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"Our Father"

Monday, October 20, 2014
It is an act of audacity to call God ‘Our Father’. Although God as creator is in a sense ‘Father’ of the whole world that proceeds forth from his creative word, we can claim no natural right to address Him in the intimate and familial way in which the fatherhood of the Pater Noster speaks. It rolls off the tongue as perhaps the first prayer we memorise as children, but we only dare to make it our own because we have first been authorised and commanded to do so by Jesus Christ, who is the personal revelation of the Father in our world. To address God with such filial boldness is an act of fidelity to Christ, who instructed the disciples to pray in this way in response to their recognition of dependence and insufficiency. The Lord whom they seek is already the one who causes their seeking, and it is in response to their petition (itself already a prayer)—“Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1)—that Jesus teaches them the Our Father as an invitation into his own prayer life, a route into that communion which alone fulfils their deepest desires, the Son’s own relationship to God the Father.

The ‘Fatherhood’ which the Our Father speaks of is, therefore, not a generic image of Fatherhood, but the specific Trinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son, into which we are granted participation by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, Aquinas speaks of the words ‘Our Father’ as a nutshell summary of the entire Christian faith, words which cannot be uttered authentically without faith in the Triune God and the incarnation of the Son. Yet if they are a summary of the authentic doctrine of the faith, they are also a summary of the essential attitude and emotional disposition of Christian prayer (which Aquinas sees as the “interpreter of desire”): by addressing God as Father, we place ourselves in joyful obedience, humbly recognising the wonder of our own being and resting in the simple assurance of being loved into existence and loved into new life in Christ.

To pray Our Father, then, is part of our baptismal vocation. It is something given to us in that moment when we receive faith and are re-born anew by engrafting into Christ. It is not only because the Son alone can address the Father as ‘my Father’ that it is given to us to pray in the plural to Our Father, but also because our re-birth into the Son’s relationship to the Father is also the moment of our entry into the Church as the community of faith. For Christians, to be most fully a person is almost the opposite of being an ‘individual’. Baptism radically de-individualises us by drawing us into the communion of the Church, and the Christian always prays as a member of the Church, even when they do so in private. To pray Our Father is a reminder that we cannot ‘go it alone’, that wherever we go our connection to Christ and his Church abides, for we have been made an irreplaceable part of something bigger than ourselves upon which we depend for our own innermost identity. It is, therefore, most fitting that we pray Our Father at each celebration of Holy Mass, as the people of God are gathered—with the angels and saints—around the Eucharistic Lord, in anticipation of the Kingdom to come.


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