The Our Father is a prayer that has been recited billions of times throughout history, but have we ever stopped to think about what the words we are saying mean?
Arguably the most known and popular prayer of all time is the Our Father. We’ve uttered the words just as they were passed down to us years and years ago. Although I’ve said this prayer in private and in mass almost every day of my life, I never really took the time to understand the words that were falling from my mouth. That is, until someone pointed me in the direction of the catechism, where the answer to this question is stated in full.
First, I find it important to understand what the prayer signifies and the purpose that it serves. Although this prayer often is mechanically said by us Sunday after Sunday, its structure is far more beautiful. In Luke 11, the disciples plea, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus responds with the Our Father, the prayer that summarizes the Gospels. As St. Augustine once said,
“Run through 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.”
This prayer is given to us from the Lord, making it the most perfect prayer since he is the master and model of our prayer. Even more specifically, in this prayer Jesus teaches us how to ask things of the Father and in what order we should prioritize our desires.
The Our Father can be broken down into two parts, the introduction and the seven petitions. This week, we will focus on the introduction to set the groundwork.
The first line of the Our Father is shortest of the entire prayer, but probably carries the most meaning out of any of them as well. Note that Jesus does not start the prayer isolated by using the word My. Instead, he chooses the word “our” for a few main reasons. First, “our” signifies unity and togetherness. We say “our” because we are God’s people through baptism in the church. Namely, we say the prayer with and for all persons. This is not all Catholics, or all believers, no it is all meaning we say it for and with both believers and non-believers. Note that only through baptism are we adoptive kin to God, non-baptized are not sons and daughters. Even though they are not sons and daughters, God is still Father to them because that is who is He is as revealed by the son. In this prayer we leave individualism and pride behind us and humble ourselves before the Father as one kin, sons and daughters of God. Additionally, although non-believers have not received the gift of baptism, we prayer on behalf of them. This allows us to freely bring before the petitions and needs of all those in which the Father sacrificed His son for.
“who art in heaven”
When I first analyzed this line in my head years ago I remember seeing it as if God was in some distant place. As if he was that uncle who moved across the country you only get to see a few times a year. Thankfully, this was not the case. As the Catechism says,
"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.
Therefore, heaven can be understood as both the place and the hearts of all those whom God dwells in. When we dissect what this means it can completely change the way in which we see our neighbors. “God is in the hearts of the just.” Have you ever heard that the eyes are the windows of the soul? I’ve always thought this to be slightly true, and when we consider what this prayer is saying we come to understand that when we see the eyes of our brethren, we also see the Father. This calls for a much greater love, respect, and appreciation for all those that we encounter because now we can see them at their true value with dignity and love.
Additionally, we proclaim the deep longing in our hearts to join the Father in heaven.
[Christians] are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their lives on earth, but are citizens of heaven. CCC 2796
We may live a life physically in the flesh, but our spirits are not bound to earth in the same way. The call to live our lives as citizens of heaven is an intimidating call, but one we cannot back down from. Oftentimes we feel the need to earn this citizenship, but in reality it is a gift given and we must not deny it. Still, the idea that we belong to heaven already is a little abstract to understand, so let us look to scripture for clarity.
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” John 15:18-19
The life of a Christian is not easy, it is not one we always understand, but as a citizen of heaven we can trust that the entire army of angels led by Christ Himself stands by our side and fights alongside us.
Two lines of prayer, much deeper meaning. Tune in next week for a breakdown of the seven petitions!