A friend of mine who is in her 40s has always been touched and moved by the fact that the first thing she learnt to recite as a very little girl was the Our Father … It is a happy thing to think that one’s first words, one’s first memorized piece, as a child, should be the Lord’s Prayer. It is, as is often said, the ‘pattern of all prayer,’ since it is the prayer Jesus Himself taught us. In these final five Sundays of our journey through the Catechism, we shall take a look at this beautiful prayer, so as to learn more about all our prayer.
At Mass we have that wonderful introduction to the Our Father which ends, “… we dare to say …” — “At the Saviour’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say …” It is indeed audacious of us to call God ‘our Father,’ and we only dare do it because Our Lord Jesus has taught us to. It marks a whole new way of praying and relating to God. This is not a way that Israel dared address God, not usually anyway, but it is the way Our Lord has taught us: “formed by divine teaching.” We must never forget that the beauty of this prayer comes from its having been given us by God: it is God the Son’s own prayer to God the Father. It is truly unique and a precious part of our heritage. Jesus has taught us so much in this prayer. Yet He is not just giving us some words to say. When the apostles requested of Him that He teach them to pray, this is what He taught them. Not a long, involved and complicated prayer … but a simple one … Not just a prayer solely consisting of ‘asking,’ but a prayer that begins with adoration and praise … Our Lord, let’s not forget, gives not only these words, but the gift of the Spirit, and both have to be there in the life of the Christian. We can recite words all we like, but if our heart is not in them, if they are rattled off like a chore, then what spiritual benefit is there? When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we should have in mind, at least implicitly, the desire for union with God in Christ and His Spirit. We should be mindful that we are praying to the Father with the Son, in the words of the Son, united with the Son. When we pray to the Father in these words, as it were, the Father hears His Son praying, our voices united with His, in this perfect prayer.
In the Mass, if you notice, the Our Father has a privileged place. It lies between the Eucharistic Prayer — when Our Lord is made present on the altar under the appearances of bread and wine, in the Blessed Sacrament, His Body & Blood — and the Rite of Holy Communion, when we may receive Him as the food and medicine of our souls. A blessed moment of prayer, indeed. And it is at that moment in the presence of Jesus, truly present, and about to be consumed, that we raise our voices in the ‘Our Father,’ I like to think, “With Our Lord Jesus present here with us, let us pray in the words He Himself has taught us.” Jesus is here on the altar … and with Him here with us, so we pray: we pray with Him at the heart of our community, the sacrificed Lord, in offering to the Father.
We must note that we have been taught to say, “Our” Father — not “my” Father … We pray as the community of Christ’s faithful. It proves to us that Jesus’s intention is that we relate to the Father as the family of the Church. Of course there are many times that we pray the ‘Our Father’ alone, as individuals, but it points to the community of faith, the assembly of the Church. In fact, as the Church, in the official prayers of Church, we pray the ‘Our Father’ at least 3 times a day: at Morning Prayer, at Mass, and at Evening Prayer; quite apart from any other recitation and/or rosary we may pray. We must also not that the ‘Our Father’ is a prayer common to all Christians … it is part of what we share, and not what divides us. And in fact, calling God ‘Our Father’ also reminds us that God is the father of all humanity: so when we pray that Our Father we are also appealing to Him that He be seen as the Father of all; that all people may know that they are called to salvation in Christ, and to know the Father.
Our powerful prayer recognises that God is in heaven, that place of blessedness to which he calls us. His heaven is not far away, it is close to those who love Him and do not turn their backs on Him. Having acknowledged God as “our Father in heaven,” then we address to Him to seven parts of the Our Father, in praise and petition, which we shall start to look at next week …