“Lord, teach us to pray” Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine on the Lord’s Prayer

In Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Our Lord is apart from the crowds, only the disciples are with him. This was not the first time the disciples observed Our Lord at prayer. Saint Luke notes that Our Lord regularly withdrew to pray (see Lk 5:16). The disciples experienced firsthand the routine of the Master’s prayer. The disciples, however, were not content remain as observers watching the Lord pray—they wanted to enter into his prayer and emulate his example. The disciples’ posture of openness made prayer possible for them.

Jesus taught his disciples the Our Father. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Catechetical Instructions, notes: “Among all other prayers, the Lord’s Prayer holds the chief place. It has five excellent qualities which are required in all prayer. A prayer must be confident, ordered, suitable, devout and humble.”

(in full here, my paraphrase or copy-and-paste below)

Confident: To pray as one has to have faith. We can be sure of this because He who teaches us to pray is He who hears our prayers.

Ordered: Prayer is an expression of our desires. But, our desires should be ordered to the right ends. We should prefer spiritual things to earthly things. We shouldn’t pray for a scorpion when we really need an egg (see Lk 11:11). Put another way, it is better for us to pray for spiritual goods that will aid us and others in attaining salvation, than to pray for earthly goods such as wealth.

Suitable: We should pray for what is good for us. If we pray for what is not good for us we will not receive it. Likewise we to pray with the right motives (see James 3:4)

Devout: Our prayer should flow from our piety and our love of God. This is the theological virtue of charity (divine loving). When we love God with charity our love naturally flows over into love of our neighbors. We cannot really love our neighbors if we don’t will their greatest supernatural good, salvation. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy always accompany this sort of love.

Humble: In prayer we cannot presume upon ourselves. We have to recognize our utter poverty and lowliness in front of the majesty of our Lord.

Saint Thomas also notes that prayer brings about three good effects:

  1. Prayer is a remedy against evils.
  2. Prayer is useful to obtain all that one desires. When our prayers are not heard, either we do not persevere in prayer or we do not ask for that which is more conducive to our salvation.
  3. Prayer makes us friends of God.

Full disclosure: much of the above was copied word-for-word from Saint Thomas. I say this without shame because who can improve upon the Angelic Doctor?

Prayer should also be ecclesial. We need to pray with Church. Our prayer should lead us to participate more fully in the divine worship of the Church. In a word, the more we pray, the more Sacraments with should receive.

Saint Theresa of Lisieux: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

Saint Augustine, who said that devout praying of the Our Father remitted venial sins, also correlated the seven petitions of the Our Father with seven of the Beatitudes. I think the eighth Beatitude (Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.) is excluded from this correlation because it represents the consequence of being an authentic follower of Jesus who lives the Beatitudes.

Anyhow, a little chart follows below.

The Lord’s Prayer Our Lord’s Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Thy kingdom come; Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Thy will be done on earth as it is on heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Give us this day our daily bread; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
And lead us not into temptation, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
but deliver us from evil. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.


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