By Tim Hedrick, Contributing Writer
Why do we pray the Our Father each week?
One of the most frequently prayed prayers among Catholics and Christians of other denominations is the Our Father. For most Christians, it is one of the first prayers that everyone learns from a young age. One of the main reasons it holds primacy in our faith and is prayed each week in the liturgy is that Jesus himself taught us the prayer. When asked by his disciples about how to pray, Jesus taught his disciples the prayer traditionally known as the “Our Father” or “the Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer appears in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.
Is there a particular structure to the Our Father?
After the initial address to the Father, the prayer itself is composed of seven petitions. There are three “thy-petitions” (thy name, thy kingdom, thy will) followed by four “us-petitions” (give us, forgive us, lead us not and deliver us). In order to better understand the Lord’s Prayer, it is important to briefly examine each petition.
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he did not teach them to pray “My Father,” but rather “Our Father.” This reminds us that we are God’s sons and daughters together in Christ, not as isolated individuals. It is only as the body of Christ that we can pray to God as Father. When we call God “Father,” it is a reminder for us to live as children in relation with God. In teaching us to call God “Father,” Jesus also tells us that we have the privilege to call God by the same name he used in his intimate relationship with the Father.
“Hallowed be thy name…”
In the first petition, we are asking that God’s name would be “hallowed” or sanctified. Objectively speaking, God’s name is already holy, but the prayer is asking that God make his name holy to all people through his works and deeds. (See Ezekiel 36:22-27.)
“Thy kingdom come…”
The second petition has a twofold meaning. First, we are praying for the coming of the kingdom of God here and now in our everyday lives. At the same time, we are also praying for Christ’s glorious return at the end of time and the final coming of the reign of God.
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
The third petition asks God that our will be conformed to his divine will. When Jesus was praying to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, he also used the words “thy will be done.” When we pray “thy will be done” we commit ourselves to following Jesus by taking up our cross.
“Give us this day, our daily bread…”
In the fourth petition, “give us” expresses our trust in our heavenly Father. “Our daily bread” refers to our earthly nourishment that is necessary to physically sustain us throughout the day and the Bread of Life (the Word of God and the Body of Christ) that spiritually nourishes us. As Catholics, we are privileged to receive the “Bread of Life” daily in the Mass.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
In the fifth petition, we beg for God’s mercy for the times that we have fallen short of loving God and loving our neighbor. We acknowledge that the Father’s mercy and forgiveness are able to penetrate our hearts to the extent that we are able to forgive our enemies.
“Lead us not into temptation…”
Some people wonder why we would ask God not to lead us into temptation. The letter of St. James clearly says that God does not tempt us with evil (James 1:13). Therefore, in this petition, we are asking that God does not allow us to take the path that leads to sin. We are praying to avoid the near occasion of sin.
“But deliver us from evil…”
Closely tied to the previous prayer, in this final petition, we are asking God to protect us from evil. The Catechism teaches that the “evil” in this petition is not an abstract evil, but actually “refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God” (CCC, 2851). While we acknowledge the reality of the devil, we place our trust in Christ and his definitive victory over evil on the cross.
After praying all of these petitions, we end by affirming our belief in all that we have prayed by saying “Amen” or “So be it!”
Why do some Christians add a line at the end of the Our Father?
Some Christians pray, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours for ever,” immediately at the end of the Our Father. While this line was not included in the prayer recorded by the Gospels, it was included in The Didache, a first or second century writing that summarizes much of the teaching of the apostles. Catholics pray this line during the liturgy, but only after a prayer by the priest, in order to honor the tradition while also maintaining the traditional prayer included in the Gospels.
Where can I learn more about the Our Father?
To read more about the Our Father, see Pope Benedict’s 2007 book entitled “Jesus of Nazareth,” Part 1. The Holy Father devotes Chapter Five entirely to the Lord’s Prayer. For more explanation of the seven petitions, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” has an entire section dedicated to the Our Father (CCC, 2759-2865). Much of the above information came from these two sources.
Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.