Prayer is one of the pillars of Lent. We are especially called to deepen our prayer life during Lent. In response to His disciples’ request “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), Jesus teaches them the fundamental Christian prayer, the Our Father, also known as the Lord’s Prayer. The Our Father is without doubt one of the most popular prayers found in the Christian tradition. It is included in the celebration of most sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick). It is said daily at every Mass and in the Divine Office; it introduces each of the five decades of the rosary. The Author or the Composer of this prayer is no one else than God Himself. The prayer is found in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:9‐15), and in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 11:2‐4). Pope Benedict XVI notes that in Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord’s Prayer is preceded by a short catechesis on prayer which serves as a warning against false forms of prayer. “Prayer must not be an occasion for showing off before others; it requires the discretion that is essential to a relation of love.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 128. Kindle Edition.) We find the Lord’s Prayer in a different context in Luke’s Gospel. It occurs within Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, showing that Jesus’ entire ministry arose from His prayer, and was sustained by it. (Ibid., 132)
The Lucan version of the Lord’s Prayer is much shorter than the Matthean version. The Matthean form of Our Father which the Church has retained is as follows: 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. (Cf. Matthew 6:9‐13)
After the initial address to the Father, the prayer itself is composed of seven petitions: three “thy‐petitions” (thy name, thy kingdom, thy will) followed by four “us‐petitions” (give us, forgive us, lead us not and deliver us). Thus, the first three petitions focus on God Himself and His cause in this world; the four following petitions concern our hopes, needs, and hardships. This teaches us to focus first on God’s will above our own preferences in our prayers. Only then do we focus on our own needs. Pope Benedict XVI points out that “the relationship between the two sets of petitions in the Our Father could be compared to the relationship between the two tablets of the Decalogue.” (Jesus of Nazareth, p.134) If we are to petition God in the right way, we must put God and His Kingdom first. Otherwise, nothing can turn out right. In order to pray the right way, our relation to God must be rightly ordered. (Cf. Jesus of Nazareth, p. 134). The Lord’s Prayer speaks of ‘our’ needs rather than just ‘my’ needs. We focus on ourselves not as individuals, but as members of a community. In praying the ‘us‐petitions,’ we pray not just for ourselves but for others as well.
Here is a brief commentary on each of the seven petitions of Our Father as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- By asking “hallowed be thy name” we enter into God’s plan, the sanctification of his name—revealed first to Moses and then in Jesus—by us and in us, in every nation and in each man.
- By the second petition, the Church looks first to Christ’s return and the final coming of the Reign of God. It also prays for the growth of the Kingdom of God in the “today” of our own lives.
- In the third petition, we ask our Father to unite our will to that of his Son, so as to fulfill his plan of salvation in the life of the world.
- In the fourth petition, by saying “give us,” we express in communion with our brethren our filial trust in our heavenly Father. “Our daily bread” refers to the earthly nourishment necessary to everyone for subsistence, and also to the Bread of Life: the Word of God and the Body of Christ. It is received in God’s “today,” as the indispensable, (super‐) essential nourishment of the feast of the coming Kingdom anticipated in the Eucharist.
- The fifth petition begs God’s mercy for our offenses, mercy which can penetrate our hearts only if we have learned to forgive our enemies, with the example and help of Christ.
- When we say “lead us not into temptation” we are asking God not to allow us to take the path that leads to sin. This petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength; it requests the grace of vigilance and final perseverance.
- In the last petition, “but deliver us from evil,” Christians pray to God with the Church to show forth the victory, already won by Christ, over the “ruler of this world,” Satan, the angel personally opposed to God and to his plan of salvation.
- By the final “Amen,” we express our “fiat” concerning the seven petitions: “So be it.”(CCC 2858‐2865)
Tertillian declared that the Lord’s Prayer “is truly a summary of the whole Gospel.” St. Thomas Aquinas called it the “most perfect of prayers.” It is the model of all other prayers. The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar to many of us because we pray it every day. For that reason, we can sometimes find ourselves reciting this beautiful prayer babbling like pagans, thoughtlessly reciting it while our mind is somewhere else entirely. But, Jesus warns us that in praying, /we should avoid babbling like the pagans. (Cf. Matthew 6:7) We should instead raise our mind and heart to God in humility, and mean every single word when praying. If we catch ourselves being distracted while praying, let us simply return our mind to hearfelt prayer which is pleasing to God.