All Christian prayer begins here, with the words of the Lord Jesus. His prayer was given not merely as a pattern or template by which to structure our own prayers but also as a prayer itself to be prayed by his followers. Accordingly, every liturgy of the church includes this prayer, and historic spiritual advice has always encouraged the memorization and use of this prayer among the faithful in their own private devotions. As a result, the classic Prayer Books included the Lord’s Prayer twice – once at the beginning of a worship service and once near the end. The exact location has varied (before or after the Confession in the Office) and the use of the doxology at the end of the prayer has varied, but the “two uses” of the Lord’s Prayer was pretty clear: it was both a personal preparation for participating in the liturgy and a piece of the liturgy itself.
Over the centuries, later Prayer Books drifted towards the use of the Lord’s Prayer only once in a worship service, and in the modern editions it has been the first appearance that has been removed in favor of the second.
Lifted from Matthew 6:9-13 and its counterpart in Luke 11, the Lord’s Prayer has been a staple of Christian worship both private and public throughout the history of the Church. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, they were expecting a prayer like this, as many teachers in that time had a token prayer that encapsulated their spirituality. This tradition of having such a theme prayer can be seen in later times, such as the Prayer Attributed to Saint Francis, and the existence of different schools of spirituality within the Church. By learning a particular prayer the worshiper is gradually conformed to and fed by the spiritual wisdom of the prayer’s author. The Lord’s Prayer, coming from the mouth of God himself, is thus the greatest prayer in the Christian treasury.
Both its order and contents are informative. We address God as Father, as adopted children, and we bless his holy name, seeking the advance of his kingdom and will on earth, as it is already so in heaven. Then we move to our own petitions – daily bread to sustain us in the present moment, forgiveness of our sins, while also committing ourselves to forgiving others. This is followed with the twin petitions for help against temptation and evil, or the Evil One. So the very logic and flow of this prayer is theological, or God-minded.
The doxology at the end is not now typically thought to be in the original text of St. Matthew’s gospel, but it is attested in documents as early as the Didache (ca. 100AD). Between that and its inclusion in the King James Bible (1611) it endures as a standard ending for the Lord’s Prayer. Liturgical use of the Lord’s Prayer often omitted the doxology, but through sheer familiarity and habit it has become standard in all its appearances in this Prayer Book.