THE ORIGIN OF THE PATER NOSTER
St. Matthew records that Christ taught the “Pater Noster” to His disciples at the sermon on the mount, near the Sea of Galilee (St. Matthew vi, 9–18). St. Luke puts the origin much later, during the December before His death, and probably at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lord had spent the whole night in. prayer on the Mount of Olives. The Apostles wished to pray as He did, and they approached Him, saying: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (St. Luke xi, 1–4.) On the Mount of Olives the Pater Noster Church has been erected to commemorate this scene.
One may readily believe that Our Lord had said this prayer at His Mother’s knee in Nazareth, so promptly did the words pour from His lips when asked by the disciples to teach them to pray. From that day on the Mount of Olives He and His disciples said the “Pater Noster” frequently. They surely said it together in the Upper Room at the Last Supper. It was said by St. Peter in prison and by St. Paul on his journeys.
With what fervour Our Blessed Lady must have prayed it with St. John in their home at Ephesus! The music of its words filled the winding tunnels of the catacombs at Rome. It was on the lips of the martyrs in the arenas. From apostolic times to our own its petitions to Heaven have arisen from our altars “from the rising of the sun even to the going down.” The greatest minds of the Church, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, have found the Pater Noster an unending subject for meditation, while little children can say it lovingly.
THE FAMILY PRAYER
The Pater Noster, the family prayer of the Church, has an arc like the rainbow, which springs up from the earth, touches the clouds, and then sweeps down to earth. We lift our hearts to God in its mounting petitions: “Hallowed be Thy Name: Thy Kingdom come,” until we reach the apex of the arc in: “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Downwards sweeps the curve with its recital of our needs from “Give us this day our daily bread” to “Deliver us from evil.”
Christ’s own prayer has the double action of praise and petition. To give is higher than to receive, and so the first part of the “Pater Noster” is more important than the second. It is the model prayer. All our needs and all our desires are summed up in it, and seen in the light of eternity. The best place and time to say it is during the Mass, when it comes after the Canon. With his hands outstretched and his eyes on the consecrated Host the priest calls upon Christ to represent us in Heaven in the sevenfold petitions of His own prayer.
“Let us pray: urged on by saving precept and following Thy divine institution, we dare to say: Our Father Who art in Heaven. . . .” Outside the Holy Mass the “Pater Noster” is best said within the Rosary of Mary. Let us ask Him Who bade us say it to inspire us with its meaning
COINED IN HEAVEN
The Rosary teaches us to say the great universal prayer to God the Father entwined with the angelic salutation to Mary. We speak to Our Father and salute Mary as she goes step by step with her Divine Son, in turn, joyful at His coming, sorrowful in His sufferings and death, and glorious in His Resurrection and Ascension. Within the three divisions of the Rosary we say these, our greatest prayers, in a background of joy, sorrow, and triumph.
The words of the “Hail Mary” and of the Lord’s Prayer were coined in Heaven. Part at least of these prayers, we may feel sure, are said by the angels and saints in Heaven, and the repetition of them during the Rosary is excellent practice for our future home.