January 26, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

First of two columns on the Our Father

John F. Fink(Fourteenth in a series)

I need two columns to discuss the Our Father, and even that won’t be sufficient.

St. Thomas Aquinas called the Our Father “the most perfect of prayers” because “in it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.”

St. Augustine wrote: “Run though all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer.”

It is called the Lord’s Prayer, of course, because Jesus taught it to us, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s the perfect prayer.

When Jesus taught it to his disciples, it was new. The Jews, of course, never called God “Father,” much less “our Father.” It was Jesus, who was God the Son, who not only revealed the Father to us but also taught us that we could have an intimate relationship to him as we do (hopefully) to our human father. Furthermore, when we pray to the Father we also adore and glorify God the Son and the Holy Spirit since the Trinity is consubstantial and indivisible.

When we pray “who art in heaven,” we are not referring to a place but to God’s majesty. St. Augustine wrote, “ ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “When the Church prays ‘our Father who art in heaven,’ she is professing that we are the People of God, already seated ‘with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ ” (#2796).

The catechism also tells us that, after addressing God and thereby placing ourselves in his presence, we pray seven petitions. “The first three, more theological,” it says, “draw us toward the glory of the Father; the last four, as ways toward him, commend our wretchedness to his grace.”

The first of the three theological “petitions” don’t seem like petitions to me. “Hallowed be thy name” seems more as though we are praising God for his holiness, recognizing that his name is holy. The catechism teaches us, though, that “this petition is here taught to us by Jesus as an optative: a petition, a desire, and an expectation in which God and man are involved” (#2807).

We are asking, in effect, that the name of God should be made holy in us through our actions. St. Peter Chrysologus, one of the doctors of the Church, reminded us that “God’s name is blessed when we live well, but is blasphemed when we live wickedly.”

We then pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Although the Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper and is in our midst in the Eucharist, this petition refers primarily to the final coming of the reign of God after Christ’s return.

Continued next week. †

Local site Links: