The Our Father, Word by Word

March 9, 2011 | 22 comments

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

The Our Father is fascinating to me. I was vaguely familiar with it from having grown up around Christians, and I always assumed that it was some prayer that church leaders wrote up because they liked it. It wasn’t until I started researching Christianity in my late 20’s that discovered that these were the Lord’s own words! I was amazed. Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, and he gave them a direct, specific answer. Wow! Suddenly this common prayer took on a whole new importance. Knowing it came directly from Jesus’ lips made it seem so mysterious and intriguing!

I’ve heard that many saintly people, including Mother Teresa and St. Therese of Lisieux, found it fruitful to take the Our Father and spend time meditating on each word. Though I lack their saintliness, I too have tried that exercise during prayer and it has helped me understand just what a treasure trove of grace and wisdom this prayer really is.

I thought it might be fun to make this into a series of posts for Lent. For each word I’ll do a post cracking it open, searching it for all the meaning we can gain from it. Needless to say, the amount of wisdom that I can provide by myself is very limited, so I’m hoping that you’ll help me out with your own thoughts in the comments as well.

I think this’ll be a fun series! Look for a post called “Our” coming soon!


  1. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    LOVE this idea! Can’t wait to see your thoughts on “our”!

  2. Kit

    Sounds interesting! I hear so many folks nowadays kinda dismissing the Lord’s prayer because they think anything you say too routinely becomes meaningless. Which could be true– if you don’t take the time to examine it and realize what you’re saying and why. When you DO do those things, these famous prayers we all know so well can be VERY meaningful to recite! It’s all about doing it with the right heart, right? I look forward to your thoughts on these famous words of Jesus 🙂

  3. Katherine

    St. Theresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection has a beautiful in-depth reflection on the Our Father, if I recall correctly, going through it phrase by phrase.

  4. Stephanie

    Great idea. I am so in.

  5. carrien (she laughs at the days)

    I did something similar to this with my children last year. We memorized the Our Father and talked about the meaning of each line and then used it as a guide for our morning prayer time. “Who are we praying to? Where would you like to ask that God’s kingdom come today? Let’s ask God to take care of us today Do you need to ask anyone for forgiveness? Do you need to forgive anyone? Where are you tempted, what’s hard for you to obey right now. Let’s ask Jesus to help you to be strong and make wise choices.” etc.

    It was really good and they still often pray spontaneously using this as their guide, as do I.

  6. MemeGRL

    So fun. Thank you for doing this. I will look forward to reading it.
    One of my little Lenten acts was to eliminate many of the blogs I’m reading, but yours continues to be a keeper. Thanks for that.
    And if you (or any of your comment readers) can spare a moment of prayer for the Church in Philadelphia…21 more priests were removed this week, leading many of my friends to Mass this morning to learn their pastors and priests were “on administrative leave”…hearts are broken and people are sad and angry here…and it is an unhappy but fascinating way to enter these 40 days.
    Peace and blessings to you. And I wish you good insights on Our!

  7. Teresa

    I’m really looking forward to this! I have a book by Martin Luther called “A Simple Way to Pray” – it goes more by petition than by each word – but I’m definitely looking forward to meditating on each word now…

  8. Katie @ Wellness Mama

    Great idea! It is such a blessing to have found your blog, and I look forward to journeying through Lent with you!

  9. Leila

    What a great idea!! I can’t wait. I have read that the lines of the Our Father correspond nicely to St. Teresa’s seven mansions, and the three levels of holiness, starting from the end and going to the beginning of the prayer.

    I think it’s the richest prayer out there, and we take it for granted! Well, I know I do!

    Looking forward to “Our”!!

  10. bearing

    Maybe you should do it according to the Latin word order. That way you get to take “sanctificetur” all at once instead of having to do a separate post for “hallowed” and “be.” “May it be hallowed” is really just one concept.

  11. Kimberlie

    As a convert to Catholicism, I dealt with lot’s of criticisms about “rote prayer.” Then I was watching my sister (a Protestant) in a play that her church in NYC was putting on for Easter. There was a point in the dialogue where this same scripture was quoted and it struck me then – this is how we are to pray. It’s good and well to have private prayer where we open our hearts to the Lord and pour out to Him. But, just because I don’t squinch up my eyes, throw up my hands, and make a long public extemporaneous prayer and choose instead to say the “Our Father,” that my prayer is somehow less valid. Jesus gave those words to the disciples after all.

    I am looking forward to your future posts on this Jen (as always!).

    • bearing

      One way I think of the “rote prayer” thing:

      Have you ever been at a meal or a Bible study or a commencement or something like that — among Protestants will do, but really anywhere — where one person stood up and offered a prayer on behalf of the group?

      You know, the “Dear Lord, we thank you for gathering us all here today. Thank you for the food we are about to eat and for the fellowship of our friends. We ask that you bless our work and all we do. Amen.”

      So, what did you do? Did you plug your ears and silently pray your own personal prayer during that time? Probably not, though perhaps you may have quietly added some little personalization of your own. More likely you listened respectfully to the speaker and took his words to heart, as long as he didn’t say anything outrageous. You internally affirmed what he was saying, and with your “Amen,” you made his words your own, and meant them.

      This is what we are doing, I think, when we repeat the prayers of the Church. We are allowing ourselves to be led in prayer, submitting to someone else’s words — for no other reason than because we are a group, and our group has a leader.

      • Kimberlie

        bearing –
        that’s a really great way to look at it. Thanks!

  12. Anna

    A blog post (which includes my own relflections on what the Our Father means.)

    “Each of these things – worship, submission, requests, repentance, and protection – are different movements of the heart and mind.”

  13. Susan

    That sounds like a great series! I can’t wait to read more.

  14. Carolyn

    Once as a penance after confession, the priest told me to pray the Our Father and to meditate on each word. I really loved it when I did it – I found that there was so much more packed into each word than what first meets the eye. Can’t wait for this series of posts! 🙂

  15. Lori

    Looking forward to this! One thing I’ve been wondering about lately, is why did Jesus bother to specify that our Father is in Heaven? Don’t we know that and take it for granted? There must be something significant that Jesus wanted to highlight with the phrase “who art in Heaven.” I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  16. Lauren B

    Sounds like a neat idea! I didn’t learn The Lord’s Prayer until last fall when I joined a Lutheran church. I KNEW about the prayer, and I had read it countless times in the Bible, but it was never recited in the churches I grew up in.

  17. Phyllis A

    I enjoyed Mark Hart, the Bible Geek’s book, The “R” Father, on the Lord’s Prayer. He broke it down in parts and brought great insight to it. He made me really appreciate the depth of the prayer.

  18. Laura

    WOW!!!! This is soooo weird… I just came back from Mass and was thinking how I’ve recently started getting misty-eyed every time we pray the Our Father during Mass… and it all started because I’m reading “The Lamb’s Supper” by Dr. Scott Hahn, and there’s a chapter where he breaks down the Our Father with what happens during Mass and suddenly this prayer just took another meaning for me… and when I start to pray it…my pulse races and it’s just amazing… cannot wait for the series!!!!

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