Audemus dicere

‘Father.’ How that word does make a priest jump out of his skin. Deferential, you think? You must be joking. Demanding, even accusing, is how it so often seems. And God must have felt a similar paranoia, until about 1985. Prayer so often began with that peremptory demand for attention, whether it was fervent Evangelicals ad-libbing a lazy intercession (‘Father, we just want to say’) or Roman Catholics replacing Almighties and Everlastings with the warm intimacy of ‘Father’. After 1985ish, of course, everything changed and ‘Father’ became politically mega-incorrect. The first Person of the Glorious Trinity now has a much less hectic time.

Older worshippers will remember the old invitation to ‘Our Father’, ‘…we are bold to say’. This is missing in Common Worship and the current RC translations. Yet it represents the ancient formulae of both Latin and Greek liturgies. But why is it ‘bold’ to call God ‘Father’? Surely, all humans are children of the same loving Father?

Yet that is not the impression one gets from the New Testament. By merely being human, we are ‘far’ from God. It is only in and through Christ that we come ‘close’, in other words, by sheer, unmerited grace. Christ is the only real Son of the Father; in becoming part of him in baptism we share his Sonship ‘by adoption’. It is only thus that we can ‘dare’ to address his Father as Our Father; to take his Abba, Father (Mark 14.36) onto our lips (Galatians 4.6).

Those ancient introductions to the Our Father humbly acknowledge this by recalling that it is by instruction in Christ’s School of Prayer that we speak thus. The earliest Roman form could be rendered ‘Taught by divine schoolmastery and moulded by divine education, we are bold to say’; later modified, probably to avoid unstylish repetition, to ‘Admonished by saving precepts and …’; paraphrased by Cranmer (1549) ‘As our Saviour Christe hath commaunded and taught us, we are bolde to saye’.

The new Vatican policy for vernacular liturgical texts requires accuracy of translation and denies the translator any right to dream up alternative forms remote from the original Latin. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

John Hunwicke is the compiler of the ORDO.