Today marks four years that we have been worshipping with the new English translation of the Mass. It was a work that was many years in the making all in hopes of ensuring that the text we use to celebrate the liturgy will be more faithful to the original Latin as well as more conducive to our prayer as a community.
Even after four years we may still be struggling to get used to new responses when the old ones were so familiar to us. Every now and then we hear someone say, “And also with you” instead of “And with your spirit.” Many of us still need to follow along in the missalette when the “Glory to God in the Highest” or the Creed is prayed. Hopefully, over the past four years, this new translation is becoming second nature to us as we begin to memorize the prayers and responses.
At the time that the bishops were working on this new translation, there was also talk of changing the Our Father. Those who advocated a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer argued that many of the words and phrases were antiquated and hard to understand. For instance, in common language we never say, “thou art”, as we do in the Our Father. Another antiquated word is “hallowed”, which means “holy”. Many thought that a new translation of the Our Father would make it more understandable to modern worshippers. However, it was decided that since this prayer was so much a part not only of the Mass but of the private prayers and devotions of the faithful, it would not be wise to change it.
One of the phrases in the Our Father which many scholars argued should be changed was the last sentence - “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This phrase has often caused confusion for people. Does God tempt us? Can God lead us to sin? Of course not. Then what could be the meaning of this last sentence of the prayer Jesus taught us?
Many biblical scholars agree that a better translation of this last sentence would be “do not let us be put to the test.” In the prayer that Jesus taught, we are asking God to protect us when we our faith is tested. This would not only include moments of temptation but the times when we need to defend our faith. It also is a prayer asking for strength to stand firm when we are persecuted for our beliefs. We ask God not only to spare us from persecution but to give us the power to endure it and to remain faithful when we are singled out for punishment because of our faith.
When Jesus taught His disciples this prayer, He no doubt had in mind the words of today’s gospel which points to the end times. Jesus teaches us that the days leading up to the end of the world will be a time of great turbulence and tribulation. He tells us that people will even die of fright, so horrifying will be the signs manifested in the sky and on the earth. Finally, he warns us, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent…” When these events take place - and they will - our faith will be tested. We need God’s help to remain faithful until the end, so that we can hold our head up and rejoice when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” we are asking God specifically for strength and perseverance to endure the tribulations which will come at the end of the world.
Of course, none of us knows when the world will end. However, there is plenty of tribulation in our world today. There is violence, crime and poverty in so many of our cities. Many nations find themselves in bloody conflicts between ethnic and religious groups. As a Christian community, we are struggling to defend our right to live our faith and pass it on to our children. We do not have to wait until the end of the world to ask God for strength to maintain our faith and to be delivered from evil.
As Christians, what attitude should we take as we confront a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams? Today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians instructs us. He prays that our love for one another will increase and that our hearts will remain blameless. As Christians, we are to confront the world’s evils with love. When we are insulted, we are to return a blessing instead. We are to pray for those who persecute and mistreat us because of our beliefs. When we see our brothers and sisters suffering, we are to do whatever we can to comfort them. Love and faith are our primary weapons in the battle against evil in the world.
The other attitude we are to have is vigilance. In our day and age, we can allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the fast pace of life. We can go from day to day forging ahead and paying little attention to the needs of our soul for silence and prayer. Our busy schedules become an excuse for ignoring our neighbor in need. Jesus warns us that the anxieties of daily life can make us drowsy and slow to respond to Him when He calls us. In effect, He is telling us to wake up and to look for the signs of His presence all around us.
Today, we begin this great season of Advent. It is a time to look back to the events of Jesus’ birth. It is also a time to look ahead to His promise that He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. At the same time, it is an opportunity for us to wake up and open our eyes to all the signs of His presence among us today. We need that vigilance in today’s fast paced world which so often overlooks the needs of the poor and tramples underfoot the rights of the weakest among us. We need to stand firm in our faith in a world that resists recognizing the dignity of every human life and the sanctity of the family. We pray along with Jesus not to be lead into temptation. At the same time, we pray that we will have the strength to endure whatever may come. The Eucharist we are about to receive is the bread that strengthens us and teaches us to recognize Jesus not only in the Bread of Life but in everyone we meet, especially the weakest and poorest among us.