The “Our Father”

When His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, Jesus taught us the perfect prayer, the Our Father (see Matthew 6.9-15). This prayer is the summary of the Gospel and the relationship of God with His people. St. Teresa of Jesus praised this prayer: “The sublimity of the perfection of this evangelical prayer is something for which we should give great praise to the Lord. So well composed by the good Master was it, that each of us may use it in her own way.” (Way of Perfection, 37.1) The Our Father is used throughout the liturgies of the Church; it is the hallmark prayer of Christianity.

In reciting the Our Father, we pray with Jesus’ own words, with reverence and care. St. Teresa of Jesus advises: “I want you to understand that, if you are to recite the [Our Father] well, one thing is needful: you must not leave the side of the Master Who has taught it you.” (WOP 24.5)

Our Father – How are mortal, sinful creatures to address the perfect omnipotent One? From the simplicity of humble hearts, united with His Son Jesus, we are given the grace of adoption as children of God, and we are able to address Him in this privileged way. St Paul wrote: “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galations 4.6)

Who art in heaven – Jesus explains that heaven exists in the heart of the one who loves Him, cherishes His Word, and keeps His commandments: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14.23) Heaven is our homeland which beckons to us from eternity. It is where we hope to dwell forever.

Hallowed be Thy name – In this first of seven petitions, we ask the all-holy God to purify us and make us holy, that our lives may be a living testimony to the holiness of His name. Our faith is expressed in declaring Jesus our Lord, who humbled himself obediently unto death on a cross, by which: “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2.9)

Thy kingdom come – In this petition, we express our hope in asking the King of heaven to establish His kingdom among us. Since Pentecost, the coming of the kingdom has gradually been unfolding in time through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on God’s people. “The kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit.” (Romans 14.17) Jesus said: “Behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17.21)

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – In this petition, we express our love by desiring to serve God according to His will. Jesus expresses God’s will in the new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13.34) He expressed this perfect love in self-sacrifice as He prayed to the Father at Gethsemane: “Father,…not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22.42) In our prayer, we discern God’s will in our lives, and we are given the grace to carry out His will. We take heart in knowing that He “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2.4)

Give us this day our daily bread – In this petition, we acknowledge our expectation of God’s providence for our needs and the needs of our Sisters and Brothers in Christ. We ask to partake of Christ Himself, who said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6.51) In the Eucharist and in the reading of the Word, we are nourished in spirit and receive the sustenance of His grace.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us – In this petition, we ask the Lord to have mercy on us and to give us the grace to forgive one another from the heart. Jesus commanded us to: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6.36-37) If we are unable to forgive another, then our hearts are hardened and we are unable to receive God’s mercy. Forgiveness liberates our hearts and enables us to “love [our] enemies and do good to them” (Luke 6.35)

And lead us not into temptation – In this petition, we ask God to be our strength in temptation, to help us avoid occasions of sin, and to guide us in making the right moral choices. We ask for the grace to be vigilant for the subtle deceptions of evil, and to persevere in the battle against our innate tendency to sin.

But deliver us from evil – In this petition, we ask for protection from the devil, for the whole Church and her members. While victory over him was won at the moment of Jesus’ passion, he nonetheless continues in his battle against God and His Church. Jesus tells us that the devil is our true adversary, that “he was a murderer from the beginning,… he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) We pray for deliverance of the world from all evil injustices and the sufferings which result from them.

Holy Spirit, instill this prayer
Etched in the fabric of each soul;
The Lord’s own words, beyond compare,
Reach the Father whom we extol. Amen.

References:

St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2759 – 2865

(c) Paul Buis, 2005