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09 March 2011


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donna lewis

But why do we say "thy" instead of your - and "art" etc. in the Our Father?
That makes rote prayer hard for me.


Isn't it interesting how the old English pronouns have persisted in religious life while they've disappeared most other places? I always think it's ironic because today it's very "formal sounding" to hear thee, thy, thou, but actually these are the informal form of address. We are supposed to use "thy" about God because he is familiar, a beloved, to us.

In languages which have preserved the formal/informal distinction, like French (in which "vous" is the respectful, formal singular "you" and "tu" is the informal, familiar singular "you") the informal form is used there too. (Notre pere qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifie....) "Ton" is equivalent to "thy." If it were "votre" nom it would have to be translated "your." But in French, the "ton" is not archaic, but ordinary speech.

"Art" is just the form of "to be" that goes with "thou." I am, thou art, he is, we are, you are, they are.


(though as far as I know there's no reason why you can't pray the Our Father according to a slightly more modern-sounding translation -- just check your Bibles -- if you want. I have certainly heard the Hail Mary done both ways -- "the Lord is with thee" and "the Lord is with you." Of course, if you want to be totally safe, memorize the Latin! If my ten-year-old can do it, you can too!)


Someone once described the sort of spontaneous group prayers as the "We just" prayers: "Lord, we just come before you today, and we just give you thanks for..."

There is a certain dignity to the rote prayers which is not contrary to sincerity, and indeed, not having to struggle with what to say is a great help. The disciples did beg, "Lord, teach us to pray."

I like the archaic language of the Our Father because it reminds me that I'm praying with generations who've used the same form. I suppose the Latin would have an even more timeless feel - perhaps we should learn those prayers next.


I've heard the "Lord we just" too! I thought about mentioning it in the post but I didn't want anyone to think I was disparaging spontaneous prayer. It's an interesting verbal tic, isn't it? I have only ever heard Protestants come out with it, even though I've certainly been around when Catholics have been leading spontaneous prayer. Maybe because we are used to prayers that "sound" a certain way we tend to come out with tics that are more like "...in the name of your Son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you forever." ;-)

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I think I read something somewhere about this

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