A Short Exegesis on the Our Father


As the prayer taught by Christ Himself, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is the most ‘perfect’ of vocal prayers, summing all that we might ask and petition from God the Father. There are two ‘versions’, one in Luke, and one in Matthew, with tradition following the latter, which is more complete. What follows is a brief summary, following the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of the basic meaning of the prayer, even if much – much – more could be said.

The prayer begins not with a petition, but with a declaration, an address or salutation, if you will: That God is our Father, which was unheard of in any religion (and still is, outside of Christianity). Only by Revelation would we dare to say this to the Almighty. To this day, Islam rejects this truth – seeing Allah as a lawgiver, as pure will, opaque and unknowable. Au contraire, says the Church, we truly are children of God, not just in a metaphorical sense, but real. We share in His very nature, and are adopted as ‘sons and daughters’ in Christ (cf., #2782), with the certainty of being loved (#2778)

There are any number of implications of this truth, as the Catechism teaches, for this is not just an epistemological teaching – that we ‘know’ God as Father (#278) – but ontological, in changing our very being, our very nature, divinizing us, if we but allow God to work on us through His providence (a fitting reminder in our current crisis).

When we address God as Father, we address both the First Person of the Blessed Trinity, as well as the ‘whole’ of the Godhead, the Trinity as ‘One’ (#2789). Recall that God always acts as one ‘outside’ of Himself, in the divine economy, but as ‘three’ within His own Being, to which we have access in Christ, to the very throne of God. This really should make us pause in wonder.

As such, He is ‘Our’ Father, that is, of all people on the face of the Earth. Recall the teaching of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (par. 13d), that all men either belong (pertinent) or are ordered to (ordinantur) the Church and Christ’s Mystical Body. Hence, this is truly the ecumenical prayer, able to said by all (even Muslims, should they ever accept the Fatherhood of God).

God is in ‘heaven’, (#2794), which is not so much a place – for God is not contained by anything – but rather a state, if you will, a way of being. Heaven is not ‘out there’, but all around us, past the veil of this transient life. This opens our horizons, that life is not really about this life, and only in the next, as Leo XIII wrote, will we truly begin to live, with God, forever.

What follows are the seven petitions, summing up all we may fittingly ask of God:

Hallowed be thy name: We are not only saying that God’s Name is holy – recall the revelation of the YHWH to Moses, the name as revealing something essential about a person, and all that implies – but more, that God’s name be held as holy (#2807), and that by our lives, our words and actions, we may signify the holiness of God’s name, and so bring ourselves and others to heaven.

Thy Kingdom Come: The primary intent of this petition, perhaps surprisingly, is to pray for the world to end, and Christ’ kingdom to be definitively established (#2818). Hence, like our Faith, it is eschatological (fitting, again, for our current situation). Yet, before we get too end-time-ish, we should recall that this final kingdom depends upon our life here on Earth, through all the generations that God wills to exist, through the ‘progress in culture and society’ (#2820). We must distinguish between our priorities in this world and those of the next, between Caesar and Christ. This planet will not exist forever – a reminder to the climate-change zealots – and the purpose of this life is to bring ourselves and as many others as we might, in whatever vocation to which we are called, to heaven.

Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven: In one sense, as Father Blair said the other day, God’s will is always done, but we pray that His be perfectly done (here on Earth, ‘as it is in heaven’), what we call in theology His antecedent will. God in one sense wills, or permits, all things, good and evil (the evil by what is termed His consequent will). As the saying goes, He writes straight with crooked lines. Hence, we pray that we may “‘discern the will of God’, and obtain the endurance to do it” in each situation (#2826), especially both the small and the momentous moments of our lives, in imitation of Christ (#2823, 2834)

Give us this Day our Daily Bread: We pray for what we need for this ‘endurance’ to do God’s will, all the spiritual and material assistance to carry this out. The term in the original Greek for ‘daily’ is epiousios (#2837) which literally means ‘super- substantial’, the only time this word occurs in the New Testament (what is called a hapax-legomenon). Hence, primarily, and most of all, we pray for the sustenance of the Holy Eucharist, Christ’s own Body and Blood, His very ‘substance’, to nourish on our pilgrimage, daily, if possible and practical, but, hopefully, at least weekly. (Again, a propos for our times!)

And Forgive Us our Trespasses, as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us: As today’s Gospel (Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent) reminds us, in Saint Peter’s question about how many times must we forgive, the answer is, as many times as God forgives, which is as many times as someone asks. This is an aspect of the prayer of contrition (#2839), realizing that we have been forgiven ‘ten thousand talents’ worth by God (for any offense against God is in one sense ‘infinite’), and we should – must – forgive the ‘hundred denarii’ of what others have, or may have, done to us. We should remember that there is no limit to the divine forgiveness (#2845), except whatever limits we may place in ourselves on receiving this forgiveness (see the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’, usually interpreted as the refusal to avail oneself of God’s mercy, the biblical notion of ‘hardness of heart’).

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation: This is a controversial petition, for the Letter of James reminds us (1:13) that God tempts no one (hence, Pope Francis’ intention to alter the wording of this petition). We are asking in this prayer to discern between temptations – which, as scandals, lead us to sin – and trials or tests, which God does indeed send, to increase our virtue, to discipline us, testing us like ‘gold in a furnace’.  Sometimes, there is a fine line between the two. At what point does a roommate go from being a test, to a temptation, and one or the other has to move on out?

We must also discern between a temptation, which are inevitable in this life, and consenting to these temptations. See back to the question on morose delectation, particularly with sexual sins, but they apply really to all our disordered desires, of the passion, the mind and the heart, where our deepest decisions are made (#2428). This life is a spiritual battle, and, by God’s grace, he who conquers against the ’world, the flesh and the devil’, only possible in prayer, wins the prize.

But Deliver Us from Evil: This petition applies primarily to the ‘Evil One’, as the term is in the masculine, referring to the personal presence of evil, the devil, dia-bolos, who throws himself against God’s plan, Satan, the ‘adversary’ (#2851). But we also ask to be delivered from all the evils we might – past, present and future (#2854) – in accordance with God’s will (see above), for God will send necessary suffering, to lead us to repentance, conversion and spiritual growth. Yet He is a merciful God, and, as with the people after the flood, the people of Israel, and so on through the ages, will temper His discipline with mercy and love (again, quite applicable in our times).

The Final Doxology: This give glory (doxa) to God, for all that He is, and done, said at the Mass (and by some Protestants in their versions). All power belongs to Him, not to the ‘prince of this world’, but His kingdom will only finally be revealed at the end of time.