Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Three little words - in The Lord's Prayer


Three little words in the Traditional Anglican version of the Our Father seem to represent the infinite perils of modernization, and yet in themselves them seem to be an example of reasonable and cautious modernization.


The Book of Common Prayer 1662 version was in use for about ten generations universally, and I learned it as a child attending a Church of England school:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
[For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.]


At some point, three little words were changed:

"Our Father, which art in Heaven" - and this was modified to "who art in Heaven".

"Thy kingdom come, in Earth as it is in Heaven' - which was modified to "on Earth".

"As we forgive them that trespass against us" was modified to "those that trespass against us".

I'm not sure when this change was made, maybe 1928, but it spread gradually and widely.


In some ways the change to three little words made an almost imperceptible difference - certainly it did not destroy much of the power of the language.

In another sense they make the prayer slightly clearer to modern ears.

And yet - changing three little words was the first step that led to the horrors of the paradoxically named 'Common Worship' which is (apparently) the most commonly used form now:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Which is merely a literal translation of the poem - an 'executive summary' of the Lord's Prayer (complete with invisible bullet points). 


We now see that there should have been no meddling.

If people really cannot understand the usage of which, in and them (and the idea is nonsense since the meaning is obvious from context) - then the meaning should have been explained to them.

The prayer should not have been changed at all, not even by three little words.