OUR (The Our Father, Word by Word)

March 9, 2011 | 43 comments

This, to me, is one of the most startling words of the Lord’s prayer. Maybe the most startling.

I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be as remarkable to someone who came from a different cultural background, but I am an American and a Texan. I come from one of the most individualistic states in the most individualistic culture in the world. And even though I was an atheist in my youth, this cultural heritage deeply influenced my views about religion.

The Christianity that I grew up around very much had a “Jesus and me” flavor to it: you had your Bible, your personal relationship with Jesus, maybe a church community whose purpose was to help you grow in your personal faith, and that’s pretty much all you needed. Even the college kids who dabbled in Buddhism or Wicca approached their beliefs in a very individualistic way: Buddhist meditations were about retiring to a secluded place and focusing on your inner self; the Wiccans sought earth goddesses and cosmic energy as a kind of mystical self-help technique. I’d never seen another way of approaching faith.

This blindspot would end up being a critical roadblock to my belief in God.

“It makes no sense that God would make us jump through the hoops of finding him through the Bible or some church, ” I’d say to my husband when I was first researching religion. “Why wouldn’t he just reveal himself to each of us individually? It would skip so much red tape and misunderstanding!”

In my hardwired Texan (not to mention prideful) mentality, I could not see any advantage to this inefficient system that made us go through the Bible and churches and word-of-mouth to get to God. Until I took a close look at the Our Father.


It’s plural. When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, he put the words of a collective prayer on their tongues. He instructed his followers to address their Father as a family.

Once I understood this, it answered so many of my questions. Yes, it would be more efficient if God simply revealed himself to each one of us and told us whatever we needed to know. But if he did that, what would happen? We would withdraw from one another. Our natural human tendencies toward selfishness and self-centeredness would creep in until we each lived on our own little islands. And so he came up with the perfect plan:

The entirety of God’s revelation to man occurs through other people. In other words: we have to draw near to one another to get to him.

Being an extreme introvert as well as an extreme individualist, it’s easy for me to slip into that “Jesus and me” mindset where I forget that I am part of God’s story (not vice versa), that my prayers should not be all about my own little world. At Mass I sometimes find myself irritable at the crowds and the packed parking lot, wishing I could just go off to some secluded chapel and sit alone. But then I hear that first word of the Our Father, and it serves as an instant reminder of the truth around which God has centered his entire system of revelation: We’re all in this together.

What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “Our”?

Click here to see all the posts in this series.


  1. Liesl

    Great post! I think you really hit on it – by Jesus making it plural, we’ve been invited to be part of God’s family – we become brothers and sisters through Christ, OUR brother. Looking forward to the rest of these posts!

  2. Susan

    I’d never thought of this before. What a great and insightful post/idea! Lots to chew on… I do think that I agree with what you’ve said here whole-heartedly though.

  3. Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    I’m so excited for this series, Jen. And it’s great that you got to start hear, with the pronoun that really symbolizes a small-c catholic church, not a private partnership with Christ.

  4. Christina Rose

    was actually thinking about this recently after being annoyed by distractions during mass. I left feeling guilty because I figured God wouldn’t want me to be annoyed by such small inconveniences, especially when there are people in other parts of the world who risk their lives to celebrate mass.
    Your relfection really helped me organize my thoughts. Of course it makes sense that we need to not live separated from each other, although as an introvert I’m also very ready to go find a silent place to be alone with God. And that’s okay…but those times of prayer alone will never replace the importance of mass. The next time I have these thoughts at mass I will be humbled when I remember that I am there to worship Our Father!

  5. Lily

    I don’t know if this comes with being a cradle Catholic, but I actually had the opposite experience. Before I was able to really see the beauty behind the “Our” in the Our Father, I had to overcome the idea that God’s love is directed at “us in general.” I’m not sure why, but I didn’t understand just how intimate and personal God’s love was. I couldn’t see how I could be infinitely loved for my own sake. It was only once I understood that, that I was able to really understand the “we’re all in this together” part of it. 🙂

    • Christine


      That totally makes sense to me. I too am a cradle Catholic and the intimacy of God’s love was something that I have only recently found and continue to explore. I actually am astonished still when I realize how merciful God is to me, specifically, and my place in the greater whole.
      Monsignore Ronald Knox wrote many an excellent book, but one that I have greatly enjoyed [and is on this topic] is “The Creed In Slow Motion.” Granted, he wrote about the Creed in its pre-Vatican II state, but he delves into the community in Christ, of which we are valued members. A great read, conversational–actually it is a collection of his homilies on the topic.

    • Jamie Shover

      Lily, I also agree with you that it was harder for me to grasp God’s personal love for me and is personal formation and creation of my body and soul. Interestingly, I am also a cradle catholic (born in the mid 70s). The Catholic faith and religion in general did not feel palpable to me. It was like an esoteric cloud I couldn’t quite touch or feel. It was only recently, as an adult that I started to feel an openness to God’s personal love for me.

  6. Chere

    I love this idea! When I read your post and the comments that followed, it struck me that the word OUR serves as a reminder that God not only loves me, but everyone on earth and in heaven. He watches over and helps all of us, and choices that I make also affect God’s other children. Not only that, but my prayers aren’t always answered the way I direct (yes, I’m working on that pride issue!) sometimes because, while the request might benefit me in some way, it has a negative effect on one of my brothers or sisters in Christ. I hope that next time I pray, the word OUR will remind me that “it’s not all about me!”

    • Christopher

      One of my Lent things is whenever I see anyone, to think to myself he/she is also a child of God, like me, and it changes the whole way I approach them. When you pray the Our Father, I think you’re kind of praying for all those people too, even the ones who don’t know they’re God’s children.

      • Laura

        That is an amazing Lenten practice… I’m going to try and do it!!!!

  7. LuAnne

    Very interesting and insightful words. The “our” really speaks to the call for all Christians to put aside divisions, and recognize that we all share a “common patrimony” (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it, No. 2791). Also, as the Catechism points out (No. 2792), “the “our” (like the “us” of the last four petitions), excludes no one.” So while we are unique individuals, we are also part of a greater communion – a family – with one Father – and the “our” echoes the desire of all fathers, I think, that their children love each other.

  8. C

    The “Our” reminds me that even God (who is complete unto himself) lives in the community of the Father, Son and Spirit…

    So how much more do we need others in order to perfect ourselves?

  9. Michelle

    Great reflection! LIke a previous commenter, I often struggle with the fact that God’s Love can be personal…because I am ingrained in the collective. But it’s a good thing to think of the fact that “we are all in this together” and that we need to build each other up, pray for each other, guide each other and follow God with each other.

  10. NoraB

    Ohh…I needed to hear this. I also wish God would just speak with us, personally and directly. He could even appear to each of us, face to face. That would save loads of time and angst! But then, I guess we really wouldn’t have a choice about whether to believe or not, would we? We wouldn’t need faith,or trust,or each other. I guess he wants us to make that giant leap. He wants us to be dependent on Him and on each other. So He makes us look a little bit to find Him. And we find Him through each other. What a crazy plan.

    I should have had your words last night when I was in church annoyed by the circus going on around me. I could have used the reminder that God those (wild and crazy) people every bit as much as He loves me.
    Great post – looking forward to the rest of the prayer and your words!

  11. Teresa

    What a great post! Lately I’ve been feeling a really big push to see everyone around me as my brothers and sisters. (Especially during traffic when that may be the last thing I’m thinking of the person that just speed past me!) It was almost a feeling of, “Something’s Missing” if I can’t accept others as they are and still love them for it.

    Well let me tell you as many times as we say the Our Father every week, I had never seen the insight that you had with the OUR!(Haha even after saying it JUST last night.) Thank you!!!!

  12. patty

    great catechesis.

  13. Nicole C

    Really looking forward to the rest of the series! You have a great way of explaining the Catechism!

  14. Kris, in New England

    …wishing I could just go off to some secluded chapel and sit alone.

    I know what you mean; sometimes the friendly and loving bedlam that starts each Mass can be distracting; I like to settle my mind in prayer before Mass begins and the activity around me can make that very challenging.

    That said, the thing about God that amazes me so much is that not only are we part of a collective family, He also hears us as individuals. Our relationship with Him most definitely IS personal and at the same time we are part of a community of worship.

    The power of those thoughts sometimes leaves me pretty breathless.

  15. Kris

    Below is a quote from an article our church gave us when we studied the Our Father. “No one is left out when we pray to “Our” Father. Every person is created by God and every person is loved by God. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray with and for the people for whom Jesus gave up his life, and that includes everyone.” “The prayer places us in solidarity with saints and sinners, with the living and the dead, and with the haves and have-nots.” God is “ours” not as possession but as a shared treasure.

  16. Jackie

    How weird would it be if we started saying, “My Father”? I’ve thought about that before, when I’m just saying the “our Father” by myself. When we pray it, we aren’t just praying with those immediately around us, but with anyone in the world who is saying that prayer at that time (and realistically, there probably is someone else saying it). And not just them, but with everyone throughout time who has prayed it. It’s kinda crazy to think about.

    • Angela

      This was a great read! One of the reasons I am converting to Catholicism is the focus on union and “our”. One of the things I had trouble with in my old church, was the focus on “my personal relationship with Jesus”. I think we all NEED a personal relationship with him, but, since we are also referred to as a body, our relationship with him should come through our interactions with others. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Wyld

    I hear ya — I’m an introvert too. It’s easy to slide into a Me And Jesus Mindset.
    But hey, just by posting this you’re encouraging others: that makes this an “Our” act! :-)))

  18. Becky

    When I think of the word “our”, I am overwhelmed that He is really Our Father. That He gave Himself to us by choice. When I think about it, I find myself overwhelmed (can’t think of any other word than “overwhelmed”)that He belongs to us. I know we don’t deserve Him, I know we have done nothing to merit His friendship, His love. But He tells us to say “our Father”, not just “God in Heaven.” That He created a personal connection to each of us. I’m not doing a good job explaining my thoughts, but that’s what I think of when I hear “our Father.”

  19. Lisette

    Great post!! So true. I shared with all my friends on FB. God bless.

  20. Rosemary

    I told someone years ago (when I was very young), “I wish I could be a Catholic, because they don’t have to shake hands with people in church, and I could just go to Mass, and then LEAVE!” Boy, was I ever wrong. Being Catholic means “our” and “we” and “us”. (Obviously, I’m an introvert, too!)

  21. Tiffani


    When I was reading your words I was thinking of how in, both, Roman and Eastern Catholicism and in Orthodoxy, Christians approach the Eucharist, express their worship, practice the fasting sacrifice of Lent, etc…in a very communal way. We are nothing without the Creed, and we say this together while standing upright together.

    For me, having been raised a Catholic, I have to say that it is the power of numbers, the collective verbal repentance and affirmation of faith that we make during Mass on bowed knee, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” that has had the kind of power in the past to make my non-Catholic friends stop silent. He is Our Father, she is Our Blessed Mother, it is Our Creed in which We Believe. St. Peter did not stand alone when Christ called him. He had a posse to lift him up. Now that’s a Texas notion you might want to play with. (I was born in Oklahoma, so I feel I can offer such a heavy word in the spiritual sense;)

    Anyway, it’s late, so hopefully that made sense. Thanks for your thoughts. They have spurned some in me. Our Father…Yes, Catholicism is certainly a whole body and not just an arm or two attempting to work of their own accord. Catholicism cannot even be understood if it is approached as an individual religion – each to his own. Christ did not create it to work that way, or there would be no need for a Magisterium. This is what I think of when I pray the Our Father.

  22. NCSue


    Doesn’t this redirect us to the “Golden Rule”?

  23. Bethanne

    This is point on and is reflected in the fact that WE are the church.

    It’s a little ironic though, because my first Lenten realization came to me this week and spoke to me of how I was not leaning on God. I had community and family, friends and even a long distant husband [who had just left for the Army]. I was ready to be Army Strong, right? In a whole month, I never cried. I was proud of what he was doing and ready to back him in this endeavor. Perhaps I was too prideful? Or perhaps the Devil saw that my faith was growing and my bond with my husband had not faltered… because in an instant, all of that was cut off [well, that was a bit dramatic! I just mean that circumstances occured that I could not communicate with my husband OR the Army family I had been gaining support from]. And I knew [after a couple of days of crushing devastation and out-right anger] that all that stuff I thought was making me strong was not what I needed at my core. I needed to lean on God. He had to help me be strong. He was the only one who could take away the anger and replace it with love again. Oh, also… he used my dad as a tool. So, as you were saying. OUR father. LOL 😀 Bet you thought I’d never get to the point.

    @Jackie, TOO TRUE! In my husband’s first letter home he told me he’d picked up a rosary at the chapel on Post and was saying the rosary at lights out. Now we are saying it together…in communion with anyone else who is saying it. Not to mention Mass on Sunday. What a relief it is to be able to celebrate together even apart. 😀

  24. Judy

    Much is the same mindset toward the custom that has been creeping into the church during Mass of “holding hands” during the Lord’s prayer. This has never been a part of the rubrics for the Liturgy and a while back, I put the question to a priest whose knowledge, wisdom, and opinions I hold in high esteem. He explained that the reason this is not “kosher”, if you will, for Catholics during Mass is that we are already ONE MYSTICAL BODY in Christ when we enter the church for Mass. When a family here, or a few people there, decide to hold hands during the Lord’s prayer, we are actually, then, becoming “divided” in a sense and gesturing that to unite, we must hold hands, takes away the “OUR” in the Our Father…we are ALREADY joined and already “ONE IN CHRIST” through belief… holding hands does not “bring us together”…we are “together” by Faith. It’s difficult to articulate but makes sense when one ponders a bit.
    This is similar, I think, to what you have expressed in this post. If God comes to each individual as “My” Father, rather than “Our” Father, then we, as a MYSTICAL BODY IN CHRIST, thus become divided instead of unified.

    • Meghan

      This is a wonderful post! I actually experienced sort of an opposite situation, where the church I was attending was a hand-holding church, and one day the priest explained in detail that we shouldn’t be doing that anymore. I couldn’t quite remember the explanation, and had started to think it was because the Our Father is intended to be an individual prayer. This obviously does not fit with the explanation of the Our Father in the catechism, or from this post by Jenn. So, I was intending to ask about why churches are (from my perspective) tending toward no hand holding, and I think I found a great answer here! Thanks!

      • Susan

        I guess that is one perception to have….I disagree. My family and I have always held hands during the Our Father Prayer….it started with holding our first child in our arms and helping him hold his little hands together in prayer, then the second and then when both of us were holding babies and the oldest was standing on his own we would hold his hand…..and we still all hold hands today even though all 3 young men are now in their teens….they reach for our hands…it’s just what we do….the same with we have always given the Kiss of Peace to each other and our children along with a hug–never just a hand shake…..seriously—husbands and wives giving each other a handshake to wish each other peace? yes we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ but we are also part of a family unit blessed by God with each of us trying to do God’s will individually, as a family unit and as members of the Body of Christ……as long as my children reach for my hands during the Our Father Prayer I will be holding on..and I pray that happens for a long time to come…Peace!

        • Judy

          I just wanted to clarify for Susan, that the explanation and info I shared in my comment was not my personal perception, but rather the instruction I was given when I posed this question to a priest/spiritual director.
          He was explaining to me that there are rubrics and norms for the Liturgy and that we, as a congregation and participating Mystical Body in Christ, are obligated to follow those responses, actions, bows, etc. set forth in the missal. Hand-holding during the Our Father is not part of the Catholic Liturgy. I appreciate your thoughts on your sweet children reaching for your hand, but I just wanted to make sure that you understood that I was not sharing my own opinion or perspective, but that of the clergy whose advice I sought on the matter.

  25. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    Your comments remind me of a visceral moment I had at mass with baby #3. I was kneeling at the consecration, and Baby kept putting her face into mine. I hadn’t had enough sleep, and couldn’t see what was going on, and then of course Baby bonked my nose. I scowled in pain and silently grumbled, “See, God? Now she’s even getting in the way of my relationship with YOU!”

    To which a response came back ever so promptly, and ever so gently: “No, Julia. Your children can never get in the way of your relationship with me. The point is that you need to learn to love me THROUGH your children.”

    Yup. OUR Father.

  26. Andrea

    This week, during Ash Wednesday I truly felt this. When we were praying the “Our Father” during mass I had a warm feeling of being connected. I felt like the congregation and everyone else out there reciting this prayer at that time on Ash Wednesday was my family. I think you are very right when you say we are supposed to think more collectively about God in such an individualistic world. Thank you for your article. I look forward to the future ones in this series.

  27. Christine

    He’s “our” father – of both his righteous & his sinful children. He’s the father of our Lord crucified and father as well to those who put our Lord on the cross. He loves each & everyone of us, as if he had only one of us. This is very comforting.

    I love this series you’re starting!

  28. Elizabeth Mahlou

    I really enjoyed this post. Looking forward to the other words!

  29. Mrs. Parunak

    I have thought about this post every day since I read it a few days ago. I think it is SO profound. I just had to come back and tell you. I don’t think the commitment to religious (and everything else) individualism is restricted to Texas. I know it’s a huge part of my mindset anyway. But God relates not just to individuals. He relates to a people. He is “OUR” Father. Wow. What a concept.

  30. amy2boys

    I love this post so much. I never thought about this. I will never forget it.

  31. Lucinda

    Great insights. I think the ‘OUR’ does indeed remind us we need community and to be in relationship with God AND others. I also think there is a time and place for us to be off by ourselves and hang out with God and do just ‘me and Jesus’ time.

  32. MelanieB

    Recently “Our” has also been reminding me that when I pray I pray also for those who cannot or will not pray for themselves. He is Father even to those who do not know him or who reject him. I pray for the little ones who cannot pray yet and yet who know God’s love through my voice and my touch and my face. I pray for friends and family who have turned their backs on our Father and yet who are in desperate need of his love. I pray for all the souls who are in darkness and do not know the light. “Our” prayer is not just for ourselves and our church but for the whole world.

  33. Imelda West

    I pray for the little ones who cannot pray yet and yet who know God’s love through my voice and my touch and my face. Looking forward to the rest of these posts! It was only recently, as an adult that I started to feel an openness to God’s personal love for me. I actually am astonished still when I realize how merciful God is to me, specifically, and my place in the greater whole.

  34. Priscilla Ward

    Or perhaps the Devil saw that my faith was growing and my bond with my husband had not faltered… because in an instant, all of that was cut off [well, that was a bit dramatic! Lily, I also agree with you that it was harder for me to grasp God’s personal love for me and is personal formation and creation of my body and soul.

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