The Our Father


Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants by God - by MICHELANGELO Buonarroti - from Cappella Sistina, Vatican

We call God "Father" because He created us -
and created us in a special way, in His own Image and Likeness.

 

The Our Father

Our Father, Who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Amen.

Pater Noster

Pater Noster, qui es in caelis,
sanctificetur nomen tuum.
Adveniat regnum tuum.
Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie,
et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos
dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem,
sed libera nos a malo.

Amen.

 

The Our Father

by Father Reginald Martin, O.P.

The Perfect Prayer

In his Account of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Saint Matthew records the Fifty-Four (54) Words that we call either "The Our Father" or "The Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:9-13). Composed as it is of the Savior's Own Words, this Prayer demands our attention, and Sets the Example for all other Prayer.

Saint Thomas Aquinas writes at some length on Prayer in the Summa Theologica. When he considers the "Lord's Prayer", he quotes Saint Augustine, who remarks, "If we Pray Rightly and Fittingly, we can say nothing else but what is contained in this Prayer of Our Lord" (II-II, 83.9). Saint Thomas teaches that our Prayer can only express a Desire for something Good, and since the "Our Father" consists of Jesus' Own Words, we have Our Savior's own Guarantee that we are seeking everything we may Properly Desire when we offer this Prayer.

But Saint Thomas says we should also look at the 'Way' the "Our Father" is Structured. The 'Order' of the Petitions gives us the 'Order' in which we ought to Desire the Good Things that God offers us. The "Lord's Prayer", thus, not only teaches us What to Pray for, but teaches us the way we ought to ask for the things we desire. Before we consider the words of "The Our Father" in some depth, let us first consider some General Observations on Prayer.

 

The Ends and Means of Prayer

When we Pray we do not ask God to bend His Will so that it corresponds to ours. Rather, we ask for a Clearer Understanding of His Love, which gives us the confidence to approach Him in Prayer, and which reveals His Will for us. The first thing we must desire is God, so the "Our Father" begins by praising God's Glory, and then asks that we may share it. As the Prayer continues, we ask God to give us what we need to Help us come to His Everlasting Life, and we ask Him to remove the Obstacles that prevent us from devoting ourselves whole-heartedly to His Will.

 

The Five Conditions of Prayer:
- Confidence -

Throne of Grace

Scripture is filled with Admonitions that encourage us to approach God with Trust. "Let us go with confidence to the Throne of Grace" (Hebrews 4:16), "let him ask in Faith, with no doubting" (James 1:6), and when we say the words of the Our Father during the Mass, the Celebrant invites us to "Pray with Confidence".

The words of the "Our Father" are Jesus' own words, and we Pray them because they are the words Jesus Commanded us to use. Simply knowing that we are following Jesus' Instructions should provide Assurance that God will hear us. But the Privilege of using Jesus' own words is an additional Sign of His Friendship. One of the Church's early Theologians, Saint Cyprian, remarked, "to plead with the Lord in His own Words betokens the Prayer of an Intimate and Devoted Friend".

 

- Rectitude - and
- Order -

Saint John Damascene, another of the Church's early Theologians, taught, "to pray is to ask fitting things of God". This may seem obvious, but we need only consider some of our requests to realize that Praying Rightly is a more Challenging Task than it appears. Saint Paul noted the Necessity of the Holy Spirit's Assistance in our Prayers, "for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8:26), and Saint James reminds us that we often Pray for what we Want, not necessarily what we Need. "You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your Passions" (James 4:2, 3).

To use Our Savior's Words is to Pray with the Confidence that we are asking God for the Gifts proper to His Children. And because the "Lord's Prayer" asks first for God's Will to be done, and only then for what will Satisfy our Physical Needs, we have the additional Confidence that we are Praying in the manner Jesus desires when He Commands, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His Justice, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).

 

- Devotion -

The Dictionary defines Devotion as "Religious Ardor or Zeal; Ardent attachment or Affection". This definition reminds us that our Prayer should be characterized by 'Depth' rather than 'Length'. Jesus introduces the "Lord's Prayer" by warning His Disciples not to "heap up Empty Phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words" (Matthew 6:7). Saint Augustine repeats this Admonition, "Beware of Praying with many words: it is Fervent Attention that secures a Hearing".

Saint John Chrysostom makes a similar point. He notes that Scripture commands us to "be Constant in Prayer" (Romans 12:13), and makes a helpful distinction between the 'Length' of our Prayer and the 'Devotion' with which we should Pray.

    He seems to me to Command ... that neither should we make our Prayers Long; Long, I mean, not in Time, but in the Number and Length of the things mentioned ... Perseverance ... in the same requests is our duty.

Saint Thomas asserts that 'Devotion' arises from Charity, which is our Friendship for God. God's Love enables us to Love Him in return, and then to Love Creation as God Loves it. In the "Lord's Prayer" we express our Love for God by calling Him "Father"; at the same time, we express our Love for God's Creation by asking Him to "Forgive our Trespasses", i.e., the Offenses we have committed against others by not Loving them as we should.

- Humility -

Jesus contrasted the Example of the Pharisee's Prayer to that of a Sinner, and concluded His Parable with the words, "every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14). The Sinner in this story won Jesus' Praise for the Simplicity of his Prayer, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner". In the "Lord's Prayer" we likewise express our Utter Dependence on God's Mercy, and we do so in the Simplest possible Terms.

 

The Benefits of Prayer:
Remedy for Evil

The Scripture contains many examples of Prayer's ability to Cleanse Sinners from the Punishment due their Sinful Actions. Perhaps the most compelling of these examples is that of the so-called "Good" Thief, who begs Jesus for Mercy, and whom Jesus assures that he will share His Life in Heaven. But Prayer is also a Protection against Falling into Sin, as Saint James Counsels, when he writes, "Is any one of you in trouble, let him Pray" (James 5:13).

 

The Object we Desire

The Gospel is filled with Assurances that our Prayers will be answered. Jesus tells His Disciples, "whatever you ask for in Prayer, believe that you will receive it and you will" (Mark 11:24). Experience, however, teaches that God does not always give us what we ask for. The reason, Saint Thomas suggests, is that we do not ask for what is useful to our Salvation, and Saint Augustine reminds us that God may not grant a request "so as to bestow something preferable".

 

Friendship with God

The Virtue of Justice is the Habit of giving each person what he deserves. Because God is Infinitely Greater than we are, we may not think of Justice in our dealings with God. However, our Acts of Worship are nothing more than God deserves. Prayer is an expression of our Willingness to offer God an acceptable Gift; at the same time, Prayer expresses our Confidence, Trust, and Love. Therefore, Prayer enables us to grow in the Affection we show God, and equips us better to receive God's Love in return.

 

Our 'Father'

To call God "Father", as we do in the Lord's Prayer, expresses a Relation between God and us. Saint Augustine wrote, " ... by that appellation ... love is stirred up - for what ought to be dearer to sons than a father?"

Moreover, we call God "Father" because He Created us - and created us in a special way: in His Image and Likeness. This is a Privilege not granted the rest of Earthly Creation, and it admits us to an intimacy with God that He did not give His other Earthly Creatures. We also call God "Father" because - like a Human Parent - He guides our Actions. The rest of Earthly Creation follows God's Will without Choice or Thought; God allows us to Choose to serve Him, in Freedom.

Men and Angels, including Satan, were created by God in His Image and Likeness. Because of this we are all called to Act like God. Satan and his followers abused their Freedom and chose not to Act like God.

Finally, we call God "Father" because He has made us His Children. This may seem no more than common sense, but we must consider what it means to be God's Child. A child is not simply a small person; as a Legal Entity, a child enjoys certain rights, including the Right of Inheritance. To call God "Father" acknowledges the Greatness of God's Love for us, and expresses the confidence that we are Legitimate Heirs to His Kingdom, a Privilege not granted to Slaves, Clients, or Hired Hands.

 

'Our' Father

Every word of our Prayer is important, and Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that "by saying not 'my Father', which art in Heaven, but 'our Father'", the "Lord's Prayer" creates a Bond among God's Children, in which an individual "nowhere [looks] to his own, but everywhere to his Neighbor's Good". This point must not be underestimated: to offer the "Lord's Prayer" worthily we implicitly acknowledge both an Equality among all People, and a Willingness to be reconciled to our Neighbor - even our Enemies. Chrysostom writes,

    ... by this, He at once takes away Hatred, and quells Pride, and casts out Envy, and brings in the mother of all good things, even Charity, and exterminates the inequality of human things, and show how far the equality reaches between the king and the poor man ... in those things which are greatest and most indispensable we are all of us fellows ... For to all hath He given one Nobility, having vouchsafed to be called the Father of all alike.

We do not know how the words of the "Lord's Prayer" struck those who heard Jesus' great Sermon on the Mount, but we may imagine how startling the Saints' reflections on Our Lord's Words must have sounded to their contemporaries. Saint Augustine warns,

    Here ... is an admonition to the rich and those of noble birth ... when they have become Christians they should not comport themselves proudly towards the poor ... since together with them they call God "Our Father", - an expression which they cannot truly and piously use, unless they recognize that they themselves are Brethren.

Our World no longer admits the Rigid Class Distinctions that characterized life in Augustine's or Chrysostom's day, but we do not have to look far to discern Ethnic Tensions in our Society, or very real signs of Inequality and Hostility among groups of individuals. Saint Augustine reminds us that each of us stands equally Poor and Unworthy before God Whom we call Our Father - "a relationship which can be brought about by no expenditure of ours, but solely by God's Goodwill". Our Radical Equality before God challenges us to look beyond the differences that divide us, and to embrace one another in the common Poverty of Spirit that Unites us before the Immensity of God.

 

Our Rights and Obligations

God gives us the Privilege of addressing Him as "Father", a Title that expresses His Concern, Compassion, and Love for us. We may profitably inquire what God asks in return from the individuals He has thus Blessed.

 

A Fourfold Debt:
- Honor -

We are commanded to Honor our Human Parents, and we must show our Father in Heaven the same Honor. This means giving God the Praise due Him, and by living as Beings created in His Likeness. Our Growth in Virtue, our practice of the Works of Mercy, our growing closer to God in Prayer are the common means by which we pay Our Father this Honor He deserves.

 

- Imitation - and
- Obedience -

As children we were all taught, "beauty is as beauty does". If we are created in God's Image, we not only Look like God, we ought to Act as He does. Saint Paul urges the Ephesians, "Be ye Imitators of God as most dear children and walk in Love" (Ephesians 5: 1).

Here we must remember that imitating God is an Active Process. Mercy is not simply Sorrow for another, but Sorrow coupled with some Action to relieve another's Distress. God showed us the Greatest Mercy by taking on our Human Nature; we must employ this same Human Nature to establish - to whatever extent we can - God's Kingdom on Earth. We achieve this Goal as Jesus did, by being made, as Jesus was, "Obedient to the Father unto death" (Philippians 2:8).

 

- Patience -

"My son, reject not the correction of the Lord ... for whom the Lord loves, He chastens" (Proverbs 3:11). God's Plans are often obscure, and we frequently chafe under the delay that accompanies God's Answer to our Prayers. The final way we manifest the intimacy of our Relation with God is to abandon our own notion of what we need and when we should expect it. To wait is never easy; to wait in Hope is to experience Complete Trust in God's Providential Love.