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?
In a new television interview, 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 because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.
In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”
French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit.
While Francis’ remarks were not a decree to change the prayer, he has once again set off a debate on how far a pope can or should go in shaking up long-standing tradition, and even doctrine.
Francis’ idea on changing the Lord’s Prayer could unsettle some Catholics, who learn from childhood to recite the prayer.
Philip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, a conservative website, said that while the pope’s critique about the translation of the line “isn’t unreasonable,” if Francis actually intends to change the prayer, “it’s very upsetting” because it is so deeply ingrained for Catholics.
Some conservative evangelicals were also quick to respond.
“I was shocked and appalled,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a phone interview. “This is the Lord’s Prayer. It is not, and has never been, the pope’s prayer, and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that the pope proposes to change. It is not only deeply problematic, it’s almost breathtaking.”
A commentary on the website of TV2000, the ecclesiastical station in Rome that interviewed the pope, acknowledged that his words had stirred controversy. But it said, “It is worth recalling that this question is not new.”