The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 6:7-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 15, 2013

For Bishop MacEvilly’s summary analysis of Matthew 6 see here.

Mat 6:7  And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard.

In the preceding, our Redeemer cautions us against a fault in prayer common with the hypocrites; in these verses, he puts us on our guard against a fault very common among the unbelieving heathens. They imagined that, in addressing supplications to their gods, they should employ a form of address, couched in an artful, rhetorical style of language, replete with vain, useless repetitions and amplifications, calculated to inform the gods of their wants, and apt to move them to lend a willing ear to their petitions, in the same way as advocates, pleading before judges, employ language calculated to move them to lend a favourable ear to their cause. The Greek word for, “speak not much” (βατλογησητε), literally means, vain, foolish repetitions, in allusion to a certain poet, named Battus, remarkable for employing such repetitions in his writings. The following words, “they think,” &c., show, that what it is our Redeemer here chiefly censures, is the Pagan practice of employing many words, rhetorically arranged, so as to instruct and move their gods. To this, there is derisive allusion made by Elijah (1 Kings 18:27). Our Redeemer does not here prohibit long or protracted prayers. For, He Himself, for our instruction and example, spent whole nights in prayer, “pernoctavit in oratione.” He also inculcated, continual, unceasing prayer. “We ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1). St. Paul (1 Thess 5:17; Coloss 4:2), inculcates the same. Neither does He prohibit vocal prayer often repeated. For, He Himself prayed in this way, in His last prayer for His disciples and the believers, and also in the garden, “Pater, si fieri potest,” &c. He only condemns useless, babbling repetitions in prayer, rhetorically arranged with a view of instructing and moving God, by their eloquent composition. There can be no reference here, to the litanies and rosary practised in God’s Church; since the repetitions contained in these, have only for object to commemorate the mysteries of redemption, which we cannot too often reflect on and express. They remind us of the deep gratitude we owe Almighty God, for all He has so lovingly done and accomplished in our regard; and they perseveringly urge our petitions for grace, on several grounds of confidence, and on titles founded on the several passages of SS. Scripture, which have relation to the loving mysteries of redemption. They are not intended to instruct God, or persuade Him, in the manner here condemned by our Redeemer. “For” (i.e.) on account of “their much speaking.” The Greek word for “much speaking,” here, πολυλογια, which literally and strictly means, what is expressed in our version, is quite different from the Greek word corresponding with “speak not much.” Both forms of expression are intended to convey the same idea, and mutually elucidate each other.

Mat 6:8  Be not you therefore like to them for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him.

“For, your Father knoweth,” &c. These words, which are a correction of the erroneous practice of the heathens in prayer, clearly convey what that practice was. The heathen prayer was intended to inform their gods of their wants, and, by a laboured style of composition, to set their wants clearly before them, the more effectually to influence them to hear their petitions. Our Redeemer says, no such thing is needed as regards our heavenly Father, who knows our wants before we present them, and pray for their remedy; and He only waits to have our petitions addressed to Him, in a proper way, to grant our requests; since, as our bountiful “Father,” He is more concerned for us, than we can be for ourselves. However, He has so arranged the decrees of His providence, that He makes our praying and petitioning Him, generally speaking, as a necessary condition for bestowing His gifts. It is only on condition of, “asking,” that we “shall receive,” &c. St. Jerome informs us, that the words of our Redeemer, in this verse, gave rise to a heresy on the part of certain philosophers, who said, why pray to God, if He knows all we need before we pray? We address Him to no purpose, who already knows what we mean. To whom the saint replies, “We are not narrators, but suppliants. It is one thing, to inform one who is ignorant, and another, to entreat one who is already aware of our wants.” Non igitur narratores sumus; sed rogatores. Aliud enim est narrare ignoranti; aliud, scientem petere. In illo, judicium est, in illo, obsequium” (in c. 6 Matthei).

But another question arises here, which St. Augustine also proposes. If it be a reason for not having recourse to long prayers, that God knows all before we pray, would not the same reason militate against short prayers also, and the form conveyed in the following, called the Lord’s prayer? It may be said that, strictly speaking, no particular form of words, either long or short, is, per se, necessary for the effect of our prayers with God, who, being a pure Spirit, chiefly regards the desires of our heart, without which vocal prayer is of no avail with God. However, He has Himself prescribed a brief form of prayer, to show us what we are to pray for, and how. Moreover, a short form of prayer may be useful and necessary, for exciting and increasing devotion, and should a lengthy form conduce to this end, it is so far laudable, and by no means, involved in the censure here uttered by our Redeemer. And although, as an omniscient God, He knows all things, before they happen, and has, therefore, a full knowledge of all our wants, and as a sovereignly bountiful Father, He is prepared to succour us; still, He has, for the wisest ends, so arranged the eternal decrees of His providence, that He has made it, as a necessary condition, at least generally, of granting what we want, that we should first beseech Him to grant it. In this, He has in view our good, to remind us, by the necessity of applying to Him, that all good comes from Him as its author, and that it is to Him thanks for it are, therefore, to be rendered—to make us value His gifts the more, as they are given only after earnest entreaty—to inspire us with a love of heavenly things, whereof the necessity of appealing to our Father, who is in heaven, for which we are destined, is calculated to remind us—to beget an increase of faith, hope, and charity, and accustom us to familiar intercourse with God—to inspire us with sentiments of true humility, from the consideration of our sins and ingratitude, which we expose to God in prayer. Finally, to render to God the homage of praise and thanksgiving, and humbly discharge this duty as we should.

Owing to the tendency of our minds to earthly things, it is very useful for the purpose of withdrawing us from those earthly thoughts, to employ the words of Holy Scripture, and particularly the Psalms of David, in which the several acts of homage, petition, humility, love, sorrow for sin, praise, thanksgiving, &c., are so feelingly and so eloquently expressed. The recitation of these psalms was a favourite spiritual exercise in the infant Church, and with the primitive Christians.

Mat 6:9  Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

The Pagans pray in the manner censured in the foregoing verses. But “you”—the children and sons of God—should pray “thus,” or, in the following manner. In this, our Redeemer does not enjoin on us to employ always the following form of prayer, which He Himself has divinely taught us. “Thus” only implies that the following prayer—the most perfect we could employ—should be the model of all our prayers, both in regard to the manner and arrangement, “seeking first the kingdom of God and His justice;” and to the matter: since this prayer briefly comprises all that we can ask for, either in regard to soul or body; all that concerns the present visible world, or the invisible world to come. The superior excellence of this prayer, which is accommodated equally to every class of Christians, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, may be estimated, first—from the consideration of its Author—the same, to whom, now enthroned in glory, in union with the Father and the Holy Ghost, it is addressed by the entire Church. In it, we pray not alone in the name, but in the very words of Christ.

And this consideration may be seen in a clearer light, were we to suppose an angel from heaven to come down, and leave us a form of prayer, composed for our benefit by the whole heavenly host. With what reverence would we recite such a prayer? But, with how much greater reverence still, should we receive and recite a prayer left us, and composed, not by any created or finite intelligence, but by the eternal Son of God Himself, “in whom the whole plenitude of the Divinity dwells corporally” (Col 2:9); “in whom are concealed all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” (Col 2:3); “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature” (Col 1:15)? Secondly—its excellence may be also estimated, from its comprehensiveness and brevity, containing, in a few words, a compendium of all we can pray for. Hence, Tertullian (lib. de Oratione), and after him St. Cyprian (de Oratione), term it, “the Breviary of the Gospel.”

It commences with the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” These words serve as an introduction to the prayer. They proclaim the goodness and power of God. “Father,” which relates to the entire Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, proclaims His goodness as evidenced in all the gifts of nature, grace, and glory, which, as our bountiful “Father,” He bestows on us. “Who art in heaven,” proclaims His full power and dominion over all things. These latter words also serve to withdraw our thoughts and cares from the things of this world, to raise up our hearts to the contemplation of that seat of bliss, where our “Father” reigns supreme, whereof we are citizens, whither we are tending, and the securing of which should be the aim of all our thoughts and actions. “If we are truly risen with Christ, we should seek the things that are above … mind the things that are above” (Col 3) Our Redeemer prefaces this, His own prayer, with the word, “Father,” which is expressive of the most endearing relation between man and man, to inspire us with filial confidence the most unbounded, since we are addressing One, who is not heedless of our miseries—One, who has for us the bowels and tenderness of a parent, and “who, although a woman should forget the son of her womb, will not forget us.” (Isaiah 49:15); “who, in His correction of us, treats us not as bastards, but as sons” (Heb 12); who has reserved or us specially, in the New Law, the privilege from which the Jews of old were excluded—that of being warranted in addressing to Him the endearing appellation f “Father” (Rom 8:15). These words also serve to remind us of the gratitude and love we owe the Master of heaven and earth, for deigning to become a Father to us.

The word “our,” which runs through the entire prayer—“our daily bread,” “our trespasses,” &c.—not “my Father,” “my daily bread,” &c.—is meant to remind all Christians, rich and poor, of every rank and condition, of the mutual charity they owe one another as children of the same common Parent, who adopted all His children in Jesus Christ; with whom, in the new spiritual existence, which all receive in Christianity, there is no exception of persons. With Him all conditions are equal; with Him, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free.” (Col 3:11). It is meant, therefore, to remove all grounds of haughty insolence, on the part of the rich and exalted, and of murmuring and discontent, on the part of the poor and lowly. Members of the same mystical body of Christ, all should strive for the sake of the head, Christ, to perform properly the allotted functions, as He has been pleased to arrange them, for the common advantage of the body. (1 Cor 12) The word “our,” also reminds us that in this prayer, each one addresses God, not in a mere individual capacity, but as a member of the great Christian family; and that he prays, not merely for himself, but, in a certain sense, for all Christians.

The words, “who art in heaven,” by no means insinuate that God does not fill all space with His glorious immensity. “Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord,” (Jer. 23:24); “If I ascend into heaven, Thou art there,” &c. (Ps 139); “in Him we live and move,” &c. (Acts 17) They are merely meant to convey that, though God be everywhere, still, He is said to be in a special way “in heaven,” because there He is seen “face to face,” and manifests His glory to His angels and saints. And our Lord, in using these words, has in view the reasons above assigned.

“Hallowed be Thy name.” This prayer, which contains all that we can lawfully ask of God, is composed of seven distinct petitions; the first three directly and immediately regard the glory of God—“Thy name,” “Thy kingdom,” “Thy will”—the remaining four directly and immediately regard our spiritual and temporal welfare—“our bread,” our trespasses,” &c.; and indirectly, the glory of God, which everything in creation is destined to subserve, with everything referred to it as its final end. Or, this prayer may be said to be composed of two parts, viz., a petition for blessings, and a deprecation of evil. The petition for blessings embraces four points, the first of which regards God, for whom we desire what alone can be desired for Him, viz.—that honour be rendered to Him by all—“hallowed be Thy name;” the remaining three, ourselves. We pray, first, for the greatest blessing for ourselves, viz., life eternal—“Thy kingdom come;” next, for the means of securing this, viz., the grace to fulfil God’s holy will, to practise virtue, and exercise good works—“Thy will be done;” and, lastly, goods of the lowest order—“give us this day,” &c. Thus, we seek first, “the kingdom of God and His justice.” The deprecation of evils also contains three points—first, we deprecate the greatest of all evils, sin; secondly, those of an intermediate class, the occasion of sin; thirdly, the lowest class of evils, temporal afflictions. Or, perhaps, this latter point, regarding the deprecation of evils, might be more naturally divided, not into three, as above, but into two parts. In the first, we deprecate evils of the greatest magnitude, viz., the sins we committed; in the second, present and future evils; hence, the Church, after the “Pater Noster” in the holy Mass, subjoins, “libera nos ab omnibus malis prætcritis, præsentibus, et futuris.” The same order in regard to God’s glory in the first instance, and our benefit in the second, is also observable in the precepts given to the human race on Sinai—those of the first Table prescribe what we own to God; those of the second, the duties we owe our neighbour and ourselves.

“Hallowed be Thy name.” This first petition means, that the name of God, in itself most holy and adorable, “sanctum et terribile nomen ejus” (Psa. 110), “et sanctum nomen ejus” (Luke 1:49), would be treated as such by us, and by all creatures; that the infinite and adorable perfections of His Divine nature would be made known to all men; since, to love, adore, and serve God, with our whole hearts, we only want to know Him. We, therefore, beg first, in this petition, that the infidels, who now profane God’s holy name, upon whom never beamed a single ray of Divine revelation, who now transfer the honour due to Him to demons and senseless idols, would be brought to a knowledge of the faith. “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee,” &c. Secondly—That the Jews, who blaspheme Him in their synagogues, would be brought to adore this Triune God. Thirdly—We pray for the destruction of all errors and heresies opposed to God’s truths; we pray that all heretics would be brought within the ark of His holy Church, within the enclosure of that one fold, outside which there is no salvation. Fourthly—That the faithful would practically show that they know and reverence God; and, above all, that those among them, who lead immoral, Pagan lives, thereby causing “the name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles,” would be converted, and brought to perform works suited to their Christian profession, “as the children of light, and children of the day” (1 Thess 5:5); that they would redeem the past, and, by their edifying lives, cause those who before, on their account, blasphemed, now, on seeing their good works, “to glorify their Father, who is in heaven.” Fifthly, and finally, we pray, that as the name of God is unceasingly sanctified by the angels of heaven, singing, “Holy, Holy,” &c., so also, all irreverent invocations of God’s holy name having ceased, all men on earth would unite in loving and praising the name of God. For, the words of the third petition—“On earth as it is in heaven,” should be understood as referring to each of the two preceding petitions: “Hallowed,” &c., “on earth as it is in heaven;” “Thy kingdom,” &c., “on earth as it is,” &c.

Mat 6:10  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Thy kingdom come”—the second petition. “Kingdom” may mean, in a general way, God’s universal, supreme dominion, which He at all times exercises over all creatures, “regnum tuum, regnum omnium sæculorum” (Ps 145), although this is not the meaning of the word here. Secondly—In a special way, God’s spiritual reign of grace, which He exercised from the beginning in the souls of some just, and, from the Incarnation, throughout all nations, who before were ruled over by the devil. In this sense, we pray for the universal reign of God by His grace in men’s souls, opposed to the reign of the devil and of sin (St. Ambrose and St. Jerome interpret it thus). Thirdly—The kingdom by which He reigns over the angels and saints, whom He renders sovereignly happy in heaven (St. Cyprian). Fourthly—The most perfect, triumphant reign of His power, of His justice, and grace—the final consummation of His glory, when all His enemies, including the infernal spirits of every order, who infest the air which we inhale, whence they descend to wage their fiendish war against the extension of His glory, and the salvation of mankind, are brought to nought, and trampled under foot; and “death itself, the last enemy, shall be swallowed up in victory,” and, “God all in all,” by the universal sway and unopposed dominion He shall exercise, in the punishment of the reprobate and the glorification of His faithful servants (St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom). This kingdom commences after the general resurrection. “Come, ye blessed.… possess the kingdom,” &c. This is most likely the meaning chiefly intended here. It may also embrace the other meanings, as subordinate to it. We, then, pray, that the final reign of God’s glory may arrive. And, although this shall most certainly come whether we will it or no; still, our Redeemer wishes here to remind us, that we should prepare, during our exile here below, for that kingdom where we are to reign with God and Christ; and also, that we should so regulate our conversation, our consciences, as to look forward, with undoubting confidence, to the coming of God’s kingdom, and, relying on His fatherly goodness, patiently hope to be sharers in His unspeakable bliss. The inheritance, then, which “our Father who is in heaven” has in store for us, is a “kingdom,” of which we are heirs and co-heirs with His Son, Christ; infinite bliss which “neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard,” &c.; after which the psalmist sighed—“Woe to me that my sojourn is prolonged” (Psa. 119); My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God,” &c.; and after which the apostle longed—“I long to be dissolved,” &c., “unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me,” &c. Also, “we ourselves.… are waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8).

Again, as an indispensable condition for the arrival of this kingdom of bliss for us, and of glory for God, we here pray for the extension throughout the world of the holy, Catholic Church, in which alone faith can ordinarily be found. The Church is frequently termed the kingdom of God, in SS. Scriptures; because, in it alone does He reign on earth. It alone is the threshold for entering the kingdom of glory. By this universal extension of the Church, throughout every quarter of the globe, the coming of the most perfect kingdom of God, above referred to, shall be accelerated. For, it is commonly believed, that before the Day of Judgment, the Gospel shall be preached, at least successively, through every part of the earth; that all nations shall embrace the faith, and enter the Church, the Jews not excepted, who shall then be converted—“the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in. And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, He that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26).

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—the third petition. By “will” is meant the imperative will of God, embracing all His precepts, all that He wishes to be done, and to be avoided. So that we here pray, that until such time as the great manifestation of His glory, after general judgment, His most perfect reign, referred to in the preceding petition, shall take place, His reign on this earth would be as perfect as possible. This can be effected only by having His will obeyed, or all His mandates executed, which is the only means of arriving at the secure possession of His heavenly kingdom. For, “not every one that saith, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of My Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Hence, in this petition, we pray that all God’s ordinances and commands, whether emanating directly from Himself, and revealed in SS. Scripture or tradition, or justly enacted by those whom He has vested with power, either spiritual or temporal, would be obeyed by us, and by all men, with the same promptitude, perfection, and alacrity with which they are executed by His angels in heaven (“benedicite Domino omnes Angeli ejus … ministri ejus, qui facitis voluntatem ejus,” Psa. 102), and this we wish in opposition to the concupiscence of the flesh, the suggestions of the devil, and the allurements of the world, to whose will we oppose and prefer the holy will of God; and, although we know that, in this wicked world, the will of God is not to be so perfectly accomplished, still, it is the part of pious souls to desire what they know ought to be done, notwithstanding their knowledge that it will not take place. Moreover, we wish, should all disobedience to God’s will not cease, that, at least, it would be less than it is, and that there would be fewer than there are to resist His holy will. But, in order that we and others, for whom we pray, and desire the fulfilment of God’s commandments, may be able to do so effectually, the aid of His holy grace is necessary; since, without it, we cannot even conceive a good thought conducive to salvation. “We are not sufficient to think from ourselves,” &c., nor utter a good word in the proper spirit; “no one can say, Lord Jesus, except in the Holy Ghost,” nor perform a good action conducive to salvation; “Without me you can do nothing.” Hence, in this petition, we also beg for all the graces necessary for the entire and perfect fulfilment of God’s holy law and commandments, i.e., necessary for His will being done.

This will of God, as explained in the foregoing, is termed by theologians, voluntas signi, which may not be carried out; as it depends, in some measure, on man’s free will for its accomplishment. Strictly speaking, it cannot be called the will of God at all, or an internal act of the Divine mind. It is only a sign of it; and is called His will, metaphorically, just as a written instrument is called a testator’s last will, being a sign of it. It can hardly be said, there is any will or desire existing in God which is not accomplished; for, God’s will is eternal, one and the same with God Himself. Hence, it is attributed to Him, metaphorically, as anger is attributed to Him, on account of certain effects produced by Him, just as the salvation of all men is said to be willed by Him, on account of certain means provided by Him for this end. In the same way, He is metaphorically said to will certain things, on account of the mandates He gives, while at the same time “He leaves man in the hand of his own counsel,” free to observe or violate them. It is, therefore, termed voluntas signi, on account of the external signs given by God that He wishes it to be carried out. It is rather a signum voluntatis than a will at all. These signs of God’s will are five in number, viz., precept, counsel, prohibition, operation, permission. These five are usually the signs of a wish on the part of men; and, hence, they are transferred to signify the same in God, in whom the will indicated by the above five signs is presumed to exist, although it is not always so, as in man. One, however, of the above signs, viz., operation, is a most certain sign of God’s will, and bears towards it the assured relation of cause and effect. As regards this sign, the voluntas signi always coincides with the voluntas beneplaciti, as St. Thomas teaches (q. 19, Art. 12, ad 2), and it is only when the voluntas signi coincides with the voluntas beneplaciti, that it is sure to be accomplished and carried into effect.

Besides this, there is in God an absolute, efficacious will, which may be properly termed His will, called by theologians, voluntas beneplaciti. This is never frustrated; it is always surely accomplished. Its certain accomplishment arises from God’s omnipotence and immutability. Even when the voluntas signi is frustrated through human perversity, and men violate God’s commandments, and condemn themselves to hell, this absolute will is still accomplished, which has for object, to permit certain things to happen, and certain evils of every sort to exist in this world. As far as this absolute will is concerned here, we beg of God grace, in this petition, to conform to this adorable will, in all the events of life, in all the heavenly dispositions of His providence, both in prosperity and adversity. But it is of the former will, voluntas signi, there is question chiefly here, as is clear from the words, “sicut in cœlo et in terra.”

The motives for thorough perfect conformity to God’s holy and adorable will, which is the only true, solid, lasting source of comfort and consolation in the trials and crosses and difficulties of life; which, being founded on God, shall endure when all human considerations, all philosophical motives of worldly patience and endurance of the inevitable shall fail, are derived, principally, from the consideration of His paternal goodness. He is more concerned for us, than we are for ourselves. “Jacta in Dominum curam tuam et ipse te enutriet” (Ps 55:23). Also, from the consideration, that everything that happens in this world (sin excepted), whether great or small, happens by His positive will, “Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from God” (Sirach 11:14). “Shall there be an evil in a city which the Lord hath not done” (Amos 3:6). The very hairs of our head are numbered, and the sparrow falls not to the ground except by His will. Nay, what are regarded as fortuitous or accidental by men, are quite determined by God, “who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1) “Men draw the lots, but God directs the choice.” Also, from the consideration, that if we are destined for salvation, everything that happens to us (except sin) happens for our greater good. What He does, and wherefore, we know not now; but we shall see it hereafter. As everything, then, happens by God’s positive will, it is our duty, as creatures, to submit in all things to the dispensations of His adorable providence. A generous spirit of conformity to His holy will is the only permanent, solid, and enduring alleviation we can have recourse to, in all the trials of life, “fiat voluntas tua sicut in cœlo,” &c. “As it has pleased the Lord; so, it has been done; may the name of the Lord be blessed for evermore” (Job). One “blessed be God” in the hour of adversity, in the day of trial, is worth a thousand acts of conformity, in the sunshine of prosperity. “Fiat, laudetur atque in eternum superaltetur justissima, altissima, et amabilissima voluntas Dei in omnibus.”

Mat 6:11  Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.

“Give us this day our supersubstantial bread”—fourth petition. “SUPERSUBSTANTIAL.” The Greek word for “supersubstantial” (επιουσιον) is rendered “supersubstantialis,” here by St. Jerome, derived, according to some, from the root (ουσια), which means essence, substance; and means, what is necessary for the daily support and sustenance of our life. Hence, St. Jerome, when correcting the Vulgate of the New Testament, by the command of Pope Damasus, according to the best Greek readings (Novum Testamentum jussu Damasi Giræcæ fidei reddidit), translated the Greek word, επιουσιον, quotidianum (“daily”), in Luke 11:2, as it was commonly in use in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public offices of the Church, and the private devotions of the faithful at the time; nay, even, as we are informed by Tertullian and St. Cyprian, as early as the second and third century; “supersubstantial” and “daily,” signifying the same, viz., what is necessary for our daily sustenance. Some Greek writers, Suidas, Theophylact, and St. Basil (questio. 252), render επιουσιον, what is suitable or necessary for sustaining our life or substance, being added to our substance, having the same meaning as “daily.” The Syriac version has, the bread of our sufficiency or necessity. Others derive the word from επιουσια, scilicet, ημερα, “the coming day.” But, the word, “daily,” bears the same meaning, from whatever root we derive the Greek word.

“BREAD,” in Scriptural usage, frequently designates all things necessary for the sustenance of human life. (Gen 25:34; 2 Kings 6; Luke 14; Psa. 34; Isa 3) In this petition, then, while humbly acknowledging our total dependence on God’s holy providence for every moment that we exist; we pray for the necessary means of sustaining and prolonging life, viz., for meat, drink, clothing, and the decencies of our state of life. All these are included in the word, “bread.”

But it may be asked, how can the rich, who have wealth stored up for years, pray for what they already have in abundance—meat, drink, clothing, &c.? The answer is, that every one, no matter how independent in point of means, is dependent for the enjoyment of these means on the bounty of Providence. The fool in the Gospel (Luke 12:20), had to give up his soul on the very night of the day he seemed to boast of his independence of Providence. There is no family in which death would not make a great change. The death of a parent, child, &c., would often deprive them of the necessary props of existence. In this petition, we pray for their continuance in existence. Others would be ruined by a single mistake in a commercial or mercantile transaction. We all depend on the fruits of the earth, which might be ruined by the inclemency of the seasons, by fire, frost, hail, and the spirit of the storm, which God often employs as instruments for carrying out His designs. A sudden accident, an unforeseen conflagration, might ruin us for ever, and reduce us to a state of abject beggary. This and other accidents of the kind might make “many who lie down at night in possession of wealth, rise in the morning, as abject beggars.” Hence, it is that the rich should present themselves as suppliant mendicants before the throne of the Master of all, and petition for the continuance in their families of the goods they now possess. They should petition in the words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” for their own continuance in existence, which might be cut short in an instant, to enjoy the goods with which God has already blessed them.

“OUR,” reminds us that the petition has for object, what may be justly acquired; since no unjust acquisition can, in any sense, be termed “ours.” We can have no claim to whatever is unjustly procured. It cannot, therefore, be called “our bread.” Again, the term, “our,” reminds us of our obligation of labouring for our daily subsistence, in accordance with the decree, “Of the sweat of thy brow, thou shalt eat thy bread,” which, in a certain sense, is binding on all, in every rank of life. The labour designated by “sweat of the brow,” must vary according to circumstances, and the different conditions of life. Every one, who wishes to lead a Christian life, must labour in a way suited to his condition in life. If we eat the bread of idleness, and make the whole circle of our days, months, and years, a mere blank, a perfect void of existence—not to speak of the dangerous mood we must be always in, to be tempted and successfully assailed by the devil—we are unworthy of the very bread we consume. We are only contravening the original decree of God, repromulgated by the Apostle to the Thessalonians, “For, when we were with you, we declared, that if any man will not work, neither let him eat. For we have heard that there are some among you who walk disorderly, working not at all, but curiously meddling. Now, we charge them that are such, and beseech them by the Lord Jesus Christ, that, working with silence, they should eat their own bread” (2 Thess 3:10–12).

“GIVE US.” It is deserving of remark, that in the different petitions of this prayer, we address God not merely on our own behalf, but also on behalf of all the members of the Church; not merely in our individual capacity, but as members of the great Christian family with whom, as members also of the same mystic body, we should be kept indissolubly united by the manifestation of mutual love.

“THIS DAY.” These words are frequently employed in SS. Scripture to denote the whole term of human life. Thus understood, the words mean, “give us during the whole course of our life, the necessary means of support.” It is more likely, however, that the words refer to each particular day, and that we beg for each particular day, the necessary means of support. Like children, who apply every day for the pittance assigned them, by a loving parent, we, the children of “our Father, who is in heaven,” cast ourselves, each day, upon His providence, who feeds the ravens and clothes the lily with beauty; and, assuredly, He will not fail to make due pro vision for us. We are not, however, to infer from this, that we are either prevented or dispensed by this, from making a proper, prudent provision for the future. No; as a condition of God’s giving an increase, we are supposed to have toiled and laboured. We are supposed to have “planted and watered” before expecting from God an increase. The words of this petition only convey that we should east aside all undue solicitude for the future, which, after we do our part, would imply distrust in the arrangements of God’s adorable providence.

The words of this verse, while directly and immediately referring to corporal food, may be also understood to include (especially in the meaning attached by some to επιουσιον—excellent, transcendent) that most excellent of all foods, the adorable Body and Blood of Christ, which the Church would wish her children to receive every day—the bread of angels, which is the support of the soul; and, also, the Word of God, on which man spiritually lives; and, especially, Divine grace. The famine of this Word is the most dreadful famine with which God menaces a sinful people (Amos 8:11).

Mat 6:12  And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

“And forgive us our debts,” &c.—the fifth petition. In the preceding petition, we begged for all the blessings necessary for soul or body. In the three following petitions, we beg of God to avert all evils, past, present, or future, whether temporal or spiritual, that may mar our happiness here or hereafter. And, as sin is the greatest of all past evils, either as regards its guilt or consequences; hence, in this petition, we pray for the full and perfect remission of all our past sins. Although we owe God “debts” of many kinds—debts of gratitude, of obedience, thanksgiving, love, &c.—the “debts” referred to here are our sins, as St. Luke has it (11:4), “forgive us our sins;” they render us debtors to God’s justice, as may be seen from parable (18:27, and verse 14 of this chapter). Every mortal sin, as being an offence against a person of infinite dignity, contains infinite malice, and is, therefore, a debt of enormous magnitude. In this petition, then, while acknowledging the magnitude of the debts we owe God, and our utter inability to discharge them, we beg of Him, like the debtor in the Gospel (c. 18), to pardon us, which is, in other words, to beg of Him the grace to confess them as we ought, in the Sacrament of Penance, the only ordinary means appointed by Himself for their remission (John 20:23).

“As we forgive,” &c. “As,” does not express a strict rule or measure of forgiveness sought for, so as to imply, that if we do not forgive our enemies or debtors, and refuse to pardon them from our hearts, we would be begging of God not to forgive us. It only expresses a necessary condition of our obtaining forgiveness, and is used in the sense of “since,” “whereas,” “because,” in which sense it is used by St. Luke (11:4), “For, we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” So that a man who harbours feelings of aversion or hostility to his neighbour, when addressing God in these words, would, at most, be only guilty of a lie, which is generally understood to be of merely venial guilt. He would not be praying for his own condemnation; nay, should he make an effort to resist these vindictive feelings, although he had not actually mastered them, he might, by the fervent recital of this prayer, incline God to bestow on him the grace to love and pardon his enemy; and, by changing his heart of stone into flesh, to melt him into feelings of humanity and compassion.

I said, at most, all that would follow is, that the vindictive man would be telling a lie to God. Many hold, that even this would not be the case; since, in offering up this prayer, each one presents it in the name, and as a member of, the Church, in which there will be always found men to pardon their enemies; and, associated with these, the vindictive man can say, in a certain sense, “forgive us, as we forgive,” &c.

But, our Redeemer has attached to the words in which we beg forgiveness for ourselves, these other words, “as we forgive,” &c., to bring always before our minds, that we can hope for forgiveness, only when we shall have forgiven our enemies, from our hearts, the private injuries done us Hence, St. Augustine (Serm. 5, alias de diversis 48), addressing certain vindictive persons, who unable, or at least unwilling, to bring themselves to forgive their enemies, meant to omit this petition of the Lord’s Prayer altogether, says: “If you omit repeating the words, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ &c., your trespasses will not be forgiven; and if you repeat them, and do not, as you say, i.e., forgive your enemies, your sins will not be forgiven. It therefore, remains for us to say it and do it, i.e., repeat the words, craving forgiveness, and comply with the condition expressed, in order that they may be forgiven.”

The words of this petition by no means preclude our demanding public satisfaction and reparation, on public grounds, for injuries done us in person or property. They only prevent harbouring private feelings of vengeance and hatred. The omission to exact public satisfaction would subvert society; hence, not contemplated here.

Mat 6:13  And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.

“And lead us not into temptation”—sixth petition. “Temptation” is twofold: of probation, or trial; of seduction, or deceit. The first kind of temptation has for object to test our fidelity and virtue; and by showing, from an experimental knowledge of our weakness, how poor we are of ourselves, to inspire us with sentiments of true humility. Of such temptation, God is frequently said, in SS. Scripture, to be the author and direct cause. In this sense, is He said to have tempted Abraham. (Gen 22); Job and the Jewish people (Deut 13) In this sense, the Psalmist prays, “try me and tempt me” (Ps 26); and St. James tells us to regard it as all joy, when we fall into divers “temptations.” (James 1)

The second kind of temptation, i.e., of seduction, or deceit, has for direct object to allure us by the promises of enjoyment, or impel us by the threats of evil and punishment, to the commission of evil, and thus to cause our spiritual ruin. Of this, God can never be the direct cause or author. It is to this St. James refers, when he says, “Let no one say, when he is tempted, that he is tempted by God. God is not a tempter of evils; He tempts no one.” (1:13). It is in this sense the devil is called the tempter. (Matt 4; 1 Thess 3) It is of this latter kind of temptation, i.e., of seduction, or deceit, there is question in this sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” Of such temptation, God cannot be the author.

But it may be asked, if God cannot be the author of such temptation, why pray to Him not to lead us into that into which He cannot lead us, viz., into temptation, with the view of compassing our spiritual ruin? By the very fact of begging of Him, “not to lead us info temptation,” do we not imply He would do so, unless we deprecated it? In SS. Scripture, God is frequently said to do what He merely permits, when the event would infallibly take place, unless He prevented it. Thus, v.g., Rom 1, “God delivered up (the haughty philosophers) to the desires of their hearts” (Rom 1:24); “gave them up to shameful affections” (Rom 1:26); “delivered them up to a reprobate sense” (Rom 1:28); although, on His part, all this was a merely negative act, abandoning them, withholding, in punishment of their ingratitude, His lights and graces, indispensable for their avoiding sin. So also (2 Thess 2), “God shall send them the operation of error to believe a lie;” because, by withholding His grace, men shall as infallibly yield to the suggestions of the lying spirit, as if God Himself had sent him for the purpose of deception. So is it here, “lead us not into temptation.” The words mean, permit us not, by the withdrawal of Thy graces and protection, to consent or yield to the temptation that now assails us, to which we would as surely yield, unsupported by God’s grace and protection, as if God Himself had designed to mislead us; and no temptation, be it ever so violent, will overcome us without God’s permission. According to the above interpretation, which is that of St. Augustine, we do not, in this petition, pray to be delivered from all temptation; but, not to consent to temptation, strengthened by God’s grace, and invested with the panoply of Christian warfare, indicated by the Apostle. (Eph 6) St. Chrysostom and St. Cyprian understand the words to mean, do not allow us to be assailed by the seductive temptations of the devil. This we would pray for, from a sense of our own great infirmities; from a feeling of humility. Perhaps, both interpretations might be united, and they would thus more fully express the meaning of the words, “do not permit us to be assailed by seductive temptations (St. Chrysostom), and permit us not to yield to the seductive temptations by which we are already assailed.” The great importance of this petition may be seen from a consideration of two things; first, of our own weakness in our present fallen state, arising from blindness of intellect, strong inclination to evil in our own will—the legacy of Adam’s pride, always inherent in us—secondly, of the great strength of the spiritual enemies, whom we have constantly to encounter during the whole course of our life on earth, which is a state of continual warfare. The chief of these is the devil, who is ever going about, like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us (St. Peter), who with myriads of his infernal associates, infest the air we inhale, whence they descend to wage their fiendish war against us. St. Paul calls him, “The Prince of the Powers of this air.” (Eph 2) His great strength is described by Job, “non est potestas super terram quæ comparetur ei,” &c. (Job 12:24) His great power is also clearly indicated by St. Paul (Eph 6:11–16. See commentary on). This powerful, cunning spirit and his associates, employ the world and the flesh as their leagued allies and auxiliaries. The charms, and fascinations, and wicked principles of the former, and the corrupt and beastly pleasures of the latter, are the arms those wicked spirits wield with efficacy; whence it comes to pass, that thousands go to hell and but the tens, to heaven. In the words, “lead us not into temptation,” is conveyed, that our enemies can do us no harm save by Divine permission. Hence, we should fervently pray to God, in the words of this petition, not to permit them to harm us. This permission is often given by God on account of our sins. “Who hath given Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to robbers? Hath not the Lord Himself, against whom we have sinned?” (Isa 42:24).

From the above may be seen the importance of this sixth petition. Some commentators (among whom Jansenius Gandavensis) say, that in the Lord’s Prayer there are only six petitions altogether; that the concluding words, “but deliver us from evil,” only express, in an affirmative form, what was negatively expressed in the foregoing member; and that the word, “evil,” conveys, that there is question in the preceding only of such temptations as are “evil,” and intended to lead to sin. It is, these interpreters say, because the clause expresses, in an affirmative way, what was negatively expressed in the preceding clause, it was omitted altogether by St. Luke (11:4). But the different clauses of such propositions do not always refer to the same thing; they often refer to quite different things. The common opinion, then, is, that there are seven petitions (St. Augustine in Enchiridio, c. 115, 116), corresponding with seven of the evangelical beatitudes, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost (Idem L. 2, de Sermone Domini, c. 11). In verse 12, we pray to be delivered from all sins whatsoever; in verse 13, from all temptations and dangers of committing sin; and in the words, “but deliver us,” &c., from all afflictions whatsoever, the consequences of sin, corporal or spiritual, temporal or eternal.

“But, deliver us from evil. Amen.” This is the seventh petition. By “evil” some commentators understand the devil, called “evil,” because he was the author of all evil, of all guilt and sin, “a murderer”—who slew the souls of men—from the beginning—“evil,” too, because he is the instrument which God employs in visiting sinners with evil and punishment. In reference to this latter circumstance, it is said by the Prophet Amos: “there is no evil in the city which the lord had not done;” and elsewhere, “I am the Lord … making peace and creating evil.” The devil is also called “evil,” because by his very nature, full of malice, he bears an undying hatred, and entertains the deepest malignity for the human race. According to this interpretation, adopted by many of the Fathers (Tertullian, St. Chrysostom, &c.), the words mean: “but deliver us from the power of the devil.” The construction of the sentence in verse 13, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” with the adversative particle “but,” would favour this view. It is moreover, in its favour, that the great source of temptation, the great enemy with whom we have to contend, is the devil, who employs the world and the flesh as his associates and auxiliaries; and hence, “lead us not into temptation” would be clearly expressed in an affirmative form in the words, “but deliver us,” &c., the meaning of the entire sentence in such a construction being, “do not allow us to fall into temptation; but, rather deliver us from the power of the devil, the source of temptation in this life.” The Greek words, ἀπο͂ το͂ῦ πονηρο͂ῦ, will bear this construction, “from the evil one.” However, the words, even with the article, will bear a neuter and more extensive sense, so as to mean evil in general, in which sense it is used in some parts of the SS. Scripture, v.g. (Deut 4:25; Rom 12:9; Thess 3:3). So that, according to the views of the best critics, it must be determined from the context, whether the words are to be taken in a limited sense to designate the wicked one, or in a more extensive sense, to designate, evil in general.

The more common opinion, as has been already observed, is, that the word “evil” is taken in a neuter and more extensive sense, to denote the temporal evils and misfortunes of this life, and we deprecate them as possibly leading to spiritual and eternal ruin. So that, as in the preceding petitions, we begged to be freed from the guilt and eternal consequences of sin, whether past, present, or future, in this last petition we beg to be freed from the temporal consequences of sin; the condition, however, being understood, that such exemption may not prove detrimental to our souls; otherwise our prayers would be inordinate, as opposed to the great end of our creation. Indeed, the word may be taken in its most extensive sense to embrace evil of every kind, temporal and eternal. So that this petition will not be fully accomplished save in the resurrection of the dead; when “death” (with all the ills to which flesh is heir) “is swallowed up in victory.” In this petition, then, we pray to be saved from water or drowning, from fire, thunder and lightning, from the injurious effects of the seasons on the fruits of the earth, from famine, seditions, rebellions, and wars. We beg of God to avert disease and pestilence, devastations, robberies, chains and imprisonment, and all the other evils whereby the life of man is rendered unhappy. We beg that the goods which mankind prize or esteem be not converted, as they sometimes are, into sources of evil and misfortune for us. We beg to be preserved from a sudden death, which is oftentimes inflicted, only as a temporal punishment for sin—in a word, we beg of God “to preserve us,” in the language of the Church, “from all evils past, present, and to come.” When, however God sends us temporal evils, we must receive them humbly from the hands of our loving Father who is in heaven, as fatherly chastisements. This good Father sees that temporal afflictions are sometimes useful and necessary for us; and hence, when we pray to be delivered, He will not hear us, knowing that instead of bread He would be giving us a stone; instead of a fish, He would thus be giving us a serpent. We should patiently bear temporary evils and sufferings, following in the footsteps of our great leader and captain. “It would be unseemly,” says St. Bernard, “to find delicate members under a head crowned with thorns.”

“Amen,” which St. Jerome calls “signaculum Dominicæ Orationis” (Comment, hic.), is a Hebrew word retained in the Latin edition of the SS. Scripture and ecclesiastical prayers, as St. Augustine assures us (Lib. 2 de Doctrin. Christ, c. 11), “propter sanctiorem auctoritatem” but chiefly from a feeling of reverence for our Divine Lord, who frequently used the word. Firstly, it has the force of affirmation in the beginning of a sentence, the same as the Greek, ναι, αληθως. Secondly, at the end of a sentence it means “so be it,” expressive of assent to, or desire of, what precedes. When it is used in the Lord’s Prayer, in the Mass, it is not said by the people, with the words, “sed libera nos a malo,” but by the priest, after them, to convey to us, that God Himself, between whom and the people, the priest is mediator, ratifies what is done, and declares on His part that He has heard the petitions presented to Him by priest and people in the Lord’s Prayer; as our Lord said formerly to the Chanaanite woman, “fiat tibi sicut vis” (Matt 15); (Catechism of Council of Trent on this prayer).

In the received Greek text, to this prayer are added the words, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” This form of Doxology has, no doubt, the chief weight of extrinsic evidence in favour of its authenticity. It has almost all the Greek MSS., the Syriac, as also the Persian, Ethiopian, Armenian, Gothic, and Selavonic versions, and some Greek Fathers, among the rest, St. Chrysostom. Notwithstanding this, the judgment of critics is decidedly opposed to its genuineness. We are informed by Bloomfield (Greek Testament, vol. i., p. 34), “that, with the exception of Matthei, all the more eminent editors, from Erasmus and Grotius down to Scholz, have rejected it.” Although the Byzantine family of MSS. is favourable to its genuineness, still Scholz, whose leaning to this family of MSS. is so well known, after weighing the evidence for and against, subscribed to the judgment of those critics who rejected the passage as spurious. “Egomet,” he says, “cum complut. Erasmo, Camerario. Grotio, Milio, Bengelio, Wolsteinio, Griesbachio, eam ut spuriam rejeci” (Novum Testamentum Græce; Scholz textum recensuit, vol. i., p. 15).

Against it we have intrinsic evidence. It by no means harmonizes with the context. Its insertion, on the contrary, gives an appearance more harsh still to the reference made by our Redeemer, from verse 12 to verse 14.

Extrinsic evidence is far from being altogether in its favour. It has eight very ancient MSS. against it, including the Codex Vaticanus (see Bloomfield, vol. i. page 35). It is marked as doubtful in other Greek MSS. It is wanting in the Vulgate before and after St. Jerome’s time, and in some other versions. Many of the Greek and Latin Fathers are opposed to it. It is wanting in St. Luke (12:4), and it would be much easier to account for its insertion in St. Matthew, although not genuine, than it would for its omission in all the copies of St. Luke, if really genuine. No reason could be assigned for its total, universal omission in the latter case; whereas, its insertion in St. Matthew, even supposing it spurious, can be probably accounted for thus:—It was the custom of the Greek Church, from which is principally derived the extrinsic evidence in favour of the genuineness of the form in question, to make frequent use of Doxologies in the Liturgy. To the Greek Church, the Doxology, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son,” &c., now so commonly in use at the end of the Psalms, is attributed. It was the Greeks also that added to the “Hail, Mary,” because thou hast brought forth our Saviour. It was quite usual with St. Chrysostom and other Greek preachers to conclude their sermons with such words as these, “For thine is the power and glory,” &c. It is likely, then, that from the margin in which these and similar words were written, they were introduced into the text, through the mistake of copyists, by whom they were supposed to be part of the genuine text. Their introduction into the text of St. Matthew may be thus probably accounted for; whereas, if genuine, there could be no conceivable way of accounting for their omission in all the copies of St. Luke. Although spurious, the Doxology in question must be, from a very early date, found in the text of this 13th verse of St. Matthew, since it is in the Peschito-Syriac version. It must come by surprise on those who charge the Catholic Church with curtailing the Lord’s Prayer, in consequence of omitting the Doxology in question, to find that the most eminent Protestant critics and editors have agreed on rejecting it as spurious.—In the very last revision of the Bible published by the most distinguished Protestant Divines, it is utterly ignored and omitted.

Mat 6:14  For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences.
Mat 6:15  But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.

“For if you forgive,” &c. In the words of these verses, our Lord explains the reason of the addition made to the fifth petition, “as we forgive our debtors” (v. 12). He explains the condition of our obtaining the forgiveness we ask of God, viz., that we forgive our enemies, and He puts it in an affirmative and negative form, to show its importance; its absolute, indispensable necessity. It is, indeed, a most equitable condition. It is most equitable, that we should not obtain forgiveness of the vast debts we owe our Heavenly Father, our Creator and Master, if we refuse to remit to our brethren, His children, the trifling debts, which, on the grounds of offence, they owe us. In singling out this petition and the condition of securing it, our Lord shows the great importance as well as the necessity of charity and brotherly union.

“If you forgive men their offences, your Heavenly Father,” &c. This being an affirmative proposition, of course, can only mean, that the other requisite conditions be added, that is to say, if there be no other obstacle, God will forgive. If a man be the slave of other sins unrepented of lust, gluttony, &c., he cannot expect to be forgiven, even though he exercise mercy to his neighbour, unless he also repent of his sins and abandon his evil ways. At the same time, the exercise of charity and forgiveness will, no doubt, help, and very efficaciously, to obtain from God, the graces necessary to abandon sin and be reconciled to Him.

“But, if you do not,” &c. This is putting the same in a negative form, whence, it follows, that under no circumstances, can a man obtain forgiveness from God, who hates his neighbours and forgives not. The justice of requiring, that we forgive others before we are forgiven, is clearly expressed (Ecclesiasticus 28:4, 5), “Man to man reserveth anger, and doth he seek remedy of God? He hath no mercy on a man like himself; and doth he entreat for his own sins? He that is but flesh, nourisheth anger, and doth he ask forgiveness of God?”

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