The Our Father and the Seven Sacraments

Sermon on the Mount, Fra Angelico

Sermon on the Mount, Fra Angelico

“Give us this day our daily bread” is a classic form of the spiritual communion.  It expresses the heart of receiving communion: Jesus become our bread, our only longing, our daily sustenance.  We enter more deeply into sacramental communion, or enter into it when we cannot sacramentally receive, by entering into this line of the Our Father.

On the other hand, the Eucharist gives us a deeper entrance into that line, helps us understand what those words really mean.  The sacrament gives substance to the prayer.

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“Give us this day” is the heart of the Our Father, right in the middle.  The whole prayer, in a sense, revolves around this pivot, gives content to it.  One way to appreciate the Our Father as a whole is to think about how the seven petitions match with the seven sacraments.  As with “Give us this day,” the words of the Our Father help us enter into the sacraments, while at the same time the sacraments help us enter more deeply into the words of the Our Father.

There are other ways, of course, to approach these this.  People have found other ways to line up the sacraments with the Our Father.  I myself have written on this web page a commentary on the Our Father without the sacraments, dividing it into twelve rather than seven.  But this is the richness of revelation: a great writer like Shakespeare frequently says two things at once, and the Divine Author fills his words with a many complementary meanings.

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Our Father, who art in heaven.  Baptism is the beginning of our life of faith, and the first line of the Our Father goes with it.  By Baptism we are reborn, not from earth, but from heaven.  By Baptism we can call God our Father; without Baptism, we cannot properly speak of him as our Father.

Hallowed be thy name.  We immediately raise our hands in worship.  And this is the heart of Holy Orders – we the laity look to the priests to lead us in hallowing the name of God.

Thy kingdom come.  The family is the first cell of society, the beginning of our building of the Kingdom.  Holy Matrimony is not the only way we build up his kingdom here on earth, but it is the first seed of that Kingdom.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Whereas the “kingdom” speaks of order and community, “thy will” speaks of pure grit.  “On earth as in heaven” underlines the challenge: in heaven it will be easy, on earth it is hard, but we want to do his will here, as well.  The sacrament of that grit is Confirmation, the strengthening, the anointing for battle.  When we feel overcome, we call on our Confirmation: “thy will be done!”

These first four are the sacraments of mission.

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Give us this day our daily bread is the arrival point, the heart of the matter.  It is the strength to live everything else, and the sweetness that the rest is for.

The last three petitions are not mission, but life, living it out.  Each of them has two parts, a complexity like life in the world.  “And” marks each new petition/sacrament.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  “Forgive us” is clearly the sacrament of Confession.  The second part, “as we forgive,” takes us to the depths of that sacrament, which bears fruit in our own transformation.  Nowhere is that transformation clearer than when we who have been forgiven begin to extend that mercy to others.

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And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  The culmination is the richest, perhaps the most difficult part to understand, and it goes with a sacrament to match, the Anointing of the Sick.  Why does it say “but”?  Because temptation and deliverance go together, two sides of the same coin.  It is sickness, and sickness unto death, that shows us the connection.

The Lord leads us to death – death of various kinds, until the full death of our earthly body.  And death (even the little deaths) is the ultimate temptation, the temptation to despair.  But we pray that God will lead us not into temptation – let that not be the destination.  Rather, lead us through temptation, through the tempting, the test, the purification, to the liberation.  The temptations are the place of liberation.  If we can walk not into temptation, but past it, through it, temptation itself can be our liberation from evil.

This is the sacrament of the sick: God gives us death as the punishment of sin, but then he who walked to the Cross walks with us through death, so that the punishment itself becomes our liberation – because Christ is with us.

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What riches can you find in the Our Father?

eric.m.johnston

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