The Embolism in the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.

I still say… new translation[1
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy, keep us free from sin,
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days,
that, by the help of your mercy,
we may be always free from sin
and safe from all distress,
as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

For thine is the kingdom, the power,
and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

…But I’ve said the Lord’s Prayer all my life, learnt it off by heart and yet Fr Simon insists on breaking the prayer in two with a prayer of his own! How dare he! He’s messing around with the prayer that Jesus taught us and which comes straight from the bible!

Or is it?

There are two versions of the Lord’s prayer in Holy Scripture. They can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. You will note that the Lukan version is more succinct and direct, and the version we learnt at our mother’s knee is closer to the Matthean version. Luke ends with temptation and Matthew ends with delivery from evil. The Book of Common Prayer at both Mattins and Evensong (pages 79 and 88 respectively in my Everyman edition) ends also with the delivery from evil – so where did these other verses come from, and why do they feature in the BCP Holy Communion?

The lines are also scriptural, and form a doxology from 1 Chronicles 29:11, they are often used as offertory prayers also, and like all doxologies, are used as praises to God at the end of prayers or readings.

The reason for the juxtaposition of these two portions of scripture goes back to the ancient monks and their copying by hand of the gospels. It was common in the liturgy of the time to end the saying of the Lord’s Prayer with a doxology, and the 1 Chronicles one was often used. It is said that one day a monk was copying the Gospel of Matthew and (it is thought) came to the Lord’s Prayer and thought to himself “Oh, I know this” so started writing it out from memory rather than copying it, and he included the 1 Chronicles doxology from the liturgy in it by mistake. Over time, his manuscript was also copied and the error perpetuated.

There is a particular method of biblical examination known as Source Criticism which determines and debates the differences and varieties in manuscripts and so we can be quite clear about the approximate date that this crept into an understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. It also gave the use of the doxology greater weight so it became intimately linked with the prayer. The Authorised Version contains this error, but it will not be found in any of the modern translations.

However, for centuries, the Church has sought to restore a recognition that while a part of the worship of the church, it is two separate pieces of scripture, and so inserts an extra, and if you would read it once more from the top of this article and see, rather beautiful prayer to separate these two important elements of our worship at this point in the Eucharistic sacrifice

So this is why you may find yourself a little halted, as the priest draws attention to our purpose for making the Lord’s Prayer in what is known as the embolism and we are all then able to praise God in that wonderful Old Testament doxology.

Much of our prayer is drawn from the Scriptures, whether it is during the Mass itself, the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer (which an old monk once described to me as a pickling in the scriptures) which is required to be said daily in church and in the intercessions, where we might at times join our prayers with the angels and the saints, the prophets patriarchs and martyrs in heaven, in the vision of St John the Divine (Revelation 19), and also ask them to pray for us. The Book of Revelation tells us that when in heaven we will constantly be engaged in worship and intercession, so praying now might be seen as good practice!

In the same way, when we sometimes pray using the prayers often known as the Hail Mary, we are quoting directly from Holy Scripture (Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42) to pray alongside Our Lady. We do not ever pray to the Blessed Virgin, but using her as the model of faith and devotion to Christ, we join our prayer with hers. It is a common conceit of those who do not understand to simply write off this prayer which has sustained so many on their Christian journey as a prayer to Mary rather than to God, but there can be nothing wrong in praying with the Scriptures and using it as a tool to help us approach Almighty God in prayer.


[1 In 2011 There was a new translation of the Roman Rite from Latin into English. Admittedly it’s closer to the Latin, but it’s a far worse translation: stilted, less poetic. It’s almost as if it was written by someone who had access to Google Translate but whose language was not originally English. I therefore, as is my right as an Anglican, use the translation which suits the liturgy over which I am presiding: contextual is the key point.