The Lord's Prayer

Traditionally we divide prayer into four kinds:

The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6.9-13; Luke 11.1-4) is primarily one of supplication, although the first three petitions glorify God. Prayer, in both senses, is the interpretation of right desire.

We need to establish what such prayer means. Such prayer is born out of an acknowledgment of need, an honest recognition of spiritual poverty. Ruth Burrows writes:

"Isn't Christian existence itself petition? ... It is the expression of dependency, of the awareness of our  limitation and helplessness in so many areas. ... Petition, asking, is the practical admission that we are to receive, to be 'done unto' and the deeper our faith the more we know that this is pure blessedness. ... The Church's liturgical prayer is almost all an asking." (Burrows, Ruth: Letters on Prayer, London, Sheed & Ward, 1999).

We will be using the text from Matthew as the subject of our reflections:

1. Our Father - The prayer is often introduced with the phrase: "Let us pray with confidence ..." as we should be able to pray with confidence to our Father, Father by virtue of his creating us in his own image and, as Christians, by virtue of Baptism.

Aquinas says this opening phrase achieves five things; it:

At the same time we overcome three errors; that:

The paradox is that although outcomes are predestined, so are our prayers. God wants to be asked.

We say "Our Father" and not "My father" because prayer is corporate.

2. Who art in heaven - This phrase refers to God's unlimited power; but god is also close to us, particularly when we try to draw close to him; he is both immanent and transcendent, cf. Matthew 10.29-30. How much more are humans subject to God's care?

3. Hallowed be thy name - We seek the glory of God because it is of all things the most desirable. We are in no way blessing God but merely wishing that all people will hallow God's name, an end which was greatly advanced by the incarnation and which it is Christ's mission, through us, to advance.

4. Thy kingdom come - To be in God's kingdom is perfect freedom. We ask that it "come(s)" because all things on earth are not yet perfected but will be in the kingdom;  we are praying for the beatitudes which begin the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5; 6; 7) in which the prayer is contained. There is a tradition of linking the seven petitions with the seven beatitudes and the gifts of the Spirit (Isaiah 11.1-2).

5. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven - There is the perfectly ordinary sense in which we pray that God's will should be done on earth; this forms the heart of our Prayers of the Faithful (or Intercessions) during the Eucharist. But there is the much more profound meaning which raises the question of 'where' this kingdom should be. There has been a long Christian tradition, based on a mutation of Jewish tradition, of thinking of two parallel entities: earth 'down here'; and heaven 'up there'. But the grammar of the prayer calls for God's kingdom to be on earth in precisely the way that it is in heaven. Christians believe that the Resurrection marked the establishment of a new settlement, of God's kingdom on earth and that that kingdom will be perfected at the Eschaton when all is perfected; in other words, this brings God's kingdom to earth instead of 'transporting' us from earth to heaven.

6. Give us this day our daily bread - To understand this petition we must recall the concept of right desire: we would not be expected to pray for evil to befall others or for the acquisition of great wealth. We should encompass in this petition the practice of praying for the sick.

Our act of petition is to commend ourselves and others to the care of god; it is, above all, an expression of our creatureliness and, in that, our knowledge that we were made to worship, to glorify and to ask. What we receive are gifts to be shared. The negative of petition is ingratitude.

7. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us - WE are all sinners requiring forgiveness which ultimately comes from God; human forgiveness is God acting through us. Asking for forgiveness is an act of humility.

The essence of forgiving others is not a positive act on our part - although that is psychologically helpful - but involves leaving the matter with God. AT a human, as opposed to a theological level, we are to forgive in the manner we would wish to be forgiven cf. Matthew 18.21-35).

The most frequently asked question concerns those who find it impossible to forgive an terrible wrong; can they pray the Lord's Prayer. The answer is "yes" because it is the Church that prays in this prayer, not the individual; in a sense, as already stated, it is not we who forgive. The same applies to our obligation to pray for our enemies.

8. And lead us not into temptation - It is not God who tempts us nor sets up the temptation cf. James 1.13. The rather archaic formulation of "The world, the flesh and the devil" derived from 1 John 2.16 and appears in aBelard. WE might, more helpfully say that, we are tempted, above all, by pride which leads us to self congratulation, by omission and by gratification. The paradox of our creation is that we are made imperfect so that we are given free will to choose, primarily to choose to love. Another traditional way, largely described by mystics, is that we are tempted by night and fire.

9. But deliver us from evil - The broad sense of this petition refers to our being tested by temptation but the sense of it is that we are asking for the strength to resist as there always will be temptation. There is also the narrower sense of being delivered from afflictions. There is a long tradition, paradoxically, as seeing afflictions as the causes of deliverance, exemplified by the Crucifixion.

10. Amen. A deliberate affirmation.

KC XI/13