Prayer is not a blind call to God, a reach into the darkness for something to grasp. It is, instead, a response to the existing and constant call of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that "...the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer." (2567) When we reach out, it may be into darkness, but we know there is a hand there waiting to clasp our own.
Let's consider, together, the words of the Lord's Prayer - the fundamental and quintessential prayer of the Church (CCC, 2773, 2776). By better understanding what we are saying when we pray, we can better respond to God's call to prayer and grow in our love for Him.
We'll begin today with the first two lines of the prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven,Our Father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
We call God "our Father" because we are His children - not just His creations but truly His children. As St. Cyprian wrote, "a new man, reborn and restored to his God by his grace says in the first place 'Father,' because he has now begun to be a son." He went on to describe "those who believe ... sanctified through Him and restored by the birth of spiritual grace have begun to be sons of God." We were not just once created by God but sought, sacrificed for, and restored to God's friendship and family.
We recognize, too, that God is our father, not just my father. We are one body, one family, one Church. God's fatherhood is universal - catholic. When we receive Holy Communion, there is a piece for each member of the congregation yet each fully receives God. God cannot be spread too thin, so there is no reason for selfishness among His children. He is our Father. We pray for each other and not only for ourselves.
Hallowed be thy name
For a long time, these words didn't make sense to me. Why should we pray that God's name be holy? Isn't it already? We say this "not because we wish for God that He be hallowed by our prayers, but because we seek from the Lord that His name be hallowed in us." (Cyprian)
In other words, "this is a help for men, not for God." (Augustine) God's name is already holy, it is always holy. Men cannot change that, though we act sometimes like it is not true. We take God's name in vain. We ignore the Word, the Body, and the Blood we receive from God at every Mass. When we say these words, then, "we are reminding ourselves to desire that his name ... should also be considered holy among men." (Augustine)
St. Augustine of Hippo. "Our Father: On the Lord's Prayer." Available from http://crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/273/Our_Father__the_Lord_s_Prayer_Augustine.html. Internet; accessed 14 April 2009.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2d ed. (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1997).
St. Cyprian. "The Lord's Prayer." Available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/SOURCES/LORDPRAY.TXT. Internet; accessed 14 April 2009.