Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Lord's Prayer Part 1 of 3

The Our Father is the most recognized prayer in all of the Christian denominations. It is recognized by most as the Lord’s Prayer. The inspiration to write on this passage that occurs in the synoptic gospels came during the first week of lent, while praying the office of readings. I had not gone back to the text from the office of readings until my research was done and coincidentally many of the insights that I found to be helpful are attributed to the same author: St. Cyprian. I also chose this particular passage because it is a fixture both in the Mass, but also, in the rosary and the liturgy of the hours and wanted to learn more about a prayer that is said so often throughout the day. One of the major emphases that I will concentrate on in my comparison and exegesis is the petitions found in the accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke.

Each of the synoptic writers has an account of the Our Father, each occurring in a unique place within each of the gospels. In St. Matthew’s gospel, the Our Father comes in chapter six, verses seven through fifteen. The Lord’s Prayer takes place in St. Mark’s gospel in chapter eleven, verses 25 and 26. In St. Luke’s gospel the Our Father comes in chapter eleven, verses one through four. The two texts that are the most similar are those of St. Matthew and St. Luke. St. Mark’s version does not contain any petitions compared to St. Luke’s five and St. Matthew’s seven. There are two problems that arise because of this passage. One of them is the inconsistency of how many petitions each passage has and the other is a question of how the phrase: “Give us this day our daily bread” is to be translated. This raises the question of what we must pray for because if St. Mark’s does not contain any petitions we must ask what the purpose of the Lord’s Prayer really is. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”[1] St. Luke’s account is as follows: “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”[2] St. Matthew’s account is the longest of the three and contains the most petitions: “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.”[3] In each of the three accounts two things are mentioned: the Father and forgiveness. These two aspects seem to make up what constitutes the Lord’s Prayer. The International Critical Commentary suggests that the Lord’s Prayer as found in the synoptic writers, could be found in St. John’s gospel in the high priestly prayer found in chapter seventeen.[4] The additions that both St. Matthew and St. Luke make fill in what St. Mark initially wrote and this points to the possibility that St. Mark wrote first and then was added to.
St. Luke adds to St. Mark’s account by adding the five petitions and St. Matthew builds off of St. Luke by adding two more petitions. St. Luke is more concise in this part of his gospel because what St. Matthew says in seven petitions, St. Luke does in five petitions and without losing much of the meaning found in St. Matthew’s gospel. The first phrase in St. Matthew’s account begins with the words: “Our Father.”[5] Both St. Cyprian and Pseudo-Chrysostom comment on the significance of the word ‘Our’ as found in St. Matthew compared to St. Luke’s account which only as the word: ‘Father.’[6] The word ‘Our’ is found in the Greek text of St. Matthew’s account and Cyprian states: “Our prayer is general and for all, and when we pray, we pray not for one person, but for us all, because we all are one.”[7] By the very fact that Jesus uses the word ‘Our’ allows man to pray to God in a different way that is more personal and acknowledges who the Father is and that he is not far from us. The name ‘Father’ is derived from the Aramaic word ‘abba’ “Suggests familial intimacy.”[8] Pseudo-Chrysostom comments on the phrase ‘who art in heaven’: “We know that we have a heavenly Father.”[9] This adds to the significance of the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer because the word ‘heaven’ reminds mankind that God is good and he desires to freely give that goodness away. The phrase: “Hallowed be thy name” is interpreted by St. John Chrysostom as being a petition which asks that, “When a man gazes upon the beauty of the heavens, he says, Glory be thee, O God; so likewise when he beholds a man’s virtuous actions, seeing that the virtue of man glorifies God much more than the heavens.”[10] In other words, we ought to pray that man might act virtuously so that his virtue might reflect well upon God, who freely created us. This first petition is found in both St. Matthew and St. Luke’s account and it is an introduction to the following petitions.

1 Synopsis of the Four Gospels. New York: American Bible Society, 1982. pp. 57
2 ibid
3 ibid
4 Allison, Dale C. and Davies, W.D. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd. 1988. pp. 598.
5 Synopsis of the Four Gospels. New York: American Bible Society, 1982. pp. 57
6 ibib
7 Aquinas, Thomas. Catena Aurea-Gospel of St. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2000. pp. 178
8 Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco. Harper Collins. 1985. pp. 3
9 ibid
10 Aquinas, Thomas. The Gospel of St. Luke. Catena Aurea. London: Saint Austin Press, 1997. pp. 387