The structure of the Our Father

This past week I had the pleasure of teaching high schoolers in Wyoming Catholic College’s PEAK program.  As usual, I used my PEAK stint as an opportunity to learn something new, asking questions to which I had no clear answers, studying issues I had never clarified before.  And as usual, the students taught me.

Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College
Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College

For example, one day I wrote the “Our Father” on the whiteboard and asked the students how it is organized.  One pointed out that it falls into couplets:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,

We address God by his name, and then ask that his name be hallowed.

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We ask that his kingdom come and overtake our earthly realm, and that the doing of his will in heaven become the pattern for the doing of his will on earth.

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

We seek strength for our ongoing journey and healing for our ongoing weakness, and we need both daily.

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.

We ask that our path go forward and not downward, that we resist the temptations that would put us in Satan’s hands.

That pattern was helpful to me by itself.  But another student pointed out that the couplets fit into a larger pattern of descent.  We begin in heaven:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,

Then heaven’s realm descends into our earthly realm:

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Then we consider the earthly realm itself, where we are journeying onward:

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lastly we consider temptation, a road that leads downward even further, and our last thought is of the abyss where Satan dwells:

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.

The end contrasts with the beginning:  the evil one contrasts with the Father in heaven, the abyss with the heavenly realm, and our potential status as debt-slaves below with our status as children of God above.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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