Journey through Lent with the Our Father

Ash Wednesday

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; ...”

To call God “Father” is to declare and profess that we are children of God. Through baptism and faith we are joined to Christ’s Body, the Church; we can only know the Father through the Son, for “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This gift of sonship is free, but it is not free of suffering or trials. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are also reminded that the Son of Man was marked with thorns and blood, with suffering and sacrifice. As disciples of Jesus, we must take up our cross; as children of the Father, we must lose our life in order to find it.

The word “hallowed” is the Old English word for “holy” or “sanctified.” We pray that God’s name will be set apart and kept sacred, for God alone is worthy of worship. “We pray ‘Hallowed be thy name,’” St. Cyprian writes, “not that we wish that God may be made holy by our prayers but that his name may be hallowed in us.” In proclaiming God’s holiness during Lent and throughout the year, Christians promise to make his name and reputation holy here on earth.

First Week

“... thy kingdom come; ...”

Throughout the New Testament, the word “kingdom” is used in three different ways: as an abstract noun, a concrete noun and an action verb. The kingdom, then, is a cosmic concept, an earthly reality and an ongoing activity. All three at once!

When we pray for the kingdom to come, we look back to establishment of the kingdom by Jesus after his first coming. We also believe the kingdom is growing right now, here on earth. And we express hope that the kingdom will one day, at the appointed time, be fully revealed in power and glory. The Lord’s Prayer, then, is a prayer for the growth of the kingdom and its final and glorious appearing of the kingdom. In praying these words, we anticipate in hope that Christ, crowned with thorns and crucified during his first coming, will return crowned with glory and revealed in all of his majesty. In the meantime, we live in a state of what Blessed John Paul II called “eschatological tension” between the first and second comings of our Lord. Lent is a time that highlights this tension, for it helps us see more clearly how transitory and fleeting is our life in this temporal realm. It also anticipates the fullness of the life to come.

Second Week

“... thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Lent challenges us to choose between the perfect will of the Father and our imperfect will. Taking up the cross is a matter of choice, of will — and of surrendering our will to the Father. No one gets up on a cross simply because they feel like it. No, they have to willfully choose to do so. Jesus is the perfect model of the surrender and trust required. When we pray for the Father’s will to “be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray for the redemption of creation and the salvation of mankind. We join the Church in praying that God will bring about the final completion of his plan of salvation. The Father’s will is that “all men be saved” and “come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Third Week

“Give us this day our daily bread; ...”

On the physical level, the request in the Our Father for daily bread is very concrete, even practical. We need to eat in order to live. As children of our heavenly Father, we trust in him for the basic necessities of life: food, clothing and shelter. Our fasting and giving during Lent remind us that these essentials should never be taken for granted and that there are many who do not possess them. The petition for daily bread is our prayer that all men and women will have meals to eat, clothing to wear and homes to live in. Every moment of every day is a gift from God — taking this for granted eventually leads to ingratitude, which can lead to callousness and arrogance.

eschatonBut just as Lent points us to our eternal destination through temporal, material means, the Lord’s Prayer also points us toward heavenly glory by way of earthly paths. The entire prayer is eschatological in nature — that is, it directs toward The End (the ) and teaches us to think and pray as pilgrims on earth traveling toward heaven. And so our daily bread is not just ordinary food, but the bread of life and the food of immortality — the Eucharist.

Fourth Week

“... and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, ...”

The catechism says “forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another” (CCC, No. 2844). The new covenant is rooted in mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness is always a gift from God; without his grace, we cannot truly forgive. This is why forgiveness is intimately linked to the fatherhood of God, as heard in the words of the Psalmist: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Ps 103:13). Forgiving is difficult, and so is fighting temptation. As we pray throughout Lent, hidden weaknesses will come to light and sinful habits will reveal themselves. The Mass and devotions of the Lenten season help us to acknowledge our failings and our struggles with temptation. Times of prayer and contemplation lead us to ask hard questions. What are the temptations that regularly confront us? What can we do to avoid occasions of sin? How must I change my ways in order to be holy?

Fifth Week

“... but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

“The whole New Testament,” wrote Father Hans Urs von Balthasar, “is unanimous on this point: the Cross and burial of Christ reveal their significance only in the light of the event of Easter, without which there is no Christian faith.”

We must not shy away from this great truth: Christianity without the cross is just another moral code taught by a great man, and the cross without the resurrection is just the tragic death of an inspiring leader. The “evil” here is not an abstract concept, but is the personification of evil — Satan.

We are incapable of grappling with Satan on our own. He is a spiritual being — a fallen angel — whose intellect and power far exceeds that of any man. The lone exception is the God-man, who strengthens and protects his flock from evil (cf., 2 Thes 3:3). Only Jesus can overcome evil and Satan; only he can go the cross and by dying destroy the power of death.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.

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