDWDS! However, if it took ten years to come up with these changes for the New Missal, I would hate to think how long it would take for your draft!