Give us our daily bread

Question: Although I recite the Lord's Prayer every day, I am never sure exactly what the words "Give us this day our daily bread" mean. Can you explain? Is it OK if I sing the Lord's Prayer silently?

- Linda R. by e-mail

Answer: A lot of meaning is contained in these words from the Lord's Prayer. However, they may be understood and interpreted in a number of ways. The words "give us" represent not a demand on our part, as if we are pleading for something that God would not give us otherwise. We are asking for those things that God has already promised. These words suggest openness on our part to God's gifts.

We note also that the word is "us" and not "me." We pray not for our own needs alone. We pray in solidarity with and cognizant of the needs of all our brothers and sisters.

When we pray for "bread," we are praying not only for ordinary bread and for the many material things bread signifies. We are praying that God will sustain our lives and provide for us all those things that are good for us. If we consider all the material, spiritual and psychological resources we need for life each day, we will be quite surprised at how extensive they are.

"Bread" stands for all the natural things that keep us in existence. It stands most of all for Jesus himself, whom we encounter through the word, the sacraments and the life of virtue.

We also ask that God will give us this bread "this day." The immediate meaning here is quite straightforward. We might say that we are praying for what will get us through today, letting God's providence take care of tomorrow and the future generally. But "this day" in the Bible has a special meaning. It refers to God's time. We are asking that in "God's good time" we will have all that we need. By "this day" we are not saying "we want it and we want it now." We are recognizing that God acts in our lives according to his calendar and not ours.

You are the first person I have ever heard ask about singing prayers silently. I suspect many people do, because I do myself - not very often, I must admit. But there have been occasions when I have sung the Liturgy of the Hours in my mind - with choir and orchestra and the lot! What I have been doing, of course, is calling to mind recorded sacred music. I think singing in your mind is perfectly fine.

'First among equals'

Question: Who is the Ecumenical Patriarch? Is he the same as the pope in Catholicism?

- D.L. Baynes, Rochester, N.Y.

Answer: The Patriarch of Constantinople - in present- day Istanbul, Turkey - is considered the "first among equals"in relation to all the patriarchs and bishops of the Orthodox world. Historically he is considered the leader and spokesman of Orthodox Christianity. The title "ecumenical patriarch" reflects his symbolic status in Orthodoxy.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople, which traces itself to Andrew the apostle, had a special place in the life of the Church from the earliest centuries. With the rise of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople took on special prominence, and the patriarch of that see began to be regarded as the Eastern equivalent to the papacy in the West. However, Constantinople has never held the same claim to authority over Orthodoxy that the pope has in Catholicism.

The present patriarch, Bartholomew I, was elected in 1991. Because the Patriarchate of Constantinople is centered in a largely Muslim city, its current membership is relatively small. Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit the patriarch in Istanbul this fall.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN46750or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.