Just as our first words are mama and daddy, the Our Father is one of the first prayers we learn as members of God’s family. Little children mangle it by praying “Howard be thy name” and “deliver us some e-mail.” During the liturgy a couple weeks ago, the Our Father prayer was presented to the elect as a special inheritance before they were received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. This fifty-six word prayer is precious because it is from the lips of Jesus himself. The apostles had asked him to teach them how to pray.
At Mass the priest introduces the Our Father by saying, “We dare to say.” We dare to call the omnipotent, unnamable, utterly other God “our Father.” God is not an icy force or a Being that lords it over us. Rather, God asks us to address him tenderly as Father. And so we boldly do that. We can call God “Father” because Jesus redeemed us. In God’s eyes we more than servants, more than friends; we are his children. When we pray, “Our Father,” we are united with Jesus and all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The third-century theologian Tertullian pointed out that the Our Father is a summary of the whole Gospel, the good news of salvation. It has seven petitions. The first three are centered on God, and the last four express our needs.
Pope Saint John XXIII stated, “To know how to say the Our Father and to know how to put it into practice, this is the perfection of the Christian life.” The Didache, an early church document, recommends praying the Our Father three times a day. We pray it in the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the rosary. The Our Father also makes the perfect meal prayer.
Because the Our Father is so familiar, it is easy to glide over it without thinking, as mindlessly as we recite the alphabet. To refocus our attention on its weighty words, Saint Teresa of Avila suggested taking a whole hour to pray it just once, pausing after each line to reflect on and savor it. It said that the night before Saint Hugh died he repeated this prayer three hundred times!
To delve more deeply into the meaning of the Our Father, read part four, section two of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It contains an explanation of this prayer in detail.
If we had a good earthly father, we have an inkling of what God is like. What memory do you have of your father showing you a quality of your heavenly Father?