Jesus "was praying at a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.'"In response to this request the Lord entrusts to his disciples and to his Church the fundamental Christian prayer. St. Luke presents a brief text of five petitions, while St. Matthew gives a more developed version of seven petitions. The liturgical tradition of the Church has retained St. Matthew's text:
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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
[Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2759 ]
ON THE LORD'S PRAYER
-Saint Augustine, Doctor Universalis, 4th Century Bishop of Hippo
THE SON OF GOD, our Lord Jesus Christ, hath taught us a prayer; and tho He be the Lord Himself, as ye have heard and repeated in the creed, the only Son of God, yet He would not be alone. He is the only Son, and yet would not be alone; He hath vouchsafed to have brethren. For to whom doth He say: “Our Father which art in Heaven?” Whom did He wish us to call our Father save His own Father? Did He grudge us this? Parents sometimes, when they have gotten one, or two, or three children, fear to give birth to any more lest they reduce the rest to beggary. But because the inheritance which He promised us is such as many may possess and no one be straitened, therefore hath He called into His brotherhood the peoples of the nations; and the only Son hath numberless brethren who say, “Our Father which art in Heaven.” So said they who have been before us; and so shall say those who will come after us. See how many brethren the only Son hath in His grace, sharing His inheritance with those for whom He suffered death. We had a father and mother on earth, that we might be born to labors and to death: but we have found other parents, God our Father, and the Church our Mother, by whom we are born unto life eternal. Let us then consider, beloved, whose children we have began to be; and let us live so as becomes those who have such a Father. See how that our Creator had condescended to be our Father!
We have heard whom we ought to call upon and with what hope of an eternal inheritance we have begun to have a Father in Heaven; let us now hear what we must ask of Him. Of such a Father what shall we ask? Do we not ask rain of Him to-day, and yesterday, and the day before? This is no great thing to have asked of such a Father, and yet ye see with what sighings and with what great desire we ask for rain when death is feared—when that is feared which none can escape. For sooner or later every man must die, and we groan, and pray, and travail in pain, and cry to God that we may die a little later. How much more ought we to cry to Him that we may come to that place where we shall never die!
Therefore is it said, “Hallowed by Thy name.” This we also ask of Him that His name may be hallowed in us; for holy is it always. And how is His name hallowed in us except while it makes us holy? For once we were not holy, and we are made holy by His name: but He is always holy, and His name always holy. It is for ourselves, not for God, that we pray. For we do not wish well to God, to whom no ill can ever happen. But we wish what is good for ourselves, that His holy name may be hallowed, that that which is always holy may be hallowed in us.
“Thy kingdom come.” Come it surely will, whether we ask or no. Indeed, God hath an eternal kingdom. For when did He not reign? When did He begin to reign? For His kingdom hath no beginning, neither shall it have any end. But that ye may know that in this prayer also we pray for ourselves and not for God (for we do not say “Thy kingdom come” as tho we were asking that God may reign), we shall be ourselves His kingdom if, believing in Him, we make progress in this faith. All the faithful, redeemed by the blood of His only Son, will be His kingdom. And this His kingdom will come when the resurrection of the dead shall have taken place; for then He will come Himself. And when the dead are arisen He will divide them, as He Himself saith, “and He shall set some on the right hand and some on the left.” To those who shall be on the right hand He will say, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom.” This is what we wish and pray for when we say, “Thy kingdom come,”—that it may come to us. For if we shall be reprobates that kingdom will come to others, but not to us. But if we shall be of that number who belong to the members of His only-begotten Son, His kingdom will come to us and will not tarry. For are there as many ages yet remaining as have already passed away?
“Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth.” The third thing we pray for is that His will may be done as in Heaven so in earth. And in this, too, we wish well for ourselves. For the will of God must necessarily be done. It is the will of God that the good should reign and the wicked be damned. Is it possible that this will should not be done? But what good do we wish ourselves when we say, “Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth?” Give ear. For this petition may be understood in many ways, and many things are to be in our thoughts in this petition when we pray God, “Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth.” As Thy angels offend Thee not, so may we also not offend Thee. Again, how is “Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth,” understood? All the holy patriarchs, all the prophets, all the apostles, all the spiritual are, as it were, God’s Heaven; and we in comparison of them are earth. “Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth”; as, in them, so in us also. Again, “Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth”; The Church of God is Heaven, His enemies are earth. So we wish well for our enemies, that they, too, may believe and become Christians, and so the will of God be done as in Heaven, so also in earth. Again, “Thy will be done as in Heaven, so in earth.” Our spirit is Heaven and the flesh earth; as our spirit is renewed by believing, so may our flesh be renewed by rising again, and “the will of God be done as in Heaven, so in earth.”
There remain now the petitions for this life of our pilgrimage; therefore follows, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Give us eternal things, give us things temporal. Thou hast promised a kingdom, deny us not the means of subsistence. Thou wilt give everlasting glory with Thyself hereafter, give us in this earth temporal support. Therefore is it “day by day,” and “to-day”—that is, in this present time. For when this life shall have passed away shall we ask for daily bread then? For then it will not be called “day by day,” but “to-day.” Now it is called “day by day” when one day passes away and another day succeeds. Will it be called “day by day” when there will be one eternal day? This petition for daily bread is doubtless to be understood in two ways, both for the necessary supply of our bodily food and for the necessities of our spiritual support. There is a necessary supply of bodily food for the preservation of our daily life, without which we can not live. This is food and clothing, but the whole is understood in a part. When we ask for bread we thereby understand all things. There is a spiritual food also which the faithful know; which ye too will know when ye shall receive it at the altar of God. This also is “daily bread,” necessary only for this life.
Again, what I am handling before you now is “daily bread”; and the daily lessons which ye hear in church are daily bread, and the hymns ye hear and repeat are daily bread. For all these are necessary in our state of pilgrimage. But when we shall have got to Heaven shall we hear the Word, we who shall see the Word Himself, and hear the Word Himself, and eat and drink Him as the angels do now? Do the angels need books, and interpreters, and readers? Surely not. They read in seeing, for the Truth itself they see and are abundantly satisfied from that fountain from which we obtain some few drops. Therefore, has it been said, touching our daily bread, that this petition is necessary for us in this life.
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” Is this necessary except in this life? For in the other we shall have no debts. For what are debts but sins? See, ye are on the point of being baptized; then all your sins will be blotted out: none whatever will remain. Whatever evil ye have done, in deed, or word, or desire, or thought, all will be blotted out. And yet if in the life which is after baptism there were security from sin, we should not learn such a prayer as this, “Forgive us our debts.” Only let us by all means do what comes next, “As we forgive our debtors.”
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Will this, again, be necessary in the life to come? “Lead us not into temptation” will not be said except where there can be temptation. We read in the book of holy Job, “Is not the life of man upon earth a temptation?” What, then, do we pray for? Hear what. The apostle James saith, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” He spoke of those evil temptations whereby men are deceived and brought under the yoke of the devil. This is the kind of temptation he spoke of. For there is another sort of temptation which is called a proving; of this kind of temptation it is written, “The Lord your God tempteth (proveth) you to know whether ye love Him.” What means “to know?” “To make you know,” for He knoweth already. With that kind of temptation whereby we are deceived and seduced, God tempteth no man.
What, then, has He hereby taught us? To fight against our lusts. For ye are about to put away your sins in holy baptism; but lusts will still remain, wherewith ye must fight after that ye are regenerate. For a conflict with your own selves still remains. Let no enemy from without be feared: conquer thine own self, and the whole world is conquered. What can any tempter from without, whether the devil or the devil’s minister, do against thee? Whosoever sets the hope of gain before thee to seduce thee, let him only find no covetousness in thee; and what can he who would tempt thee by gain effect? Whereas, if covetousness be found in thee, thou takest fire at the sight of gain, and art taken by the bait of this corrupt food; but if he find no covetousness in thee the trap remains spread in vain.
Or should the tempter set before thee some woman of surpassing beauty; if chastity be within, iniquity from without is overcome. Therefore, that he may not take thee with the bait of a strange woman’s beauty, fight with thine own lust within; thou hast no sensible perception of thine enemy, but of thine own concupiscence thou hast. Thou dost not see the devil, but the object that engageth thee thou dost see. Get the mastery, then, over that of which thou art sensible within. Fight valiantly, for He who hath regenerated thee is thy Judge; He hath arranged the lists, He is making ready the crown.
And truly it is a great temptation, dearly beloved, it is a great temptation in this life, when that in us is the subject of temptation whereby we obtain pardon if, in any of our temptations, we have fallen. It is a frightful temptation when that is taken from us whereby we may be healed from the wounds of other temptations. I know that ye have not yet understood me. Give me your attention that ye may understand. Suppose avarice tempts a man and he is conquered in any single temptation (for sometimes even a good wrestler and fighter may get roughly handled): avarice, then, has got the better of a man, good wrestler tho he be, and he has done some avaricious act. Or there has been a passing lust; it has not brought the man to fornication nor reached unto adultery—for when this does take place the man must at all events be kept back from the criminal act. But he “hath seen a woman to lust after her”: he has let his thoughts dwell on her with more pleasure than was right; he has admitted the attack; excellent combatant tho he be, he has been wounded, but he has not consented to it; he has beaten back the motion of his lust, has chastised it with the bitterness of grief; he has beaten it back, and has prevailed. Still, in the very fact that he had slipped has he ground for saying, “Forgive us our debts.” And so of all other temptations, it is a hard matter that in them all there should not be occasion for saying, “Forgive us our debts.”
What, then, is that frightful temptation which I have mentioned, that grievous, that tremendous temptation, which must be avoided with all our strength, with all our resolution; what is it? When we go about to avenge ourselves. Anger is kindled and the man burns to be avenged. Oh, frightful temptation! Thou art losing that whereby thou hadst to attain pardon for other faults. If thou hadst committed any sin as to other senses and other lusts, hence mightst thou have had thy cure in that thou mightst say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” But whoso instigateth thee to take vengeance will lose for thee the power thou hadst to say, “As we also forgive our debtors.” When that power is lost all sins will be retained; nothing at all is remitted.
Our Lord and Master and Savior, knowing this dangerous temptation in this life when He taught us six or seven petitions in this prayer, took none of them for Himself to treat of and to commend to us with greater earnestness than this one.
[Sermons on the New Testament, Sermon 7, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.)]