Lord's Prayer, The

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The model prayer, so named because it was taught by Jesus to his disciples. From its first words in Latin it is commonly called the Pater Noster (Our Father). It is treated here according to its form, its contents, and its use in the liturgy.


The Lord's Prayer is found in the Gospels of Matthew (6.9b13) and of Luke (11.2b4), but in different contexts and with considerable variations.

In Matthew. In the first Gospel the Lord's Prayer is part of the Sermon on the Mount, following an instruction on prayer and introduced by the words of Jesus, "In this manner therefore shall you pray" (Mt 6.9a). It is composed of an address and six petitions. The verse numbers are included in parentheses.

Address: Our Father in heaven (9b), Petitions: 1. hallowed be your name (9c). 2. your kingdom come (10a). 3. your will be done on earth as in heaven (10b). 4. Give us today our daily bread (11). 5. And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors (12). 6. And do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one (13).

Many manuscripts, but not the best nor the oldest, add the words, in variant forms, "For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever, Amen." This doxology was used by the Jews at the time of Christ. In a more elaborate form it already occurs in 1 Chronicles (29.1113). The Christians in the East added it to the Lord's Prayer when they said this prayer at divine service, as can be seen in the didache (8.2) version of the Lord's Prayer. The Greek scribes, accustomed to this liturgical use of the prayer, gradually introduced it into the text of Matthew's Gospel. It is certain, however, that it is not a part of the Gospel text.

In Luke. In the third Gospel the setting of the Lord's Prayer is the prayer of Jesus Himself (11.1). After seeing Jesus in prayer, the disciples ask Him to teach them also how to pray. The Lukan version has an address and five petitions. The verse numbers are shown in parentheses.

Address: Father (2b), Petitions: 1. hallowed be your name (2b). 2. Your kingdom come. (2c)[3 not in Lk.] 4. Give us each day our daily bread (3).5. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us (4a). 6. And do not subject us to the final test (4b).

In his smaller number of phrases Luke may be closer to the original Aramaic than Matthew, who may have added other words of Jesus: for "in heaven" (cf. Mt 6.1;6.14; etc.), for "your will be done" (cf. Mt 26.42), for "deliver us from the evil one," (cf. Jn 17.15). In some of his wording, however, Luke may be further from the original, for he shows signs of adaptation to a later Gentile audience: in petition (5) he uses "sins" instead of the more Semitic "debts"; in petition (4) he uses the Greek present imperative δίδου, "keep on giving," instead of Matthew's aorist δός, "give (once and for all)." This may show a later emphasis on the present rather than the eschatological needs of the church.


While the Lord's Prayer contains words used by Jesus himself in prayer, the plural forms indicate that it had already become the liturgical prayer of the Christian community in the first century. Although many of the

phrases of the prayer may be found in the Jewish liturgy, there is a new spirit that pervades it. For Christians, Jesus himself was now the way to God. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, they could now pray to the Father in the same manner he did (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6). Jesus, however, was not only the way, but the end of the way, the object of hope. So the early Christian community looked forward to his speedy return from heaven. This eschatological atmosphere must be kept in mind for a full understanding of the Lord's Prayer. Lending itself to this interpretation is Matthew's use of the Greek aorist tense with its "once and for all" meaning.

Address. The direct "Father" in Luke translates the original Aramaic abba of Jesus. This was his own distinctive and intimate way of speaking with his Father, now shared by Christians (Rom 8.15). The "our" in Matthew shows that the Lord's Prayer has already become a Christian community prayer, since Jesus nowhere addresses God in this manner. "In heaven" (Mt) distinguishes God the Father from any earthly father and may indicate the absence of any localization such as the Temple.

Petitions. First petition. The first petition is literally, "may your name be sanctified." However, the passive Greek forms in the first two petitions really represent Semitic reflexives, with the name of God standing for God Himself, so that the sense is: "May God sanctify his Name." The name in Semitic usage indicates the person as he makes himself known to others. The Greek aorist and the eschatological atmosphere of the prayer point to the last times: that God may sanctify all of humanity through the Holy Spirit. The Jewish Kaddish has a similar prayer: "May God's great Name be magnified and sanctified."

Second petition. Understanding the passive Greek form as above, the sense would be, "May God establish his reign" (see kingdom of god); Jesus came on earth to establish God's rule (Jn 18.3637). But the final stage of the kingdom can come only at Jesus' return, when he crushes the power of Satan (2 Thes 2.8). So the early Church prayed for the definitive establishment of God's kingdom at the end of time. The wording resembles the verse of the Jewish Kaddish following the one quoted above: "May God establish his reign during your life."

Third Petition. Parallel to the second petition, the Church prays that God may accomplish his salvific will, which is to redeem the human race (Eph 1.512; Jn6.3940). "On earth as in heaven": the Semitic expression, "heaven and earth," means the whole universe. Hence the petition refers to the redemption of the whole cosmos through Christ (Col 1.20).

Fourth Petition. Literally, in Matthew, "Give us today our future (?) bread"; in Luke, "Keep on giving us each day our future (?) bread." The word, πιούσιον (modifier of bread), has no proved parallel in Greek writings. Etymology offers two possibilities: (1) πί (on) plus εναι (to be), which could give us "daily" or "for existence," that is, the bread that is needed; (2) πί plus έναι, (to go, come), which could give us "the bread of tomorrow" or "the future bread." The Bohairic and Sahidic versions as well as Marcion have the latter reading, and St. Jerome writes that he saw the reading māār or "of tomorrow" in the Gospel of the Hebrews. The reading "bread of the future," or "tomorrow," would link with other Gospel references to the coming eschatological banquet (Lk 14.15; Mt 8.11). Words very similar to the petition are found in a Eucharistic context in John 6 (particularly 6.3135). This would also indicate a Eucharistic interpretation in this petition of the Lord's Prayer. Luke has the present imperative δίδου, "keep on giving," and καθ' μέραν, "each day," in place of Matthew's δός, "give" (once and for all), and σήμερον, "today." He thus draws more attention to that daily nourishment which anticipates the eschatological bread.

Fifth Petition. Literally, in Matthew it is, "and forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors"; in Luke, "and forgive us our sins, for we also forgive our debtors." The perfect tense in Matthew, "as we have forgiven," is the attitude of the Christian awaiting a proximate judgment. All Christians are called upon to beg God's forgiveness while disposing themselves by a generous forgiving of others' debts, knowing that if they do not do so, the words of Matthew 18.35 apply to them: "So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." Luke, with his present tense, "as we also forgive," emphasizes forgiveness for the sins of each day as a preparation for the future judgment.

Sixth Petition. Literally, in Matthew and Luke it is, "and lead us not into trial," to which Matthew adds, "but deliver us from the evil one." Before the final judgment, the early Church expected a great time of trial, a final terrible onslaught of the devil (2 Thes 2.18). All Christians ask to be delivered from this test, knowing that no human power could withstand such a trial (Mt 24.2122). Only the power of God can accomplish this (Rv 3.10). This final battle is the same basic struggle that Jesus faced by prayer in Gethsemane, where he asked his disciples to pray they might be spared the same trial (Mt 26.41). "But deliver us from the evil one" (Mt): the Greek phrase π το[symbol omitted] πονηρο[symbol omitted] means either "from evil" or "from the evil one." In John 17.15 Jesus prays, "[I ask] that you keep them from the evil one." Parallels such as this, and the meaning of the first half of the petition, incline us to the second translation, "the evil one." A reference to daily trials and temptations is not eliminated, for these prepare the way for the final test.


The early use of the Lord's Prayer in the baptismal liturgy is witnessed by a variant reading of Luke's second petition as quoted by several Fathers: "May your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us." The Didache (8.23) has the Matthaean form of the Lord's Prayer where it follows the baptism ceremony and precedes the Eucharist. The Didache instructs Christians to recite it thrice daily (8.3). In the ancient rites of the catechumenate there was a traditio of a "handing over" of the Lord's Prayer before baptism. This ancient practice has been revived in the Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults. The Lord's Prayer is sung or recited at the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as before Communion in the Eucharist.

Bibliography: h. van den bussche, Understanding the Lord's Prayer, tr. c. schaldenbrand (New York 1963). r. e. brown, "The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer," Theological Studies 22 (1961) 175208. m. drouzey, "Le 'Pater,' prière du Christ," La Vie spirituelle 93 (1955) 115134. m. e. jacquemin, "La Portée de la troisième demande du 'Pater,"' Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 25 (1949) 6176. j. roche, "Que ta volonté soit faite," La Vie spirituelle 93 (1955) 249268. j. b. bauer, "Libera nos a malo," Verbum Domini 34 (1956) 1215. g. walther, "Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der griechischen Vaterunser-Exegese," Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 40.3 (1914). p. j. van kasteren, Was Jesus predigte: Eine Erklärung des Vaterunsers, tr. j. spendel (Freiburg 1920).

[j. a. grassi/eds.]