With the Our Father, Jesus taught us how to pray
Pilgrims pray the Lord's Prayer during a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City for the faithful of his archdiocese at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The 39th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 578-597 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Observing Jesus at prayer, his disciples asked him for instruction on how to pray (cf. Lk 11:1). In response, Jesus taught them the Our Father, a prayer that is so familiar to us that we often say the words without reflecting on their meaning. Fittingly, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church concludes with a brief but illuminating section on the prayer that the Lord himself taught us (580).
The Our Father is found in Scripture during the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus also gave us the Beatitudes (Mt 5-7). The Our Father embodies the Beatitudes, which Blessed John Paul II called the "self-portrait" of Christ and the "blueprint" for holiness.
From the earliest times, the Our Father was "handed on" to those who were baptized. Reborn in Christ as members of the Church, we become capable of "speaking to God with the very Word of God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2769). The true home of the Our Father is in the celebration of the Eucharist, which embodies its seven petitions (Compendium, 581).
In the Our Father we approach God the Father with simplicity and trust. When the eternal Son became man, he revealed the Father to us. The Holy Spirit joins us to Christ so that we may have knowledge of the Father and become his children. As we call upon God as our Father, the Spirit rekindles our desire to live as his sons and daughters (582-3).
CENTERED ON GOD
Every word counts in the Our Father, beginning with the simple word "our." To call God "our" Father is to affirm our relationship with him. In saying "our" Father, we also say that the Church of Christ is the communion of those who call God their Father (584). Thus the Our Father is implicitly a prayer for the unity of the Church and the unity of the entire human family (585).
In adding the phrase "who art in heaven," we acknowledge the utter grandeur of God, who is not diminished or "domesticated" when we call him our Father. Rather, in Christ and the Holy Spirit, we are lifted up to share the Father's glory (586).
After these opening words come the seven petitions. The first three praise God for his glory even as we ask to be drawn ever more deeply into that glory. The last four ask God to bend down to assist us in our need: "to feed us, to forgive us, to sustain us in temptation, and to free us from the Evil One" (587).
With the first petition — "hallowed be thy Name" — we are asking to be made holy by professing God's Name and by making it known to the ends of the earth (588-589).
In the second petition — "thy Kingdom come" — we pray for Christ to come in glory at the end of time and also ask to share in the holiness of the Kingdom of God (590). In effect, we are asking to be equipped to build a "civilization of love."
The third petition — "on earth as it is in heaven" — involves praying for a share in the perfect and loving obedience of Christ. We ask the Father to unite our will with that of his Son, just as he has done in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. We also beg that God's plan of salvation be realized in our lives and that we may know and do his will (591).
PRAYING FOR OUR NEEDS
The final four petitions relate to our human condition and begin with a prayer for "our daily bread." Here we ask God for what we need while recognizing that we do not live "on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4). Thus, we seek to be nourished by the living Word of God and by the Body of Christ in the Eucharist (Compendium, 592-3).
In the fifth petition — "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" — we beg God to forgive our sins, confident as we are in the power of his love. As we say these words, however, we can hear Jesus saying to us, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Mt 5:7). Even God's mercy cannot enter a heart that is hardened by hatred. In opening our hearts to Christ's love, we find the grace to forgive our enemies. When we do so, we share in divine mercy and the peace of God's Kingdom (Compendium, 594-5).
By the sixth petition — "Lead us not into temptation" — we ask God to stand by us so that we may clearly know right from wrong, have the strength to persevere in holiness, and be one with Jesus who overcame temptation by prayer (596).
In the final petition we pray, "deliver us from evil." Here we ask to be delivered from the grasp of Satan who works to harm us both physically and spiritually. We make this prayer not only for ourselves but indeed for all the Church and for the world. We pray with confidence because we believe that Christ has already conquered sin and death by his own death and resurrection (597).
The last word of the Our Father is "Amen," by which we express our assent to the prayer Jesus taught us. May our lives also express our assent to this prayer, which is itself a compendium of the Christian faith.