The Our Father, or Lord's Prayer, Explained
The question of, “How do we pray?” is one that is often asked and one that was posed thousands of years ago by the disciples. In Luke 11:1-4, when one of Jesus’ disciples ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus replied by giving us the prayer that we recite countless times throughout our lifetime — the Our Father, also known as The Lord’s Prayer.
What is the Lord's Prayer?
Jesus instructed His disciples and us to:
"Pray, then, in this way"
Reflecting on the Meaning of the Lord's Prayer
This short prayer takes a mere 15-20 seconds to say, yet is filled with incredible meaning. If ever there was a prayer that summarized our faith and what’s expressed in the Gospels, the Our Father is it. On his reflection on this prayer, St. Cyprian of Carthage, a third century bishop wrote, “My dear friends, the Lord’s Prayer contains many great mysteries of our faith. In these few words there is great spiritual strength, for this summary of divine teaching contains all of our prayers and petitions.”
If you’ve been a practicing Catholic since you were little, you’ve been reciting this prayer more times than you can count. Like anything we do repeatedly, saying this prayer silently or out loud becomes second nature.
It’s important to remind ourselves to stop and reflect on the words we are saying. With the help of religious scholars and clergy, let’s take a closer look at what each line means, and how we can apply this prayer to our lives. Because as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “The meaning of the Our Father goes much further than the mere provision of a prayer text. It aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus.”
If ever there was a prayer that summarized our faith and what’s expressed in the Gospels, the Our Father is it.
1. Our Father, Who art in heaven
We start this prayer by professing our core religious belief that God is our heavenly Father—the one who is all knowing and all powerful. Notice that Jesus didn’t instruct us to say, “My Father” but stressed “Our Father.” Scripture scholar John Meier explains that in God’s kingdom, we don’t live as isolated individuals but “we experience God’s fatherhood as members of the church, the family of Jesus the Son.” This reminds us that we recognize all those around us as children of God and treat them accordingly.
2. Hallowed be Thy Name
Hallowed is another word for holy or sanctified. When we say “hallowed be Thy name,” we are not only telling God “I recognize that you are holy,” but more importantly, we’re asking that His name be recognized by everyone throughout the world as being the ultimate holy power—that one day (sooner rather than later) all will know Him to be righteous, powerful, and everyone’s one true God.
3. Thy Kingdom come
This petition has a two-fold meaning. First, we are asking that God’s kingdom (where there’s only goodness, honesty, and love for one another) surround us in our everyday life. Secondly, we are praying for the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that He will return at the end of time and grant us eternal life.
4. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven
We pray these words asking for God’s grace to move us to do His will throughout our life. That means doing all the things that will please our Father — even the difficult things, whether it’s something big such as moving an elderly parent into our home or volunteering our time once a week at the soup kitchen, to something as small as giving up a parking space or not calling a best friend to spread some juicy gossip. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “In committing ourselves to [Christ], we can become one spirit with him, and thereby accomplish his will…”
5. Give us the day our daily bread
Here we’re recognizing that all things we need come to us from God. We’re asking that God continue to give us not only the food we need for nourishment, but also the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.
6. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
This is a tough one. It may be easy for us to ask God to forgive us our “trespasses” or sins, but God in his infinite wisdom teaches us that in order for Him to forgive our wrongdoings, we must first forgive those who’ve hurt us. God isn’t being difficult, rather He’s teaching us that when there is bitterness and anger in our hearts, there’s no room for His love to fill our hearts. How can we ask God to be merciful and forgive our sins, if we’re holding a grudge or refuse to forgive someone who’s wronged us? Forgiving someone is often easier said than done. Only God can give us the strength to do it through prayer.
7. And lead us not into temptation,
Temptation and sin go hand in hand. When we come face to face with temptation, it can sometimes be difficult to resist. That’s why we need our Father to set up the road blocks and lead us far from the path of temptation.
8. But deliver us from evil.
Evil is an unfortunate reality in our world. The devil is always trying to tempt us and makes it his full-time job to look for ways to steer us from the right path and onto the wrong one. The devil has no power over God and when we pray to God for protection against all that is evil, He will shield us — always.
There are many moving prayers that we can say, but when it comes to one prayer that takes the main aspects of our faith and summarizes them in several short lines, the Our Father is the perfect prayer.