BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (234): What prayer summarizes the whole Gospel?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 579) explains the importance of the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that the Lord Jesus Himself taught us.

“The Our Father is the ‘summary of the whole Gospel’ (Tertullian), ‘the perfect prayer’ (Saint Thomas Aquinas). Found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), it presents in the form of prayer the essential content of the Gospel.”

Fr John Hardon SJ, following the explanation of Saint Thomas Aquinas (see Summa Theologiae II-II q83 a9), comments in his book  History and Theology of Grace (pp 102-103) that it is very important “to know that we have in the Pater Noster a compendium of all the lessons that Christians should learn about prayer: [1] how we should pray, [2] what priority of values to observe, [3] what objects to request, and [4] how to state our petitions.

“Moreover within the petitions themselves is enclosed the whole of the Christian religion in miniature. Christ has given us a composite of faith and supplication that has an efficacy, compared in patristic writings with one of the sacraments. It is the one prayer most often recommended to obtain the gift of final perseverance.

“Saint Augustine, and after the Council of Trent, singled out the Oratio Dominica (Lord’s Prayer) as a quasi-sacramental means of obtaining remission for daily venial sins. ‘Since we live in the midst of the world, where no one can live without sin, the forgiveness of our faults is found not only in the sacred waters of baptism, but also in the daily repetition of the Lord’s Prayer. It is like our daily baptism’” (St Augustine, Enchiridion 81, MPL 40, 270).

Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that our Lord is not just telling us to repeat some words. It involves much more. In Jesus of Nazareth (Baptism to Transfiguration) (pp 132-133), the Holy Father wrote: “Jesus … involves us in his own prayer; he leads us into the interior dialogue of triune love; he draws our 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 meaning of the Our Father goes much further than the mere provision of a prayer text. It aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:5).

“…We must strive to recognize the thoughts Jesus wished to pass on to us in these words. But we must also keep in mind that the Our Father originates from his own praying, from the Son’s dialogue with the Father. This means that it reaches down into depths far beyond the words. …

This is why we cannot pray the Our Father just with our lips. The CCC 2766 teaches us: “Jesus does not give us a formula to repeat mechanically (cf. Matthew 6:7; 1 Kings 18:26-29). As in every vocal prayer, it is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit teaches the children of God to pray to their Father. Jesus not only gives us the words of our filial prayer; at the same time he gives us the Spirit by whom these words become in us ‘spirit and life’ (John 6:63). Even more, the proof and possibility of our filial prayer is that the Father ‘sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”’ (Galatians 4:6). Since our prayer sets forth our desires before God, it is again the Father, ‘he who searches the hearts of men,’ who ‘knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God’ (Romans 8:27).”

(Image: Julian