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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why the Lord’s Prayer is “the fundamental Christian prayer.”

I am a first year catechist for my local church. In teaching, I am learning that my catechumens often already know The Lord's Prayer. More than any other prayer, ritual, or scripture, they know these words.
The anticipation of teaching my first class had me feeling anxious. What would they know? How would I explain the grand concepts and mysteries of faith to six year old children? My first class, and therefore my first lesson, was “Who is God?”. On that first day, when I asked the children “Who is God?” I had a resounding “Our Father!” returned to me. I was impressed. Their knowledge of the Lord's Prayer did not give them deep theological insight, but it certainly gave them a very real and truthful spiritual understanding of God's place in their lives and the love they both expressed and received.

Jesus's acknowledgment of God as “our” Father is a two fold blessing. He is revealing His position as the true Son of God, while also including His Church and disciples as children of God. As we age, we should be cognizant not to suffer the pitfall of dismissing the word “Father” as simple metaphor. Children understand God “our Father” as a truism, and we should do the same. The Lord's Prayer is both a declaration of love and obedience, as well as a plea for fatherly provisions and protection.

The first series of petitions carries us toward him, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; the burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father's glory seizes us: "hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . . . " These three supplications were already answered in the saving sacrifice of Christ, but they are henceforth directed in hope toward their final fulfillment, for God is not yet all in all. The second series of petitions unfolds with the same movement as certain Eucharistic epicleses: as an offering up of our expectations, that draws down upon itself the eyes of the Father of mercies. They go up from us and concern us from this very moment, in our present world: "give us . . . forgive us . . . lead us not . . . deliver us. . . . " The fourth and fifth petitions concern our life as such - to be fed and to be healed of sin; the last two concern our battle for the victory of life - that battle of prayer (CCC 2804-2805).
Just as I am able to depend my our earthly father for care, I am able to petition the Lord with prayer.
Children are taught The Lord's Prayer at such a tender age because it is fundamental to the Christian state of life. As we grow older, and are better able to contemplate the spiritual implications and tremendous depth of this prayer, we can honestly appreciate Jesus' gift for what it is. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas recognized the scope of this concept. St. Augustine 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” (CCC 2762). St. Thomas put forth that: “The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers... In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them” (CCC 2763).

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