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Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship we do? In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our Lutheran worship service.

In our communion liturgies, the Lord’s Prayer follows The Sanctus (December 2023 Lutheran Spokesman) and precedes The Words of Institution. That is no accident. It would, however, be an error, taught by some, to think of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“Give us this day our daily bread”) as referring to the bread of the sacrament, as though we are in the Lord’s Prayer somehow consecrating that element. That would be a misapplication of God’s Word. Rather, as Luther explained in the Small Catechism, the “daily bread” of the Fourth Petition refers to “everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body.” The Fourth Petition requests physical blessings, not spiritual ones.

So, then, why is the Lord’s Prayer placed where it is in our Liturgy? Mark this well, and remember it when you are about to take Communion: it is there as a prayer of Christians preparing to receive Christ’s body and blood along with the visible elements of bread and wine for the forgiveness of their sins. That is—at least in a sense—it might well be thought of as being where it is for the consecration (the setting apart for a holy purpose) of Christians, not for the consecration of an element of the Sacrament. The Lord’s Prayer is part of our preparation for reception of Holy Communion. Indeed, in the medieval liturgy, communicants were reminded of that fact with the words, “Admonished by thy saving precepts and instructed by thy divine ordinance, we make bold to say, ‘Our Father.‘” So also today, we boldly claim to be God’s children and heirs of salvation, and can call Him Father, only because of the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus, the Christ, Whose body and blood we are about to receive in Holy Communion. When the words “Our Father” of the Lord’s Prayer precede the Sacrament, we are reminded of that fact.

The book Lutheran Worship: History and Practice by Leonard Brauer reinforces this aspect of our worship with the words, “The use of the Lord’s Prayer before the consecration emphasizes its significance as the ‘Prayer of the Faithful,’ the children of the heavenly Father whom he tenderly invites to call upon him as beloved children approach their dear father. Here, as we pray the family prayer of the Church of Christ, we are reminded who we are and in what relationship to God we come before him.”

There are those who think that using memorized recitations such as these in our liturgies (or elsewhere, such as for table prayers) is somehow inferior to having all prayer and other worship elements be spontaneous and ex corde (“from the heart”). If our words are merely being recited while our minds are elsewhere, they are right. However, the words of our liturgies—and especially the words of the Lord’s Prayer—are not just “vain repetitions” such as those to which Jesus refers in Matthew 6:7. Indeed, it is in that very same context that Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer, telling His disciples, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven. . . .” (Matthew 6:9-13) The words we recite are “vain repetitions” only if we fail to focus on the meaning. However, as we are fully engaged in the meaning of the words, our worship is lifted far above what might otherwise be our own ex corde expressions. May our gracious Lord grant that we focus our minds and hearts on the words of our mouths. Amen.

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.