The Perfect Prayer

“Our Father” is a prayer that transcends time and answers all the exigencies of our existence.  The structure of the prayer is perfect.  The first part is an expression of a desire to partake in the Glory of God, which is seen as the ultimate end of existence.  The second consists of  a plea for divine help in obtaining what is needed for sustenance and the removal of all obstacles such as sin, temptation, and temporal evils from the  path directed to reach the sublime goal of beatitude. This perfect prayer is not filled with demands and requests. In the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Eucharist, immediately after the Consecration and before the breaking up of the Species, the celebrant invokes Our Lord’s Prayer.  All across the globe, palms are held up in supplication and the most memorable of all prayers ascends in heartfelt renditions in a multitude of languages.

Against all the customs of the day, Jesus addresses God as ‘Abba’ in Aramaic or ‘father’ which later was translated as ‘pater’ in the Greek texts.  Thus, God is addressed on a personal level, as a caring father who wished the well being of His sons and daughters.  But, He is also the father in heaven, thus wielding enormous power to safeguard His children, protect them, and answer their needs.  After appealing to God’s paternal aspect, the prayer continues to pay homage of praise and worship by “hallowing” His name.

The Kingdom of God was never far from Jesus’ mind.  By welcoming this Kingdom in the prayer, the applicant join with Jesus in making it his or her goal and purpose.  In the next line, there is the submission in humility to the Will of God and the completion of His plan that brings the whole world into harmony.  Thus God’s name, God’s Kingdom, and God’s will are invoked in a way befitting a needy supplicant who wishes to send his or her pleas to an omnipotent Being. Thus, God’s preeminence is established right at the beginning.

The next three petitions are explicitly for what  are needed for  physical and spiritual existence.  Bread is a common Biblical term denoting all kinds of food and represents a category necessary for sustenance.  In a broader sense, the needs are everyone’s, ours as well as our neighbors’.

A cry for forgiveness follows in the next part of the prayer, but this cry  must be accompanied by true remorse instead of rote repetition.  But the plea of forgiveness is at once a judgment and  a commitment.  The applicants are committing themselves to extend mercy to others in order to accept God’s mercy in return.  Often the “trespasses” are “sins” or “debts” in other versions or other languages.

The prayer continues asking for God’s help in not succumbing to temptations or faltering in our daily trials.  The enemy has laid out a minefield for us to navigate and divine help is needed to proceed successfully.  The prayer also requests for help in protecting us from Evil itself.

The prayer, so carefully crafted by Jesus, should not be recited thoughtlessly.  St. Peter Canisius was scandalized by the careless, rote recitation found even among some religious communities and had this to say, “We have to be on our guard not to say the Lord’s Prayer thoughtlessly through force of habit. I firmly believe that no other act of piety given to us by Christ carries with it a higher degree of approval or is more necessary for us if we are to avoid evil and obtain the blessings destined for us by God.”

The prayer’s author is Jesus Himself and, in St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that He taught His disciples how to pray by teaching them the “Our Father”.   The prayer appears in St. Matthew’s Gospel also.  During the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus actively directed his disciples to turn away from hypocritical, grandiose parades of public prayers to the private communication with God.  In St. Mathew’s version, the prayer starts with an invocation followed by seven petitions, the first three focusing on God’s glorification and the remaining four seeking God’s help and guidance.  The present version of the prayer more closely follows St. Matthew‘s Gospel.  “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory” is the final doxology that is found in some ancient manuscripts, but not in the Gospels.  It is customary for Protestants to recite it at the end of the “Lord’s Prayer” while Catholics do not include it.  But the line is added in the new order of the Mass. The two Roman Catholic Biblical versions of the Lord’s Prayer show only slight variations as can be seen below.

Matthew 6:9-13

Luke 11:2-4

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Father, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Thy Kingdom come.
Give us this day our daily [Greek: apportioned or needful] bread. Give us day by day our daily [apportioned] bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And forgive us our sins: for we ourselves also forgive every one who is indebted to us.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. And bring us not into temptation.

Today’s English Catholic version of “Our Father” has come down from the 1549 and 1552 editions of the “Book of Common Prayer” imposed upon England during the reign of  King Henry VIII.  Our modern version differs from it in only two phrases: “who art” instead of “which art” and “on earth” instead of “in earth”.

“Lord’s Prayer” is not a term that was seen before the Reformation.  Latin “oratio dominica “ was used at a very early time. In the Middle Ages, the prayer was recited in Latin even by the unlettered.  Thus, it came to be known as “Pater Noster” for a very long time.  From the days of the catacombs and the early days of Christianity,   reciting “Our Father “ has been an integral part of Christian daily devotions.  The rosary, the novenas, various penances, the Angelus, and Canonical Hours integrate this prayer.   St. Augustine had this to say: “whatever else we say when we pray, if we pray as we should, we are only saying what is already contained in the Lord’s Prayer.”

In the liturgy of the Catholic Church, “Our Father” holds a significant place.  It was St. Gregory who gave it today’s position after the Canon and before the fraction during the Mass.  In monastic rules, the lay brothers were expected to recite this prayer for prescribed number of  times and, to keep the count, they used pebbles or beads strung on cord.  Later, these beads came to be known as ‘pater noster’s even after the Lord’s prayer was replaced by ‘Hail Mary’s.

The Catholic Church recognized the divine authority of the Prayer very early and  proclaimed that all the faithful should recite it at least three times a day.  In one of its Canons, the Council of Toledo decreed that “no Christian worthy of the name should omit the frequent recitation of the Lord’s Prayer,…”.  The Council of Rheims passed a law known as the Rheims Testament.  It forbade  any Catholic “… not to know the Our Father, not to understand its meaning, and not to use it often in his prayers.”.  Often, pundits debated the possible source of Jewish prayers.  Felix Levy acknowledges the Jewish thoughts and phrases in the Lord’s prayer, but confirms that the choice and grouping of phrases are entirely original and very much Christian in theology.

“Our Father” is a prayer that is admired not only by Christians, but also by Jews and Muslims along with pedagogues of rhetoric and composition.  It is non-denominational.  It is a prayer that would accommodate the Sri Narayana Guru principle of “One caste, one religion, and one God”.  It is clear and simple, concise, and easily memorized. There is no need for too much talk. St. Peter Canisius found that, in His infinite wisdom, Jesus compressed into very few words all the desires and aspirations of the human heart in its intimate conversation with God. It is the single unifying bond of all Christians and a unifying form of communication from the created to the Creator.

The most popular prayer, “Our Father” breaks language barriers.  Since printing began, there were several polyglot collections of this most popular prayer. The most famous are the one published by John Chamberlayne in the early eighteenth century (150 languages) and the one published by Padre Hervaz in 1787 (307 dialects and languages).  In present times, the prayer is recited in hundreds of languages.  The author could not locate a later collection except the one seen at . Another resource for this beautiful prayer in many languages is

Greek                                                                    Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,·
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς· τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον· καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν· καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,
ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.’s_Prayer
Pater noster, qui es in caelis:sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;adveniat Regnum Tuum;fiat voluntas Tua,sicut in caelo, et in terra.Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;et dimitte nobis debita nostra,Sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;et ne nos inducas in tentationem;sed libera nos a Malo.’s_Prayer
Roman Catholic  (1928)Anglican (without doxology)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.’s_Prayer Anglican (1662), with doxologyOur Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. [For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.] Amen.’s_Prayer
English Language Liturgical Consultation (1988)Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,on earth as in heaven.Give us today our daily bread.Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.[For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.] Amen.’s_Prayer Malayalamസ്വര്‍ഗ്ഗസ്ഥനായ ഞങ്ങളുടെ പിതാവേ, അങ്ങയുടെ നാമം പൂജിതമാകണമേ, അങ്ങയുടെ രാജ്യം വരേണമേ, അങ്ങയുടെ തിരുമനസ്സു, സ്വര്‍ഗ്ഗത്തിലെ പോലെ ഭൂമിയിലുമാകണമേ, അന്നന്നു വേണ്ട ആഹാരം ഇന്നു ഞങ്ങള്‍ക്കു തരേണമേ, ഞങ്ങളോടു തെറ്റു ചെയ്തവരോടു ഞങ്ങള്‍ ക്ഷമിച്ചതു പോലെ ഞങ്ങളുടെ തെറ്റുകള്‍ ഞങ്ങളോടും ക്ഷമിക്കേണമേ, ഞങ്ങളെ പ്രലോഭനത്തില്‍ ഉള്‍പ്പെടുത്തരുതേ, തിന്മയില്‍ നിന്നും ഞങ്ങളെ കാത്തുരക്ഷിക്കണമേ, ആമേന്‍ Doxology [എന്തുകൊണ്ടെന്നാല്‍ രാജ്യം, ശക്തി, മഹത്വം അങ്ങയുടേതാകുന്നു,]

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