How to Pray: Our Father

Our Father Chapter Illustration

“Pray then in this way: ‘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.”

Matthew 6: 9-13

The seven lines of the Our Father are often called the Seven Petitions. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that not only do these petitions contain everything we could ever desire, but also in the sequence in which they should be desired. The first three draw us toward the glory of the Father, giving him praise. These last four ask for his help and commend our sins and weaknesses to his grace. 

Essentially then, the Lord’s Prayer provides us with a template in how we approach and talk with God. We pray this as a community during Mass, and we can pray this prayer at all times – to begin or end our time in prayer, when we are stressed or grateful, right when we wake up or before we fall asleep. 

Simone Weil, a 20th century philosopher said, “The Our Father contains all possible petitions; we cannot conceive of any prayer not already contained in it. It is to prayer what Christ is to humanity. It is impossible to say it once through, giving the fullest possible attention to each word, without a change, infinitesimal perhaps but real, taking place in the soul.”

We often forget how radical and deeply transformative this prayer can be.

In this post, I’ll break down the Our Father line by line, in the hope that each time we pray these words, we may be changed by God. 

Our Father

The love God has for us is the unconditional, intimate, all-encompassing love of a father. In naming who he is, God shows who we are: if God is our father, then we are his sons and daughters. We, then, are both invited to come to God with child-like trust, and called to be like him, to love as he loves. Notice Jesus taught us to use the word “our,” just as for the rest of the prayer we use the word “us.” This prayer excludes no one; God’s love and fatherhood is for us all. 

Who art in heaven

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, heaven “does not mean a place, but a way of being; it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not “elsewhere”: he transcends everything we can conceive of his holiness.” We are all moving towards our final home in our Father’s house – not a place in the way we often imagine, but a state of grace, joy, and true peace. It is there that God resides and where he invites us to be with him both now and for eternity. 

Hallowed be thy name

Throughout Scripture, there is an ongoing emphasis on God’s name. For God to give us his name, he shows us that he is not a disconnected being who remains far removed, but someone who is close, invested in us, and deeply personal. The word hallow means to revere, honor, respect, to make holy. We have the privilege to know God’s name and to call on him. We have the freedom to disrespect to God’s name, to bring shame to it, or to glorify it and make it hallowed. When we pray these words, we are acknowledging the holiness of God’s name, and praying that we may hallow it through our lives.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Jesus sums up all the commandments in one: love God and love one another as God loves us. This commandment expresses what the will of God is. This sounds simple, until we realize how radical love is: love is Jesus crucified, dying for our sins. Love is the basis of the kingdom Jesus teaches of: a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. 

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are asking Jesus to fulfill his promise that he would come again on the Last Day. And we also are asking for God to bring his kingdom here and now, that we might reflect the kingdom through own lives and bring a foretaste of heaven to everyone we encounter. 

We learn to be open to the will of God and build his kingdom on earth through prayer. Each time we pray the Our Father we ask God to help us surrender our wills and trust completely in Him. When we desire God’s will above our own, when we let go of control of our lives, only then do we become more ourselves than ever. Only then can we love as God does and allow his kingdom to flourish. 

Give us this day our daily bread

Now we enter into the second half of the Our Father, in which we petition God for His help.

When the Israelites were saved by God from slavery, they were led into the desert where, every morning, God sent them manna – flakes that were made into bread. Each day everyone could eat their full, but if they tried to store the manna overnight, it would rot. By teaching us to ask for our daily bread, Jesus calls us to find peace in trusting him to provide for us, every single day, just as he did the Israelites. God desires for us to be fully in the present, not looking backwards in regret, or forward in anxiety, but to love and serve where we are here and now. 

Going beyond the bread God gave the Israelites, in John chapter 6, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” When we ask for our daily bread, we recognize that the Father gives us Jesus in the Eucharist as our truest nourishment. Jesus is the daily bread that we need to feed us, to fill us, and to lead us to eternal life with him. 

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

The first part of this petition is conditional on the second: in order to be forgiven we must forgive. When we fail to recognize and pass on the forgiveness God has given us, we move ourselves and others away from God. We are only able to forgive because we ourselves have been forgiven. Jesus shows us how and gives us strength to do as he did by forgiving us first. Through prayer, seeking advice from spiritual mentors, and receiving Sacraments like the Eucharist and Reconciliation, God showers his grace upon us, forging in us the capacity to forgive. By including this petition in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus reminds us that we cannot give our heart fully to God if there is any animosity towards others in it. 

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

The wording of this petition is confusing due to the difficulty of translating the original Greek into English. It can sound like we are asking God to not lead us into temptation, but it is impossible for God to tempt us against himself. On the contrary, God wants to set us free from evil, so in this petition, we are asking God to not let us take the path that leads to sin. We turn to God and ask him to help us distinguish between his voice and the voices that try to lead us away from him. One way we can distinguish between these voices is to ask questions like – is this thought or desire leading me closer to God? Does this open me to goodness, truth, and beauty? Will this action show God’s love to others and to myself? 

Amen.

Meaning, “so be it,” when we declare “amen” we are saying that we believe and mean everything we just prayed for. 

If you’d like to learn more and dive deeper into Lord’s Prayer, try out the Our Father Challenge on the Hallow app. Let your life be transformed by this prayer that God himself gave us.