By every standard of comparison, the most popular prayer in
existence is the Our Father. One sign of its popularity is the number of
polyglot collections of the Lords Prayer which have been published at various
times since the invention of printing. Already in 1787 the Spaniard Hervaz
printed the Pater Noster in three hundred
and seven dialects and languages, and the practice of multi-lingual editions
has been going on ever since.
But the Lords Prayer is not only the most popular prayer in
existence, it is also the most important. According to St. Augustine, whatever
else we say when we pray, if we pray as we should, we are only saying what is
already contained in the Lords Prayer (Letter
The Recitation of the Lords Prayer has been woven into the
fabric of popular devotion since the days of the catacombs. It forms part of
the Divine Office and has been so closely associated with the Sacrifice of the
Mass that some have mistakenly thought that without the Pater Noster there would be no valid consecration
of the Holy Eucharist.
One more reflection: If the Our Father is so popular and so
important, is it also the perfect model of what all our prayers should be? Yes.
One Father and Doctor of the church after another Saints Cyprian and
Augustine, Teresa of Avila and Robert Bellarmine did not hesitate to say that
the Lords Prayer is the divinely revealed pattern of what all Christian
prayers should be.
Brevity and Scope
The brevity of the Our Father is remarkable, because the
number of its petitions could hardly be shorter and yet more exalted. The
special merit of this brevity is that it can be easily memorized. Since the
early days of the Church, those preparing for baptism were expected to recite
the Lords Prayer by heart.
Moreover, we are thereby reminded that there is no need of much talking
when we pray. Why not? Because we are speaking to God who knows what we
need before we ask Him. What is nore important is the devotion and
fervor of spirit with which we pray.
The masters of the spiritual life found in the Our Father a proof of the
wisdom of Christ, who compressed into a few words all the desires and
aspirations of the human heart in its intimate communication with God.
Perfection of the Lords Prayer
Among the many saintly commentators on the Lords Prayer,
St. Thomas Aquinas explains why it must be the most perfect prayer that we can
The Pater Noster was
taught us by Christ Himself. It was also the only prayer He taught us to say.
And He gave it to us in answer to the request of His disciples, Lord, teach us
to pray (Luke 11:1).
However, what makes it also commendable is that the
structure of the Our Father is perfect.
Since prayer is an interpretation
of our desires, we should only pray for those things which are proper
for us to desire
Now in the Lords Prayer what we
are asking for from God is everything that we may lawfully
ambition. It is, therefore, not
only a catalogue of petitions but also, and especially, a corrective for
Thus the first object of our desires
is our last end; then the means to arrive at this end. But our end is God, to
whom our affections incline in two ways: the one in desiring the glory of God,
the other in wishing to enjoy this divine glory. The first belongs to charity
by which we love God in Himself; the second to charity by which we love
ourselves in God. So, the first petition, Hallowed beThy name, asks for the
glory of God; and the second, Thy Kingdom come, asks that we may come to the
enjoyment of this glory
Moreover, we are directed to the
end of our existence either by something which is essential or by something
which is accidental as a means of salvation. But, it can be essential again
either directly, according to the merit by which we deserve beatitude because
we are obedient to God, and in this sense we ask: They will be done on earth
as it is in heaven; or it may be only instrumental, although essential,
because it helps us to merit heaven. And in this respect we say: Give us this
day our daily bread, whether we understand this of the sacramental bread of
the Eucharist, the daily use of which is profitable to salvation, or of the
bread of the body, which is symbolic for a sufficiency of food
We are also directed to heaven,
accidentally, by the removal of obstacles to beatitude; 1) sin, which directly
excludes man from the kingdom of God. Therefore, we pray Forgive us our
trespasses; 2) temptation, which leads us into sin. Hence our sixth petition,
Lead us not into temptation; 3) temporal evils, the consequence of sin, which
make the burden of life too heavy. Consequently, our final petition, Deliver
us from evil (Summa Theologica, II, II,
Centuries before St. Thomas and ever since, theologians and
mystics, exegetes and moralists have written extensively and in depth,
explaining the seven petitions of the Lords Prayer and applying its lessons to
our daily lives.
Words of the Our Father
There are two versions of the Our Father in the gospels. The
longer version is in St. Matthews Gospel, where it forms part of Christs
Sermon on the Mount. The Lord is explaining how we should pray, and warns His
disciples not to multiply words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by talking
a great deal, they will be heard. Christians are not to pray in this way. Why
not? Because God already knows what we need before we ask Him. In this manner
therefore shall you pray:
|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 debts, as we also forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil. Amen (Matthew 6:9-15).
The foregoing is the text in the Latin Vulgate of the New
Already in apostolic times, the Pater
Noster was part of the Eucharistic liturgy, where it was followed by
the words, For thine is the power and the glory, for evermore. This ending
occurs in the first-century liturgical manual, The
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (8:2). It was taken over by the
Eastern Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and may be found in some gospel
manuscripts. Since the Second Vatican Council, the liturgical addition called
the embolism is part of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Latin Rite.
In St. Lukes Gospel, the Lords Prayer occurs as part of
the narrative in which the disciples find Jesus praying in a certain place.
After He has finished praying, one of the disciples asks Him, Lord, teach us
to pray, even as John also taught his disciples. He told them, When you pray,
|Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation (Luke 11:2-4).
The Church has adopted St. Matthews text for the liturgy
and for its daily use by the faithful.
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