This Sunday we will begin a new Adult Ed series on the Lord’s Prayer at All Souls Anglican Church in Wheaton, IL where I am an assisting priest and the director of adult education. Over the next month or so I will be turning my preparation for that series into blog posts for Near Emmaus, starting with this one which serves as an introduction. The title of this new series, as may be seen in the image above, is “We Are Bold To Say.” This is intended to emphasize that I am concerned not just with the biblical roots of the LP, but also with the role the LP plays in eucharistic worship and daily prayer. Hopefully these posts will be not only interesting and informative, but help deepen our prayer life and worship as we prepare for Lent.

Outside of the New Testament, the importance of the LP for the early church is first attested to in the Didache. While suggested dates for the composition of the Didache vary wildly form the middle of the first century to the end of the third, much of its content reflects an early period in the history of the church, and I am inclined to date it towards the end of the first or at the beginning of the second century. It is likely, therefore, the earliest non-canonical Christian document that we possess today. In chapter eight, the Didache commands believers to differentiate Christian fasting and prayer from contemporary Jewish practice.

(8:1) But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday. (2) Nor should you pray like the hypocrites. Instead, “pray like this,” just as the Lord commanded in his Gospel: [What follows is the Matthean form of the LP with the concluding doxology of “for yours is the power and the glory forever.”] (3) Pray like this three times a day. [1]

The command to “pray like this three times a day” suggests that from at a very early period in the history of the church, this recitation of the LP replaced the typical Jewish custom of praying three times per day, including the recitation of the Shema at morning and evening. [2] In regard to fasting, it appears the Christian community represented by the Didache fasted in accordance with Jewish tradition, but changed the days of the week. In regard to prayer, they continued to pray three times daily in accordance with Jewish tradition, but they changed the content of their prayer to the LP. Thus even without much further comment (and I will be suggesting in later posts that there is likely evidence in some of the earliest parts of the New Testament that the LP already has a special and theological place in the life of the early Christian community), we may note that almost as far back as we can look in the early Christian tradition, the LP played a uniquely significant role in the prayer life of Christians. When we say the LP, we are joining our voices with the spirit and breath of the Church in all ages and in all places. This is our Christian prayer. It is our privilege and our duty. It is the prayer of our Lord, and so it is the prayer of his people.

Because it is a corporate prayer (“Our Father”), it is not surprising that the LP eventually made its way into the Church’s eucharistic liturgies. The inclusion of the LP after the eucharistic prayer makes clear the sanctity of the prayer. It is our prayer. It is the prayer of those who have been baptized, and not the prayer of humanity as a whole, and not even of the catechumen who would have left the celebration by this point. We learn first of the tradition of using the LP at the end of the eucharistic prayer from Cyril of Jerusalem in 348 C.E., yet early in the fifth century Augustine says that “almost the whole world now concludes” the eucharistic prayer with the LP. [3] Augustine likely says “almost” because the Roman church did not officially accept the practice until until the time of Gregory I (c. 595 C.E.). Gregory wrote to John of Syracuse in 598 to explain this new innovation in the Roman liturgy:

Here is why we say the Lord’s prayer right after the Canon (mox post precem). The custom of the apostles was to consecrate the sacrifice solely by means of the prayer of offering. It seemed to me quite inappropriate, on the one hand, to say ver the offering a prayer composed by one or other writer (scholastics) and, on the other, not to say over the redeemer’s body and blood the prayer which he himself composed and which tradition has preserved for us. [4]

So it is the Lord’s Prayer, but it is also our prayer. It is the prayer we are to pray daily and even more importantly that we are to pray together as a corporate body when we stand in the presence of our Lord’s body and blood. In his presence, we pray the prayer he taught us. In our κοινωνία with the body and blood of our Messiah (1 Cor 10:16), we pray the prayer he gave us. This is a sacred moment and a sacred prayer, and therefore the priest rightly prefaces our praying by acknowledging that our only right to pray such a prayer is because we are commanded. We are bold to say….

The LP is the Church’s response to the mystery of our Lord’s presence. It is our eschatological prayer, the prayer of the end times, the prayer of those who live between the death and resurrection of the Messiah and his coming again. (“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”) It is a weighty prayer, given to us, the Church, by our Lord. We may pray it only because we are commanded to and because of trinitarian work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we pray as we are commanded, whether joining our voices with the Church in daily prayer or in worship, we dare to call the creator God of the universe ‘Father’. [5] We dare to ask for the hallowing of his name even though we tarnish it. We dare to ask for the coming of kingdom, even though with the kingdom comes the king who will judge the living and the dead. We dare to ask for bread while people around us starve. We dare to ask for the forgiveness of sins while we go on sinning and failing to forgive others. And we dare to ask to be excused from the coming testing and to be delivered from the evil one himself, even though we worship the Lord who gladly endured the cross. Had we not been commanded, had the Messiah not died and rose again, and had the Father not sent the Spirit of his Son into out hearts by which we cry, “Abba, Father,” we would be frauds, hypocrites, and liars everytime the Our Father was spoken on our lips. Yet from the very beginning the church made this prayer a part of its daily life, and soon incorporated it into its most sacred worship. And so, praying as we are commanded, as the liturgy says, “we are bold to say”.

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[1] Translation from Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers (Rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 259.

[2] Dan 6:110; Judith 9:1; 12:5-6; 13:3; cf. Ps 55:16-17.

[3] Augustine, Ep. 59; taken from Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (New ed.; New York: Continuum, 2005), 131.

[4] St. Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Ioanneum Syracus; taken from Robert Cabié, The Eucharist (The Church at Prayer: Volume II; new ed.; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1986), 108.

[5] Cyprian, Treatise IV, 11: “But how great is the Lord’s indulgence! how great His condescension and plenteousness of goodness towards us, seeing that He has wished us to pray in the sight of God in such a way as to call God Father, and to call ourselves sons of God, even as Christ is the Son of God, — a name which none of us would dare to venture on in prayer, unless He Himself had allowed us thus to pray!”