The words of the Our Father
When the disciples first asked Our Lord, "Teach us how to pray," He responded with this most perfect prayer, the prayer He Himself lives out in the sacrifice of His entire life for us: the Our Father. This prayer that Jesus Christ has given to us can be considered a summary of the prayer and spirituality of the liturgy, for the whole of the liturgy contains within itself all that Christ desires to accomplish in us — our return to the Father.
Our Father: The perfect Liturgy is Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is the greatest 'public work' (leitourgos), the saving work carried out by the benefaction of the Father who gives us everything in His Son. The life of Christ could be summed up in one word: "Abba". Jesus comes bringing us the presence and the love of the Father so that we might realize that the Father is the goal of our lives. Thus, Christ teaches us to say together with Him, not simply "Father", but "our Father". "Our Father" because through the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Father has made us sons in the Son, and with Christ, all our life is a journey through the liturgy to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. All that is in the liturgy is directed to the Father. The liturgy makes the Church (cf. CCC 1071). In the liturgy, we are one Christ praising the Father (cf. Lumen Gentium, 50-51).
Who art in Heaven: The Father is in Heaven. This means that He is beyond our minds, beyond all our conceptions, superior in every way, not a creature in any way. God has no need of us, yet it is He who desires us, who comes in search of us. This prayer, "Our Father, who art in Heaven", says that the liturgy is above all an invitation to and a colloquy of friendship with the Heavenly One who has loved us first. From the Heavens, from all eternity, He has loved us first as Father. The liturgy celebrates God Himself who in Christ is God with us, God for us. This is the story of the whole of the Sacred Scriptures: God loves us. God searches for us. The God who is in the Heavens is our Father, and He comes down to us in His Son to. bring us home. The whole of the Scriptures are contained in Christ, the perfect, most eloquent Word of the Father to us. God is in the Heavens, but He comes for us in human history, in time, and in the liturgy. Thereby the liturgy becomes our entryway into the Heavens, into our Father's house.
Hallowed be Thy Name: In the Old Testament, the Lord's name is rendered "He who is for us". The Lord's name is hallowed and blessed by men when they see His presence and His powerful saving deeds on their behalf, when they worship Him and accept Him as their God. As a visible and perpetual sign of His presence to and His loving, powerful protection of His people, He asks that a temple be built "to give His name a home". The human nature of Jesus is the New Temple. The Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, is Emmanuel, God Himself present with us and for us, in human history and on all the altars of the world. All that Christ accomplished in His earthly life and all He did at the Last Supper is made present in the liturgy. This is the glory of the Father's Name, that He is Father, the One who is present to us, a God of love, who is tender, personal, benevolent, trustworthy — for us. In the Heavenly city, there is no need for a temple (Rev. 21:22) made of stones. The Temple in the Heavenly Jerusalem is the Lamb and all those united to Him in glory; they give His name a home, for His Name there, in the Heavenly liturgy, is perfectly hallowed and perfectly at home.
Thy Kingdom Come: Enthroned as King upon the altar of the Cross and the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice, Christ has inaugurated the Kingdom Of God on earth. That Kingdom continues to grow throughout the ages in all times and places, fulfilling the words of Christ, lifted up on the Cross, lifted up in the host and chalice: "When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). Christ Himself is that Kingdom. We pray, "Thy Kingdom Come", in hope and expectation of the full consummation, the completion of the number called together in Christ, the eschaton — the definitive end of all suffering and death, where there is no crying or weeping or pain anymore, and where every tear will be wiped away from the eyes of the just — of the time when Christ is all in all. (cf. Rev 21:4, 23; 22:5).
Thy will be done: These are the words spoken by Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet they were spoken already in the manger of Bethlehem, and they would be spoken again on the Cross, bringing Him to that moment in which He could say, "It is finished" On 19:3o). After the first covenant was destroyed by the disobedience of sin, Christ came to establish the New Covenant through His obedience. In the liturgy Christ teaches us how to listen attentively to the Father, how to obey. The Father's will is done in the Paschal Mystery that is .made present in the liturgy. Thus, the Father's will is done in the liturgy. For us, this is the perfect praise of the Father: doing His will with Christ and in Christ — "Do this in memory of me". This celebrating, this making present of the Paschal Mystery in the liturgy is the will of the Father. "Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice...[the faithful] offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It" (LG 11). This is doing the will of the Father as sons in the Son.
Finally, it is also interesting to examine this prayer given to us by Jesus as bearing a construction similar to the construction of some Hebrew texts. In these texts, the most important element of the whole is deliberately placed at the center. This word, "Thy will be done", occupies the center of the Our Father. "Thy will be done". This is the source and summit of our lives, of our liturgy, that we, His children, come closer and closer to the full stature of the obedient Christ.
On earth as it is in Heaven: In every liturgical celebration, Heaven and earth unite. Christ says from the Cross, and therefore also in the liturgy, "This day you will be with Me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Through Christ and His sacrifice, eternity enters our time. However, in time, on earth, the liturgy retains a certain exteriority, as indicated by the preposition "on". On earth we eagerly await the day when that imperfection will yield to the perfection of that mysterious interiority of the liturgy in Heaven. The liturgy on earth is the sacramental manifestation of the liturgy in Heaven, in the New Jerusalem. What we participate in on earth is the prelude to our entering so completely into the mystery of the Father that we are in
Heaven through the accomplishment of His will. The expression of St. Paul can be applied to the liturgy: on earth, we see in a mirror darkly; in Heaven, we shall see face to Face (cf. 1 Cor 13:12).
Give us this day our daily bread: We need bread — food — to live. This bread is Christ, is the liturgy, is the sum total of all the graces of our lives. But this bread is, above all, Christ Himself in the Eucharist who comes to us from the hands of the Father, through the ministerial priesthood of the Church. It is the Father who cares for us and who feeds us, the Father who gives us Christ Himself, His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity — His life — today. The whole of the mystery of Christ is given to us today. The Wisdom of God and the One whose food it is to do the will of the Father becomes our food.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: Forgiveness is the great achievement of the Paschal Mystery. We have been reconciled to God the Father and to one another. Forgiveness is the great achievement of the liturgy and the sacraments, of the baptismal waters, and of the renewal of the sacrament of reconciliation. Everything in the liturgy thus also has a purifying action. The liturgy — Christ Himself — wins for us the grace to forgive one another: it is Christ who forgives us; it is Christ in us who forgives the other. Through this forgiveness we are further conformed to the Heavenly realities, to the Father's way of loving. We enter into His house through forgiveness.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: These two petitions are united. Each part of the life of Christ, and each part of the liturgy, speaks also of the whole mystery of Christ. Thus, the liturgy contains the mystery of the temptation of Christ in the desert and also the liberation He won for us there. This liberation and deliverance is consummated through His Cross and Resurrection. In the liturgy, therefore, we are led out of temptation, liberated, and delivered from evil, so that we may celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb now and for all eternity. The liturgy gives us a foretaste of that glorious feast enjoyed in the complete freedom from evil.
In conclusion, as children, we do not know how to pray as we ought (Rom 8:26). So, these two perfect prayers, given to us by Jesus Christ — the Our Father and the Liturgy — are prayed with Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father. And the one perfect prayer, the Our Father, contains in itself a summary of the one perfect prayer, the Liturgy.
*Member of the St Cecilia Congregation of Dominican Sisters, Nashville, Tennessee, USA