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The Use of the Word “Lord”

Notes from the Pastor [78]

(Please note this is an archival post that is decades old.  Msgr. Awalt passed away a number of years ago.)

Lord is not Jesus’ first name as in Lord Jesus Christ, although we may inadvertently assume it is.  “Lord” is not who Jesus is but what He is.  It helps to keep this in mind in our prayers, especially at Mass and in the Liturgy.  The Holy Spirit moves us to prayer.  We pray to the Father and we pray in, with and through Jesus Christ.  It is good to keep that direction in mind.

For instance, in the Offertory prayer of the bread, we say, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.”  We are speaking to God, not to Jesus as such.  Usually when we invoke in our prayers, “the Lord,” we are referring to God.  Jesus is Lord, the Scripture tells us, meaning that Jesus who is man, in virtue of the Incarnation, is also God.  As a man, He prays for and with us and as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He receives our prayers of  petition, thanks and adoration, etc.  Does this mean it is incorrect to pray directly to Jesus?  Of course not!  It is the fine distinction that every time the word “Lord” occurs in our liturgical prayers, “Lord” does not apply to Jesus, but is a prayer directed to the Triune God.  Making it absolutely clear, “the Lord” does not refer to Jesus’ identity, but to what He is– “Lord.”

Keep this in the back of your mind and you will be surprised at your awareness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Liturgy.  Obviously, when we use “Father” as in the Our Father or “Holy Spirit” we are directing our prayers to a person.  When we use “Lord” it is usually to the Godhead, not to Jesus individually.

Msgr. William J. Awalt

3 Responses

  1. I would object to the critique that there is something schizophrenic about the Catholic usage. It is true that the word “Lord,” sometimes transliterated as either Kyrios or Kurios, usually refers to Jesus in the New Testament. However, Christian liturgy finds its roots in Judaism and the general use of the word for God. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) where the word “Lord” is substituted for Yahweh precedes the formation of the New Testament. We are faithful to this sacred tradition even though it requires us to make a distinction between how it generally applies to God the Father or the Trinity in the Mass and to Jesus in New Testament soteriology.

    Further, as a corrective, it is important to note that we are talking about the various Persons in the divine godhead and that there are not three deities. It is also essential that while we speak of the “only begotten” Son and the Holy Spirit as “proceeding from” the Father and the Son, the Church has long objected to a strict subordinationism as problematical (going back to Arius). The Second and Third Persons of the Blessed Trinity are “consubstantial” with the Father. Following the creed, the Persons of the Trinity are understood as co-eternal and of equal divine glory.

  2. The NT usage seems to be:

    “God” = the Father
    “Lord” = the Son
    “[Holy] Spirit” = the Holy Spirit.

    IOW, one of the ways in which the NT affirms the Deity of Father and Son, without confusing or separating Them, is by applying a different Name of the OT God to Each, in such a way as to avoid prejudicing the (economic) subordination of the Son to the Father.

    The NT is an exemplary model of how to present a thoroughly Biblical, liturgical & orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

    Jesus is “Lord” because:
    – He is JHWH; IOW He is identified as the One Whose Name is revealed to Moses in Exod. 3.14, because the LXX renders the Hebrew Tetragrammaton by *Kurios*, “Lord”.
    – He is also Lord because He is JHWH’s Chosen & Anointed, His Messianic King, of Whom the Father says: “The LORD said to My Lord, “Sit Thou at my right hand until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.”.”
    – Which makes St Luke 1.42 a recognition of the Kingship of Christ.

    The Kingship of [God, through] Christ is arguably the fundamental NT doctrine, which sheds light on all the others.

    The Biblical revelation of the Lordship of God & of Christ ought to control what the the ascription “Lord” means in the Liturgy. Otherwise, there is a danger that Liturgical theology will develop in independence of its foundations in the Bible, and result in two sets of unrelated or semi-independent meanings: which could lead to schizophrenia in theology and prayer. Schizophrenia of this kind is what Vatican 2 tried so hard to overcome. The “unity of the Faith” requires that the meanings of terms in Biblical and liturgical theology should not diverge. Therefore, theology needs at all times to be close to its Biblical roots, even though the Primary Revelation is not that in Scripture, but that in Christ.

  3. I would like to offer a further clarification upon what Msgr. Awalt is discussing.  Catholic liturgical prayers are most often addressed to God the Father.  We often use the word “Lord” in how we address God; however, it is also true that we offer our prayers through “the Lord” Jesus Christ.  If it seems confusing, just note that the word “Lord” is somewhat multivalent in meaning and the mystery of the Trinity and the Incarnation further complicates matters.

    The use of the word “Lord” as a name of God goes back to the Old Testament where it was substituted for Yahweh. We speak of Christ as Lord from his birth, which is what Msgr. Awalt means when he refers to the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.  Certain theologians will also speak about Jesus as Lord because of his Cross and the role that he plays as both priest and victim in his paschal mystery.  The title “Lord” is then appreciated as won by his sacrifice and redemptive work.  This is close to what Msgr. means when he says that it refers to “what” Jesus is.  Our profession of Jesus Christ as Lord in the Creed is a recognition of both elements:  Incarnation = Divine King and Redeemer = Almighty with All Dominion.

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