It may surprise some Christians to know that the "Lord's Prayer" is not a new prayer written by the Lord. The bigger surprise is, once it is understood where the prayer comes from, what the Lord was about in giving us this prayer becomes much richer and fuller.
The Lord's Prayer is given in the New Testament in two places. One is Luke 11:1-4, the other is Matthew 6:9-13. In Luke, the context is, Jesus had finished praying, and a disciple then asks him to teach them how to pray, as John the Baptist had done. In Matthew, the context is rather the Sermon on the Mount, in the course of which Jesus says not to go on and on with repetitions and many words, thinking God impressed with that or Man might be. The prayer then given is not identical in all details.
What does this mean? There really is no Lord's Prayer, or if there is there were two traditions of it, so in any case this is not really something from Jesus but rather from the believing community confessing its faith, or on the other hand it is an original prayer by Jesus and therefore new, different, and above all others?
The prayer would have been instantly recognisable to his hearers as a concise Kaddish.
What does this mean? Let's start with what a kaddish is. The word means "sanctification". The prayer began as a doxology. Oh oh, what's a doxology. That word comes from the Greek doxa meaning "glory"; a doxology is a set prayer of praise to God. The kaddish began as a prayer of praise to God after a rabbi had delivered a sermon on the aggadic aspect of Scripture. Yikes, what's an Aggadah? Simple. Discussion of the legal stuff in the Hebrew Bible is called halakhah; discussion of anything else about the Bible is called aggadah.
So, a kaddish is a doxology after an aggadic discussion, or in other words, a prayer of praise to God after a sermon on the non-legal things in the Bible. It began when Aramaic was the everyday language of most Jews -- still the case in the time of Jesus, whose everyday language that was -- and soon became a regular feature in services, and is said in Aramaic to this day in the synagogue. It is always said standing, and facing Jerusalem.
The Kaddish opens based on Ezechiel 38:23, and continues with a congregational response based on Daniel 2:20. Centuries later, variant forms came to be associated with mourners, and to the extent Christians may have heard of a kaddish at all, it is usually in this late context, which was established by the Crusades, not a favourable event to Jews, in the 13th Century.
There are now four main forms of the Kaddish: The Chatzi Kaddish or Half Kaddish; the Kaddish Yatom or Mourner's Kaddish; the Kaddish Shalem or Whole Kaddish; the Kaddish d'Rabbanan or Rabbi's Kaddish. They reflect the original Kaddish, the later one for mourners, a longer Kaddish which ends the synagogue service, and one more for use after rabbinic teaching and study in a service or a class, respectively. The Kaddish, along with the Shema and the Amidah, which we will treat elsewhere, are the three main prayers of Jewish non-Temple public worship.
What is now called the Half Kaddish is the basic one, and is said between the sections of the synagogue service. One such is after the reading of the Torah portion, meaning the particular section of the Books of Moses read that Sabbath from the annual reading through of the Torah. The Torah portion is then followed by the Maftir portion, a reading of a related section, called the haftorah, from the Prophets. This btw is where the Christian practice of reading a Gospel portion and a related Epistle portion at services comes from.
It is an honour to be called up to read these selections. It's called the Aliyah, or ascent, as one comes forth to read, and is exactly what Jesus was doing in Luke 4:16-21 when he was called up to read the haftorah from Isaias, and the basic Kaddish would have been said just before, at the conclusion of the Torah portion.
Just as it would have knocked their socks off -- well, if they were wearing socks, but you get the point -- to hear "To-day this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing", so would his giving, whether as part of an open-air sermon or as an answer to a disciple, not some great new way to pray but his statement of the basic kaddish as how his disciples are to pray! Just as his later transformation of the familiar Passover kiddush (don't freak, that's just Hebrew for a sanctification, a blessing) into "This is my body" and "This is my blood" would too.
What does this mean? That Jesus really said nothing new, the "Lord's Prayer" is really no big deal, he really was just an observant Jew after all, we have nothing here all that remarkable?
Nothing of the sort.
Everything about Jesus is exactly like the prayer he gave, and the prayer he gave is exactly like everything else about him. Jesus was nothing new only and strictly in the sense that he fulfilled what God gave before, namely, the preparation that was the Law toward the fulfillment of his promise of salvation after Man's revolt against him, often called the Fall, in the Gospel. This was not a break but a fulfillment and transformation; one does not break what one fulfills and transforms.
Just as he fulfilled the Law with the Gospel or Good News of his death and resurrection for us, just as in his Divine Service he fulfills the synagogue service with the Service of the Word and the Passover with the Eucharist, just as in his Divine Office he fulfills the daily times of prayer and Temple sacrifice, so here he fulfills the Kaddish in both its public and personal uses.
This is why we pray it exactly as a kaddish, our kaddish in the form he gave us, at mass, at baptisms, in our morning and evening prayers (whether in the Divine Office or simpler formats), at marriages, at meals, at all times from celebration to desperation and everything in between, with the sick and the dying, and yes, as mourners at funerals.
In doing so we are connected both to him, and with him then as with everything about our life in Christ to that to which he is connected, the whole course of the fulfillment of the promise of God his Father now Our Father, to Jew and Gentile alike, which is our full, complete, and free salvation!
Which is why the name of the prayer is traditionally the Our Father, not only from the Hebrew custom of naming a text after its first word or two, but because that custom reflects the gift that is ours in the Kaddish he passed on to us -- not just a god, or even God out there somewhere, but Our Father, Vater unser, Padre nuestro, Pater noster, because of his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
And while we're at it, we might note that when he taught us to pray, he specifically did not do and in fact warned against, any coming up with some new prayer and worship as if that will really put us over with Man or impress God, but instead referred us to what we already have, fulfilled in him.
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