We come now to a turning point in the Our Father, and in the sacraments. Our first four sacraments named permanent states of life. Baptism at the beginning, and then Confirmation as we reach some kind of adulthood, initiate basic membership in the Church. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony initiate the two principle offices, or forms of service, in the Church.
But the next three sacraments mark the way we live out those vocations: the Eucharist as our daily bread, Confession when we fall, and Anointing of the Sick when we enter the most fundamental suffering.
So too there is a turn in the Our Father. The first half of the Our Father is all “thine”: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will. (It begins with “our” Father – but it names him, not us, reverences who he is instead of asking anything for us.) The second half of the Our Father is all “ours”: our daily bread, our trespasses, deliver us.
The linchpin is “give us this day”: here we turn from the long-term to the specific struggles of our day to day.
And the lead-off point is “our daily bread”: we turn now from long-term vocations to our daily struggle.
The Eucharist is in many senses the center of the sacramental life. The only other sacrament with such a claim to centrality is Baptism, the beginning and doorway to the sacramental life.
And in many senses, the two petitions that go with these two sacraments sum up all the rest. To call God “Our Father” is everything. If we could pray nothing else all day, we would have everything. Or rather, every other prayer – including the other petitions of the Our Father – spell out for us what it means to say “Our Father.”
So too, “give us this day our daily bread” contains everything. It is the simple realization that everything is a gift. Calling God Father and asking for bread both point to the deepest gift, the gift of life itself – the life given us by our parents and sustained by our daily bread.
Our petition this week has two parts, each illuminating the other. “Our daily bread” points to the simplicity, the fundamental reality, of the gift of grace. It is our very sustenance. But we might just as well say nothing but, “give us this day, give us this day, give us this day.” “Our daily bread” sums up that absolutely everything is included in “give us this day.”
Our reading of the Our Father with the seven sacraments is meant to help us draw from the sacraments. St. John says, “the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true and no lie, and as He has taught you, abide in Him” (1 John 2:27).
There is something here akin to Eucharistic adoration, but with the other sacraments. By “the anointing” he means Baptism, and also Confirmation. We are meant to “dwell in,” or “abide” (two translations of the same word, so central to St. John’s vision) in our Baptism, and all the sacraments, to make a “spiritual Baptism,” as we make a spiritual communion. The sacraments are there – marriage and the priesthood, confirmation, and all the rest – waiting for us to let them penetrate us, waiting for us to let the oil seep into our souls.
When we pray “thy will be done,” for example, we dwell in our anointing, we call on the grace of our Confirmation to penetrate us.
But the most central of all these spiritual acts is, of course, spiritual communion. Jesus comes to us under the appearance of our daily bread so that we can learn to make “give us this day” our constant prayer. All is contained in those words. In that act of spiritual communion is also our spiritual confirmation, our spiritual baptism, our drawing on the priesthood and marriage and the others.
And again, the other words are there to spell out these ones – to help us see the completeness of the grace of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist he gives us the grace of marriage, the grace of confirmation, and all the rest. “Give us this day” is a prayer that contains all the others – and all our other prayers help us spell out what we mean when we pray to receive “this day” from him.
St. John also says, “what you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you will abide in both the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). Let us soak in the words of this prayer, steep in these words that we have “heard,” till the grace of the sacraments penetrates and transfigures us.
How could your prayer life express constant dependence on our Father?