In the debate about the metaphysical significance of language, certainly the reflection upon ‘performative phrases’ offers a deep well for reflection. These phrases re-orient the reality of the one who pronounces them, principally in virtue of an inter-personal context. While they imply a reciprocity of correspondence, they aren’t fully dependent on others because independently an interior element structures and conditions one’s own interaction with the world; an interior ‘world-vision’, ‘stance’ before existence or ‘vital caliber’ is formed. So while exteriorly a performative awaits recognition and correspondence, interiorly, it already signifies an existential reorientation, similar to that of “choosing of a path”.
I would like to deepen on the reality of prayer as performative; and specifically the prayer of the Our Father, interpreting the significance of each of its petitions in a performative context; the goal of this being to strengthen the comprehension of the power of prayer, and deepen the awareness of what is really being implied by its recitation.
[Biblical reference: Lk 11, 3-5]
- Pater sanctificetur Nomen tuum / Hallowed be Thy Name
Not a passive invocation, not a description. It is an active invocation perhaps also expressible as “Let your Name be Hallowed” or moreover, “Lord, [we must] sanctify your name”, “Let us exalt the holiness of your Name” (cf. Jn 17, 17.19). “We” are involved in first person plural (as St. Cyprian also reflects) in bringing about this act. It is not a private affair. Nor do we only say, “Lord, you are holy” but there is an implicit commitment, “we must sanctify your name”. It is a task to be fulfilled and therefore has consequences that extend to every moment of our existence. My life should give testimony to the Holiness of God’s name – it not only pronounces Him as Holy, but seems to imply that my life should be Holy, otherwise my word of ‘sanctifying His Name’ would be incoherent.
There is not time here to reflect on the significance of what “Name” means referred to God, but it envelops every aspect of life, creation, existence, and being. We “are” because of His Name. So sanctifying it means corresponding to who God is and what He does with who I am and what I do. Concretely, this Name has been communicated to us by way of Revelation, and the plentitude of Revelation is communicated to us not merely under the character of verbal expression, but under the form of a “performative” par excellence: the union of the Word and Existence; the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. God’s Name has been communicated to us in the Person of Jesus Christ to not only tell us, but to show us with His life that God loves us, and so exhort us by way of example that we must love Him. In fact, His becoming man, so that His entire earthly existence be for us the epitome of a continual performative force of orientation upon reality, makes of our correspondence with God literally an act of “conformation with Jesus”, who we declare to be hallowed. So in fact, there is much at stake when we pronounce these words: “hallowed be thy Name”.
- Adveniat regnum tuum / eltheto the Basileia sou / Thy Kingdom come
Again, not a description, but an invocation. Perhaps it is placed as a reciprocal form of the first invocation; “Bring your Reign, as we have sanctified your Name (by establishing it in our hearts)”. The inter-relational context of dependence is key here. It is not merely a pronouncement of expectation, but the reaffirmation of the Covenantal bond. Invoking the coming of God’s Kingdom recollects the entire Salvation History of the people of Israel, God’s gradual revelation to mankind, and the ever increasing commitment which this implied – expressed in the demands of the Law. The Law however, being imperfect and unattainable, could not establish the kingdom of God on Earth. This instead was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. He is God’s Kingdom, the King of the Universe. Therefore, this petition is simultaneously the appeal that Jesus might come: Marana-tha! The arrival of God’s Kingdom means the presence of Jesus, the Word who becomes flesh. There is no greater performative than that which becomes flesh! Finally, Jesus as the auto-basilea, reveals the reality of this kingdom as spiritual interiority that radiates outward as an act of possession over the “whole”. The concept of metanoia is also implicit with its pronunciation: Thy kingdom come!
- Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis cotidie / ton arton hemon ton epiousion hemin to kath’emeran / Give us this day our daily bread
A more literal translation: “The bread of our subsistence, give to us each day”
Here, however translations are insufficient because “epiousias” is a very particular word that appears only once, here upon the Lord’s lips. Its commonplace translation is above, but it seems to have a deeper spiritual and metaphysical significance. Again, as an invocation of dependence seemingly referred to material proportions, but certainly we ask for more than just food. Jesus reminds us that “man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on the very words that come from God’s mouth”. These words are thus of an epiousial nature. Luke chapter 15 also speaks of bread and ousias, referred to as inheritance. Perhaps then we can understand ‘epi’ as ‘that which comes from above’, as referring to the Heavenly inheritance we have in the Holy Spirit, who is our sustenance for each day. Jesus perhaps refers to this dynamic of sustenance in the Holy Spirit in John chapter 4, when He tells the disciples that He has a food that they do not know of. It is underlined here as being intrinsically related to the apostolic mission of evangelization. The Holy Spirit is thus understood as the vital force of the ‘perfomative word’ in this context; the invisible hand who works by way of cooperation with grace to reorient all things to God.
There are two ways to apply this idea; to ourselves, and to Jesus. It refers to the person of Jesus the Word in an absolute sense (as Performative par excellence), and to our own liberty in a contingent sense. That is to say, our performative words are capable of transforming reality thanks to a condition of possibility that is established in, by and through our participation in the life of the Holy Spirit.
The whole of the performative dynamic depends upon premises of communion, freedom and truth. We participate in these gratuitously through our existence, “being created by an overabundant gift of grace”. These premises make up part of the pre-existing reality necessary for our existence, they are the ‘space of grace’ in which we ‘become’, the condition of this (our) possibility. In the measure that we “take root” in the metaphysical/spiritual fabric upon which our existence comes into being, all growth in communion, freedom and truth thus gives an increase to our mutual participation in it (the source of our existence); stretching out our roots into this metaphysical/spiritual fabric (in which all contingent persons are rooted), becomes contemporarily a form of synergy with the Holy Spirit who provides this ‘transcendent sustenance’ to our existence; a Providence, as it were, of the daily bread of communion, freedom and truth, the “spiritual soil” in which we began, are now sustained, and continue to grow.
Lastly, this bread of heavenly inheritance, which is the Word of God Incarnate, announced and celebrated, furthermore joins all of these symbols under the Liturgical context of the daily Mass: the Liturgy of the Word announced, and Liturgy of the Eucharist celebrated; our bread of heavenly inheritance (cf. Jn 6). This is the event where the metaphysical/spiritual fabric of the Body of Christ is woven together in communion, freedom and truth (an event of sanctification, of reorientation of all things to God). In a sense, this petition is directed not only to the Father, asking for the action of the Holy Spirit, but integrally to each Divine Person of the Trinity; to the Father (for his Providence); to the Son (for the Eucharist); and to the Holy Spirit (for sanctifying action: our metaphysical/spiritual sustenance, which ultimately is called ‘holiness’, and means ‘conformation with the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ’; upon the premises of the performative logic before mentioned). “Give us this day our daily bread”, a powerful word that firstly places trust and confidence in Providence, secondly expresses an adhesion to the Eucharistic celebration with an imperative corollary of apostolic announcement (as a task to be fulfilled), and finally an affirmation of the action of the Holy Spirit upon us, as our eager submission to God’s design for our sanctification; our personal “Fiat”.
- Et dimitte nobis peccata nostra siquidem et ipsi dimittimus omni debenti nobis / (aphiomen) / Forgive us our sins as we forgive all those indebted to us.
This seems to be presented as a conditional invocation – we ask for forgiveness, given that we forgive. The fifth Beatitude reminds us also that only the merciful will obtain mercy. The merciless, however, will be judged according to their own measure. What is loosed on Earth is so also in Heaven and that which is bound on Earth is so also in Heaven, as Jesus reminds Peter; also “Do not judge so that you may not be judged” (cf. Jam, 2, 12-13). These examples of moral teaching in the New Testament are NUMEROUS. This is the first invocation that directly involves our relationship with others, the previous invocations involve the relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, the key of relationability with others remains founded upon the modality of the relationship with God. In other words, I forgive the faults of others against me because I believe in the efficacy of Divine Mercy upon me. I must forgive since I have been forgiven by God. Therefore this invocation presents itself also as a proposal to be completed. Although I may not have always forgiven, it commits that, as an affirmation of my hope in God’s mercy, I promise to forgive; perhaps even as an element of reparation.
Certainly, the first part, which indicates the consciousness of sin with an appeal for forgiveness, is of no little weight as a performative. The second part, as a subsequent addition upon the first, in fact, seems to suggest a will for penitence or reparation of our wrong. The best that we can offer is the gift that we have received from God, infinite mercy. If nobody gives what they don’t have, it is also necessary to have an experience of God’s forgiveness in order to give forgiveness in an authentic way. As Jesus says, “to one who shows much love, much has been forgiven, but he to whom little has been forgiven, loves little”. Therefore, in order to reorient our outlook towards others, in order to see them with your eyes, Lord, we say, “forgive us our sins as we forgive all those indebted to us”.
- et ne nos inducas in tentationem / kai me eisenegkes hemas eis peripasmon / And lead us not into temptation.
Benedict XVI’s reflection in Jesus of Nazareth contains an interesting analysis of interpreting this enigmatic and final invocation. In fact, God does not tempt anyone. Much less would He lead people into traps… The Greek, “eisenegkes” also seems curious, though I am not informed enough to decipher its nuances of connotation. Jesus says at one point, “Blessed is He who is not scandalized by the Son of Man.” As the Cornerstone, rejected by the builders, Jesus is the stone that causes many to stumble. He is the Light which bursts over the darkness, revealing all that is there, provoking those who live in darkness to hide themselves and their works, but those who are born in God come to the light so that their works might be seen. The temptation referred to here could be this critical moment, which actually offers itself to us repeatedly in the form of the voice of our conscience.
Though the vocabulary temptation [periasmon] is different from krisis [separation/judgment] it has certain synonymy under such a context, and ultimately seems to be an invocation that we not run from Him in these critical moments or trials, that we not succumb to doubt, or betrayal, as He prayed in Gethsemane, that we not enter into the test (Luke 22, 40) [note: similar Greek vocabulary].
Perhaps structurally it is juxtaposed to the invocation that His Reign come, for temptation (as was for Him at Gethsemane), the reign of darkness, could correspond to His hour? Jesus makes these two coincide, for it is in the hour of darkness that He establishes His definitive Lordship over death and sin. In any case, as a performative, this invocation is an appeal of trust. “I submit myself under your guide, because you are secure”, it seems to imply. It recognizes our vulnerability and affirms our dependence upon God (as all of the parts of the prayer have repeatedly done), revealing the strong filial character that permeates its pronunciation: “lead us not into temptation”.
The whole of the Our Father prayer taken as a performative is the proclamation of the dynamism of Sonship that Jesus invites us to participate in as members of His Body. It establishes and orients this filial relationship upon the existential plane of significance, so that what is pronounced might actually become reality. Saying it and praying it, not only transforms and renews our existential position, “in relationship” with God, but opening itself, it is projected to our personal interaction with others and with the rest of creation.
 Cfr. the meaning of oikonomia, with respect to the Economy of Salvation.
 Cfr. the corresponding reflection on kratos and enkrateia.
 It occurs to me that the contents and significance of each one of the petitions of the Our Father are all contained, in their entirety, within the august performative pronounced by the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation/Incarnation: “Fiat”! It is all summed up in one word.
 Eis [inside, into] – enegkes à phero [bring upon, take, carry, transport] but here, the mid-conjugational form means: take away (for oneself), bring upon oneself, return, compile, recollect, obtain, receive, reach, win. Perhaps then, “Do not let us, in temptation, be interiorly overtaken”? “Let not temptation win in us, take us away”?
© 2016 – Benjamin Oldani para el Centro de Estudios Católicos – CEC