ROME — It has been a question of theological debate and liturgical interpretation for years, and now Pope Francis has joined the discussion: Does the Lord’s Prayer, Christendom’s resonant petition to the Almighty, need an update?
On Wednesday, Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better.
French Catholics adopted that change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit.
The distinction is subtle and easy to miss, even for devout Christians.
“It is I who fall,” the pope said in Italian, in an interview with TV2000, an ecclesiastical television station in Rome. “But it is not He who pushes me into temptation.”
The pope elaborated. “A father does not push me into temptation, to see how I fell,” he said. “A father doesn’t do that. He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”
In essence, the pope says, the prayer is asking God: “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”
While Francis’s idea may not prove controversial among theologians and liturgists, it could unsettle Catholics who learn from childhood to recite the Lord’s Prayer, also called the “Our Father.”
Traditionalist Catholic and Anglican bloggers were already taking Francis to task Friday, suggesting that he was trying to upend settled tradition and that the distinctions he was drawing were clear enough to most worshipers.
A commentary on the website of TV2000, the station that interviewed the pope, which is owned by the Italian conference of Roman Catholic bishops, acknowledged that the pope’s words had stirred great interest, but added, “it is worth recalling that this question is not new.”
“This is not a mere whim for Francis,” it said.
The commentary pointed out that in a new translation of the Bible in 2008, Italian bishops had already come up with a new formulation: “Do not abandon us to temptation.”
The basic question, the commentary said, is whether God brings humans into temptation or whether “it is human weakness to surrender to the blandishments of the evil one.”
French bishops this week tweaked the Lord’s Prayer in French from “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (roughly, “do not expose us to temptation”) to “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“do not let us give in to temptation”).
The new French version was first used during Mass on Sunday. It had been discussed for several years, and the updated translation was long awaited, according to Guy de Kerimel, bishop of Grenoble.