My parish priest is fond of pointing out that St Benedict included the Lord’s Prayer three times in his Office for his monks; once in the morning, once in the evening, and once at Mass. This is the prayer that Our Lord gave the disciples in response to their request: “Lord, teach us to pray”.
About prayer, St Benedict said: “Mens nostra concordat voci nostrae: our minds must be in accord to our voice.”
Pope Benedict, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, tells us:
This is what prayer really is – being in silent inward communion with God. It requires nourishment, and that is why we need articulated prayer in words, images, or thoughts. The more God is present in us, the more we will really be able to be present to him when we utter the words of our prayers. But the converse is also true: Praying actualizes and deepens our communion of being with God.
He points out that the Lord’s Prayer originates from the Son’s dialogue with the Father, and quotes St Cyprian: we are praying to God in words given by God.
Jesus… involves us in his own prayer; he leads into the interior dialogue of triune love; he draws or human hardships deep into God’s heart, as it were. This also means, however, that the words of the Our Father are signposts to interior prayer, they provide a basic direction for our being, and they aim to configure us to the image of the Son.
The Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer; not just the prayer given us by Jesus. It is a lesson in how to pray – how to approach the throne of God; what to pray about.
St Thomas Aquinas said:
Since prayer is an interpretation of our desires, we should only pray for those things which are proper for us to desire….
Now in the Lord’s Prayer what we are asking for from God is everything that we may lawfully ambition. It is, therefore, not only a catalogue of petitions but also, and especially, a corrective for our affections….
Thus the first object of our desires is our last end; then the means to arrive at this end. But our end is God, to whom our affections incline in two ways: the one in desiring the glory of God, the other in wishing to enjoy this divine glory. The first belongs to charity by which we love God in Himself; the second to charity by which we love ourselves in God. So, the first petition, “Hallowed beThy name,” asks for the glory of God; and the second, “Thy Kingdom come,” asks that we may come to the enjoyment of this glory….
Moreover, we are directed to the end of our existence either by something which is essential or by something which is accidental as a means of salvation. But, it can be essential again either directly, according to the merit by which we deserve beatitude because we are obedient to God, and in this sense we ask: “They will be done on earth as it is in heaven”; or it may be only instrumental, although essential, because it helps us to merit heaven. And in this respect we say: “Give us this day our daily bread,” whether we understand this of the sacramental bread of the Eucharist, the daily use of which is profitable to salvation, or of the bread of the body, which is symbolic for a sufficiency of food….
We are also directed to heaven, accidentally, by the removal of obstacles to beatitude; 1) sin, which directly excludes man from the kingdom of God. Therefore, we pray “Forgive us our trespasses”; 2) temptation, which leads us into sin. Hence our sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation”; 3) temporal evils, the consequence of sin, which make the burden of life too heavy. Consequently, our final petition, “Deliver us from evil” (Summa Theologica, II, II, 83).
Over the coming weeks, I will share some of the meditation Pope Benedict wrote on the Our Father, and compare it to ideas from other teachers, both ancient and modern.