The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 49, No 4, July-Aug. 1996

Theology for the Laity

The Lord's Prayer

By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

On one occasion Our Lord was in journey with His disciples, and while on the way He stopped to pray. At the sight of Him praying, they wondered why He had not taught them to pray as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. When He finished, they asked Him: “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response to their request, He taught them the “Our Father,” commonly referred to as THE LORD’S PRAYER, because it was taught by Our Lord Himself.

This prayer has seven petitions divided in two parts. The first part contains three petitions which are an expression of our desire that God’s sovereignty and dominion be acknowledged and that His will be done, while the second part contains four petitions as to our needs.


This first phrase is an expression of adoration which precedes the seven petitions that follow, and which is meant to put us in the presence of God. Not that we are not always in God’s presence, but rather it is to make us mindful of it.

We would never have dared to call God our Father and consider ourselves as His children, if Jesus had not revealed it and told us to pray in that way. Yet, we can see the fittingness of that expression for the Father has created us in His own likeness and image.

Our Savior speaks of His Father in heaven who shares with Him the fullness of His divine nature. He and the Father are one (Jn. 10:30). Yet, we too, are children of the same Father (not by nature as Jesus is, but by adoption - through baptism) Who shares with us His own divine nature through grace. Since both we and Jesus have a common Father, He taught us to pray “Our Father.”

In instructing us to address our prayers to our Father, and not my Father, Jesus is teaching us to be mindful of the needs of others as well as our own, namely, all those for whom the Father gave His only-begotten Son. That is why all the prayers of the Liturgy are addressed in the plural. As the new Catholic Catechism explains, the our in the first half of the Lord’s Prayer, like the us in the second half, excludes no one (C.C.C. 2792).

But as some saints have pointed out, if we are to call God “our Father,” we ought to act as His children, with the love and reverence and obedience that this relationship demands. We should live in such a way that we give witness by our lives of that LOVE (1 Jn. 4:8) and TRUTH (Jn. 14:6) that is God, and which He has shared with us.


To “hallow” means to make holy, to cause to be revered. We do not add to the holiness of God’s name by our prayers; rather we are asking that His name be revered in us and by us. God is infinitely holy, the source of all holiness. Our prayers add nothing to that.

We pray that we who have been made holy by His presence in our soul through the grace of baptism, may persevere in what He has begun in us. We offer this daily prayer to the Father that the new life which is ours by His favor, may be preserved and grow by His protection.

May His name be revered, for in that name devils are cast out, the lame and sick are healed, etc. (Mk. 16:17; Acts 3:6). May His name be glorified, for at the name of Jesus, His Son, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (Phil. 2:10).

We can speak of God’s internal and external glory. His internal glory (His infinite knowledge, love, power, etc.) is limitless and cannot increase. But His external glory (the manifestation of His wisdom, love, power, etc.) can and should be better known and loved. May we be instruments of making Him better known, loved and revered.


In this petition we pray that His Kingdom grow and increase, not only in the world, but in us. May He reign in our souls and govern our lives; i.e., may we recognize His sovereignty and dominion over us, and obey His command.

We ask that the messianic kingdom, the Church of Christ established for the salvation of mankind, spread throughout the world . . . that the zeal of its members be intensified . . . that Christ the King reign in all hearts through their obedience to His Church.

Referring to that kingdom, St. Paul warned: “Do not let sin reign in your body so that you obey its lusts.” (Rom. 6:12) In line with that St. Ambrose says that there are as many kings ruling in our heart as there are sins and vices controlling us. Christ reigns in our heart insofar as, led by the Holy Spirit, we observe His commandments, fulfill the duties of our state in life, and bear willingly the crosses He allows. Thus, says St. Thomas Aquinas, when we pray that His Kingdom come, we pray that God (and not sin) may reign in us (The Three Greatest Prayers).

We offer this petition, too, for those who do not recognize the Lord’s Kingdom and His sovereignty over all, and for those who do not recognize His very existence. We offer it also for many within the Church, who at times do not recognize its teaching authority, and refuse to accept its official teaching. This petition will find its total fulfillment and glory at the final coming of Christ, when He hands over the kingdom to the Father (C.C.C. 2816).


In this petition St. Cyprian explains that “we do not pray that God should do His will. How could anyone prevent God from doing His Will? But in our prayer we ask that God’s will be done in us(Roman Brev.).

St. Thomas explains that this petition presupposes two things: God’s grace and man’s will. “Thy will be done” with the help of God’s grace, and with solicitude and effort on our part (ibid.).

In heaven the rebellion of our fallen nature is completely missing. In this petition we ask that, with the help of grace, whatever in us (of mind or body) that rebels against what God wills, be removed. In heaven the sovereignty of God is perfectly acknowledged, and His will perfectly fulfilled. We are asking that His sovereignty be acknowledged on earth, and that His children in this world love and revere Him by observing His laws and keeping His commandments.

The Father wills the salvation of all mankind. But He has created us with a free will; so He wills our salvation on condition that, with the help of His grace, we fulfill His will. So in this petition we pray: Help us to cooperate with Your grace and unite ourselves with the obedience of Your Son, and to bear patiently the trials and crosses You send. “Thy will, not mine be done” (Lk. 22:42).


the first three blessings we asked for spiritual blessings that begin in this life but are not possessed perfectly until the next life. In this fourth petition we ask for needs of the present life. Those needs can be temporal or spiritual.


This petition is a plea for mercy; but it is a reminder that God’s mercy is conditional, that is, it depends on our willingness to forgive those who have offended us. The Lord spoke of this in the sermon on the Mount: “If you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you will not forgive men, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your offenses” (Mt. 6:14).

It is not only a plea for forgiveness, but that we have the charity, humility and spiritual strength to forgive those who have offended us. And we must remember there are subtle ways of not forgiving: e.g., harboring resentment, not speaking to someone, seeking to get even, etc.

Only the Holy Spirit by whom we live can transform our heart to forgive as Christ did on Calvary. “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (C.C.C. 2842, 2843).

“Forgiveness bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. . . . Only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer" (C.C.C. 2844).


This petition is an appeal to God’s protective providence. We can distinguish two kinds of temptation: those of solicitation (inducement to sin), and of probation (a testing of virtue). God never tempts in the first manner, but does frequently in the second. He uses persons and situations to test our patience, our humility, our purity, our faith, our hope, our love of Him. Without this kind of temptation or trial there would be little progress in virtue, and we would not be aware of our own weaknesses. Consequently, in this petition we do not ask that we not be tempted, but that we not be overcome by temptation.

Even temptation by the devil, who knows well our weaknesses and how to exploit them, and who wishes only our eternal damnation, God allows at times to test our virtue and to bring about spiritual growth by our resisting the allurements of sin.

We must, then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, discern between trials which are necessary for spiritual growth, and temptation that leads to sin. We must discern, too, between being tempted (which is not sin) and consenting to temptation (which is sin).

“God is faithful, and will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also give you a way out that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Yet, one who deliberately walks into a tempting situation must not expect God’s protection. He walks into a snare the devil will make good use of.

Victory in this battle is possible only through prayer. (C.C.C. 2849). “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41).


In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. We ask to be delivered from the power of the devil whose object is to thwart God’s plan of salvation accomplished in Christ (C.C.C. 2851). And notice that it is always “we” who pray, in common with the whole Church, for the deliverance of the whole human family (C.C.C. 2850).

Christ conquered Satan by His passion and death, a victory won for the whole of mankind; but since man is free to obey or disobey his Creator, he can turn from God and come again under the dominion of the Evil One. And thus we are asking to be delivered from the evil of falling into sin, and from failing to cooperate with the graces that accompany every temptation. We are asking to be strengthened and protected from the wiles of the devil who deceived our first parents into disobedience against God’s command, and who through the centuries has never ceased to strive to deceive their descendants into choosing their own will and plan in preference to God’s.

Our Blessed Lord gave us a warning as to the power of the devil, and a reminder of protective safeguards against his cunning when he cast out the evil spirit from a tormented youth: “This kind can be cast out only by prayer and fasting” (Mk. 9:28). Many centuries later Our Savior revealed to St. Margaret Mary: “The devil is powerless over those who obey”.

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