Unpacking the Perfect Prayer

Based on CCC 2761-2865

Jesus “was praying at a certain place, and when he was finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.'” In response, the Lord entrusted to his disciples and his Church the fundamental Christian prayer, the Our Father.

St. Luke presents a brief text of five petitions, while St. Matthew gives a more developed version of seven petitions. The liturgical tradition of the Church has followed St. Matthew’s text.

Early Christians prayed the Our Father three times a day and it has always been associated with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Mass.

The doxology, “For the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory are yours, now and forever,” which follows the Our Father is not found in the most ancient Gospel texts, but it does date back to very early Church tradition.

The Our Father uses some unfamiliar, old English words: “Art” is a form of “is,” while the word “thy” means “your.” Thus, the prayer begins, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

We pray “Our Father” rather than “My Father” because our relationship with God is not individualistic, but communion that includes our brothers and sisters as well.

Our Father above surpasses the excellence of all good fathers on earth, and He is the ideal that inferior fathers fail to embody.

Saying “Our Father who art in heaven” does not point to some spatial place far away, but speaks to His beatific majesty among us.

For the Jews, seven was a number symbolizing perfection. The Our Father consists of seven petitions. The first three mainly address God’s glory: “thy name, thy kingdom, thy will.” The last four refer to our needs: “give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.”

“Hallowed be thy name” We cannot make God more holy; but his name, his person, can be regarded as more sacred among us. Not only does this rule out blasphemy, but prays that all would come to a deeper personal relationship with Him.

“Thy Kingdom come” We pray for the fullness of His kingdom, his kingship, and his reign on earth. The Kingdom of God has begun among us with Christ, but the evils on earth show that it has not yet come in full measure.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Imagine if everyone on earth did His will as perfectly as the saints and angels? These first three petitions are advanced by God’s graces and our cooperation.

“Give us this day our daily bread” We need three kinds of sustenance: literal food for our survival, gracious rations for our many other human needs, and the Most Holy Eucharist for our perfection.

We pray “this day” for “our daily bread” to emphasize our constant reliance and trust.

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” Jesus tells us that if we do not forgive others from our hearts, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You can pray for your enemies, know that you are loving them as a friend.

“And lead us not into temptation” God tempts no one. The original Greek can be translated, “Do not allow us to enter into temptation,” or “Do not let us yield to temptation.” We know our weakness and should pray for protection and deliverance.

“But deliver us from evil” We pray for freedom from all evils; present, past, & future; of which Satan, the Evil One, is the primary author or instigator. Just as the listings of apostles begin with Peter and end with Judas, so the Lord’s prayer begins with Our Father and ends with evil. Our confident, loving focus is on God, but we should not be naively unaware of the enemy of our souls.

With this deeper understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, the perfect prayer, try praying its words slowly and meditatively for new intimacy and fruits.

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