The Gospel passage for today's Eucharist revisits the occasion on which the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Their request merited them the prayer we have come to know as the Lord's Prayer. The Office of Readings, taking its cue from this Gospel passage, presents us with a commentary on that prayer by St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr.
Perhaps we have become so used to the familiar words of the Lord's Prayer that it is used with little thought or concentration on what it is we are saying. Just as the institution narrative lies at the heart of our Eucharistic Prayer, the Lord's Prayer is the foundation of the daily Divine Office. Going back to the very beginnings of the Church, we find the faithful gathering twice a day, morning and evening, to pray these words in common. When added to the daily celebration of the Eucharist, the Church insured that this prayer would be offered three times a day. As time unfolded, the faithful began adding the prayers of the Hebrew psalter to the morning and evening recitation of the Lord's Prayer. These gatherings provided the very beginnings of what we have come to know today as the Liturgy of the Hours. To this day, the practice of reciting the Lord's Prayer at the beginning and end of each day as well as at the Eucharist has remained the backbone of the prayer life of the Church.
While the history is interesting and the development of the Liturgy of the Hours is beautiful indeed, we should not be surprised that our prayer life unfolded in such a fashion. The Lord's Prayer is, after all, a gift from the Word of God incarnate. His prayer had become ours. What an incredible gift that has been and continues to be. As St. Cyprian points out, "The Lord has given us many counsels and commandments to help us toward salvation. He has even given us a pattern of prayer, instructing us on how we are to pray. He has given us life, and with his accustomed generosity, he has also taught us how to pray. He has made it easy for us to be heard as we pray to the Father in the words taught us by the Son."
Each of us learned early on about the different kinds of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, intercession and repentance. The Lord's Prayer encompasses all of these in a few simple words. Fashioned as it is on the foundations of the Hebrew prayers, the Lord's Prayer focuses our attention on God, the source of all that is good in our lives. At the same time, we are reminded in the very first word that we are joined to all other men and women, for God is not the possession of a single individual but is truly "Our Father."
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator