Earlier this century, some of the wording of the Catholic Mass in English-speaking lands was changed—or changed back—and worshipers adjusted rather smoothly. Most notable is our response to “The Lord be with you.” To say “And with your spirit” rather than “And also with you” aligns English-speakers with the older Latin version, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” and the way in which most languages have always stated the response, e. g., in Spanish, “Y con tu espiritu.” It took only a few Sundays for us to adapt to the change; now many of us have forgotten the old way. Though it may not seem like a big deal, the wording is significant. It reminds us that we are not merely physical beings that have a spiritual connection; rather, we are primarily spiritual beings that exist in earthen vessels and our spirit is mysteriously linked with God’s Holy Spirit. As presider and congregation unite with one another at Mass in that simple exchange, we are also intimately and eternally united with God.
Pope Francis, as Bishop of Rome, recently changed a line in the Italian version of The Lord’s Prayer. “Lead us not into temptation” is now rendered “Do not abandon us to temptation.” He wants to make sure we understand that God does not push or trick us into bad situations, though we will invariably find ourselves falling into them. His act may inspire bishops of English-speaking conferences and nations to one day follow suit to, once again, unify us in language. The French translation is probably truer to Jesus’ words or intention: “Do not abandon us when in temptation” or the Spanish “Do not let us fall into temptation.” Once again, it may not seem like a big deal, one way or the other, but it might be.
At the heart of the mystery is the fact that we don’t know what Jesus actually said. He spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic—as well as some Hebrew—but the Gospels were originally written in Greek by four evangelists, some that were eyewitnesses to much of what they wrote. Naturally, things get lost in translation, memory, and recordation. This is especially true with The Bible because most languages interpreted their version from Latin; the original manuscripts were destroyed when persecutors of our fledgling church abolished all things Christian. The oldest copies of the Gospels that we know about go back only to the fourth century, many generations after Jesus lived.
When theologians and scripture scholars study the Greek words of The Lord’s Prayer in relation to other words of Jesus, they generally agree that the issue is less exegetical than it is theological. Most concede that when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He wouldn’t have said “Lead us not into temptation” because that is not something God does. He might have said “Lead us not into trials (or tribulations or troubles…)” and He probably did pray that we not fail or give in when we face evil or the many negative temptations that accompany it. We know that God tested Abraham when he was told to sacrifice his son, Isaac; we know that God allowed the devil to put Job on trial with one tragedy after another; we know that Jesus was led into the desert to face the temptations of Satan. The reality is that we each face evil in our lives, running in to trials, tribulations, and troubles quite regularly. Though God is not the examiner of our tests, He is pulling for us to pass them. Though He is not a trickster or manipulator, He hopes that we will choose wisely when we encounter difficulties. Though He does not lead us into bad situations, He will be with us while we endure them. From the time of Adam and Eve’s encounter with the serpent, it is the devil, not God, who leads us into temptation.
When I pray The Lord’s Prayer I now say the phrase that Francis proposes. It might never officially be changed in English-speaking lands but, to me, it makes sense to say that which is more attuned with the nature of God, the will of Christ, and the enduring presence of their Holy Spirit.