"Lord, teach us to pray."—Luke xi, I.
Dear Brethren: The holiest, the most beautiful and most perfect, and for this reason the most efficient prayer is the "Our Father."
This prayer comes from Our Lord himself, who gave it to His disciples when they urged that He should teach them how to pray. The "Our Father," therefore, had its origin with God himself, and, therefore, is the holiest of prayers. It is a petition to His heavenly Father, composed by the God-man and bequeathed to us, His brethren. In this petition is contained everything we may ask for. Tertullian says in his writings that the "Our Father" contains not merely the things for which man ought to ask God, but also everything the Lord has taught and ordained, so that the whole Christian doctrine is briefly contained therein. The separate petitions are arranged according to their importance, and follow one another in a most appropriate way. Therefore, the "Our Father" is according to its origin, as also according to its contents and its form, the perfect prayer.
The divine Saviour promised that everything we ask of our Father in heaven He will give us. When we recite the "Our Father" we not merely pray in the name of Jesus, but in His own words. Hence the Lord's Prayer is to God the most pleasing prayer, and for that reason the most efficient and powerful of prayers. It is evident from the history of the Church that the Lord's Prayer has, at all times been held by the faithful in the highest esteem. It was used, as the fathers tell us, not only in public, but also in private devotions.
This holy, excellent and most efficacious prayer forms a part of the Rosary, and we will give it our consideration, in order the better to understand it, to appreciate it more fully, and to say it more devoutly.
I. The "Our Father" consists of a preface and seven petitions. The preface is intended to lift up our thoughts to God. Holy Scripture admonishes us to such preparation, "Before prayer, prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God" (Eccles. xviii, 23). When beginning to pray we should present to our mind God as He is enthroned in heaven. We should approach God in humility and reverence with childlike confidence and love. Thus prepared for prayer we will be pleasing to God. To give our mind this disposition is the purpose of the preface: "Our Father, who art in heaven." Hence this preface should be said with devotion and piety.
The seven petitions of the "Our Father" contain everything a Christian ought and may ask for. But what may and should a Christian ask for? For all things necessary and serviceable for the proper fulfilment of his life work. This prayer contains petitions for everything necessary for the attainment of the last end for which we were created, and that is, in the first place, the glorification of God, and, in the second place, our eternal salvation. In the first four petitions Christ teaches us and commands us to beseech for the things that pertain to this last end, and in the last three petitions for protection against the things which hinder the attainment of this end.
1. The glory of God is the first and chief purpose of all creation, as also of redemption and sanctification. It should be the occupation of all mankind, as it is the occupation of the blessed in heaven. We glorify God when we recognize Him as the highest good; when we love Him above all things, with a childlike love, serve Him faithfully, worship Him in all our thoughts, words and actions. As we are unable to do this by our own strength we must seek the assistance of grace, which we do in the words of the first petition: "Hallowed be Thy name." By the words "Thy name" must be understood here, God himself, as He has revealed Himself to us and this petition is equivalent to saying: "Thou, O God, shalt be glorified by us and by all mankind." We ask in the first petition that God may not be blasphemed, but rightly known, truly loved and duly revered. We implore God in this petition to enlighten the heathen that yet stand in the shadow of death, and all unbelievers and heretics, that they may learn to know and adore Him; and to grant sincere conversion to all sinners. We also ask, for ourselves and our fellow Christians, the grace to grow in the knowledge of God, in His love and service and in Christian perfection, so that thereby God may ever be glorified more and more. A truly Christian life is our highest glorification of God, hence to obtain this grace we must diligently pray.
This petition is placed first, because it is the most necessary to the glorification of God and to our salvation. It is also the foundation of the other petitions.
2. In the second petition "Thy kingdom come," a threefold kingdom of God is meant, for the coming of which we pray. It is the kingdom of God about us, in us and above us. The kingdom of God about us is the Church of Christ. Christ founded it as His divine kingdom on earth, to glorify God and lead mankind to Salvation. We ask that God may grant to all men grace to recognize our holy Church as the divine institution, to submit themselves to her authority, and to become members of this Church find order to properly worship the true God, to glorify Him, and thus work their salvation.
The kingdom of God is within us, when we allow ourselves to be ruled and guided not by the spirit of the world, but by the spirit of God. "Those who are moved by the spirit of God are God's children." In his soul is the kingdom of God established whose faith agrees with the teaching of the Church, who hopes, loves and lives in the true faith.
The kingdom of God above us is the kingdom of heaven. The Church on earth is the kingdom of truth, of grace, of virtue; it will become in heaven the kingdom of glory.
Through this triple kingdom God is glorified on earth and in heaven, and this is the first and chief aim of every created thing. Through this threefold kingdom we gain salvation, happiness and eternal life. That this threefold dominion of God may come to us and to all mankind we ask the Father in heaven in the second petition.
In order that what we ask for in the second petition may be attained we must comply with the third petition: "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Almighty God is the supreme ruler of heaven and earth. All creatures in heaven and earth must submit themselves unconditionally to His holy will. God makes His will known to us through His commandments, and through His holy Church. We must be ready and willing at all times to do the will of God, and to submit to it in all things. We must obey His commandments, we must gladly and humbly submit ourselves to His dispensations, no matter what they may be. That God's will may at all times be done by us, and in us, and in all things, this should be our ardent desire, not with a servile fear but with filial love, as Jesus has taught us by His word and example. But this far surpasses our own strength and for this reason Jesus teaches and enjoins us to beg the Father that He may grant to us and to all mankind the grace to do at all times His holy will. By this faithful submission of our wills to the will of God we glorify God in the most perfect way.
3. In our earthly pilgrimage to heaven we require divine assistance in order to live our corporal and spiritual life according to the divine Will. For this reason Christ instructs us to pray in the fourth petition: "Give us this day our daily bread." That means: Give us, O God, what we stand in need of for body and soul that we may live according to Thy holy will.
We depend upon God in all things. He is our Creator and also our Preserver. We could not live a single moment without his aid. As we are composed of body and soul our wants are twofold, we have requirements for the body and others for the soul. We stand in need of food, shelter and clothing for body. All, rich and poor alike, must petition God for these, for each one stands in God's hand. God can cast the rich man down like Job, and free the poor man from all want. The word bread includes all necessities of life. "Give me neither beggary nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life" (Prov. xxx, 8).
That we are told to pray for our daily bread should remind us that we must not be too solicitous for the morrow. He who gives unto us to-day will also provide for us to-morrow if we humbly ask Him. We say: Our bread, because it is our duty to earn it in an honorable manner by industry and labor. "He who toils not, shall not eat." We say also our bread, and not my bread, because we wish the poor who can not help themselves to have it as well as we ourselves, and we must share it with them as much as our means allow.
As our body requires nourishment, so does our soul. The food of the soul is the word of God, and the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. We must partake of this Bread of the soul by hearing the word of God, by reading and meditation, and by receiving the Sacraments.
Thus has Jesus in the four first petitions taught and commanded us to ask for everything that is necessary for the attainment of our last end. In the three remaining petitions He instructs us to pray for protection against all things which are obstacles to the attainment of that end.
II. In these three petitions we ask that everything may be averted that would hinder us from attaining our true goal, our salvation and the glorification of God.
1. This obstacle, however, is sin and its evil consequences and these three petitions have reference to sin and its evil consequences. We, like all men, are sinners, and in our sins we can not worship God properly, nor can we attain our salvation if God does not show mercy to us. For this reason we humbly implore God in the fifth petition: "Forgive us our trespasses." In these words we implore God to grant unto us and to our fellow men a sincerely contrite heart and to graciously forgive us our sins and the punishment due for them. As a condition of forgiveness, however, God exacts from us that we forgive those who have offended us, as fully as we desire that God forgive us. Therefore, we add: "As we forgive those who trespass against us."
2. In the sixth petition we implore God that He would graciously preserve us from falling into sin. "Lead us not into temptation." With these words we urge God that He should keep from us temptation to sin, or, if through temptation He desires to try us, that He grant us abundant graces to conquer it. Temptations do not come from God, but from our own nature, from Satan and from the world. God permits them in His wisdom to try our love for Him, to preserve us in humility, and to strengthen us, to animate our zeal for virtue and to increase our merits. God will assist us in temptation if we are exposed to it without any fault of ours.
Those, however, who court the danger will perish in it. They can not expect divine assistance who wilfully seek temptation and sin.
3. The seventh and last petition is "But deliver us from evil." After asking God not to lead us into temptation we urge Him to preserve us from evil of soul and body. We confidently trust God to guide us according to His wisdom and mercy, and to deliver us from everything which is an obstacle to our salvation, even if in our own shortsightedness we may think it good and desirable.
We conclude the "Lord's Prayer" with the little word "Amen," which is equivalent to "So be it." With this single word we confirm all our petitions. It means: "O God grant us these things for which we have just prayed."
Truly this prayer, taught us by Our Lord, is of high dignity and importance. It is not alone a prayer, but a sermon as well. It is a prayer which comprises in itself all other prayers. It is a prayer of praise, of thanksgiving and supplication. It is, therefore, appropriate for all occasions. Are you discouraged and faint-hearted, go and say the "Our Father." The thought that you have an all-merciful Father in heaven will lift you up, inspire you with confidence and comfort you. Do self-love and pride strive for the mastery within you, go and say, "Hallowed be Thy name." Is anger and malice in your heart, say, "Forgive us our trespasses at we forgive those who trespass against us." If impatience is your fault say, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." When beset by temptation invoke God: "Lead us not into temptation," and in trial and adversity beseech God: "Deliver us from evil."
O that this holy and sublime prayer would be properly understood and appreciated. What blessings it would produce everywhere. May then our contemplation contribute with the blessing of God toward our own love of this wonderful prayer and greater devotion in its recital.
From - THE EXCELLENCE OF THE ROSARY - CONFERENCES FOR DEVOTIONS IN HONOR OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN BY
REV. M. J. FRINGS
REMIGIUS LAFORT, D.D.
JOHN CARDINAL FARLEY
Archbishop of New York
NEW YORK, September 19, 1912