St. Thomas on the Our Father

by Andrew Latham

In honor of the today’s feast of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, we offer the following reprint from the September 1985 issue of The Angelus. No doubt this short, but profound examination of the first part of the Our Father will spur us on to a greater love of this most profound prayer, especially during the Lenten season.


The Lord’s Prayer occupies the principal place among all prayers, for it has five excellent qualities that are necessary to prayer. Prayer must be a) confident, b) for what is right, c) ordered, d) devout and e) humble.

Prayer must be confident so that we approach with confidence the throne of grace. Prayer must not be lacking in faith, for James 1,6 says: “Ask with faith, without any hesitation.” With reason this prayer is the most confident: it has been formed by our Advocate, Who is the wisest petitioner, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom, for “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Just” (I John 2, 1), and therefore St. Cyprian says, “It is a familiar prayer, a devout prayer, the prayer of a friend, to address the Lord in His own words.” We never say this prayer without fruit, for by it venial sins are remitted, as St. Augustine says.

Our prayer must also be for what is right, that the petitioner ask of God what is proper, for St. John Damascene says: “Prayer is the asking of God of those things which it is proper for us to ask.” Very often prayer is not heard because we ask for improper things: “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask amiss” (James 4, 3). It is very difficult to know what we should ask for, since it is difficult to know what we ought to desire. The things we may ask for in prayer are those things which we may licitly desire, and therefore the Apostle [St. Paul] says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8,. 26). But Christ Himself is our Teacher, and He teaches us to pray as we ought, for the disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It is most fitting for us to ask for the very things He taught us, as St. Augustine says: “If we pray aright, whatever words we use, we are only repeating what is already contained in this prayer of our Lord.”

Prayer must, like desire, be ordered, since prayer is the expression of our desires. The right order in our desires and prayers is that we prefer spiritual things to carnal things, and heavenly things to earthly things: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6,33). That is what the Lord taught us to observe in this prayer, in which we ask first for heavenly things and then earthly ones.

Prayer must also be devout, for the excellence of devotion makes the sacrifice of prayer acceptable to God, as it is written: “Lifting up my hands I will call upon Thy name, as with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied” (Psalms 62, 5-6). Devotion is often weakened by the prolixity of the prayer: hence the Lord taught us to avoid superfluous words in prayer, saying (Matthew 6, 7): “When you pray, do not multiply words, as the heathens.” And St. Augustine says to Proba: “Avoid in prayer the repetition of many words, but do not omit, while attention remains fervent, to add many petitions.” Therefore the Lord made this prayer a brief one.

Devotion comes from charity, which is the love of God and neighbor, each of which is contained in this prayer. To show our love of God we call Him Father, and to manifest our love for our neighbor, we pray for all men without exception, saying Our Father, and forgive us our trespasses, being moved to say this by the love we have for our neighbor.

Finally, our prayer must be humble, as it is said (Psalms 101, 18): “He hath regard for the prayer of the humble.” We learn the same thing from the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, and Judith also said: “The prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee.” And this humility is observed in this prayer, for true humility is when we presume nothing on our own power, but expect all things from the divine power.

Prayer is the source of three goods. In the first place it is an efficacious and useful remedy against evils. It frees us from past sins (Psalms 31, 5-6): “Thou has forgiven the iniquity of my sin, for this shall every man pray to Thee.” This is how the Good Thief prayed on the cross, and he obtained forgiveness, “for this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” The Publican also prayed this way, and he went back to his house a just man.

Prayer also frees us from the fear of sins to come, from tribulations and sorrows: “Is anyone among you in sorrow? Let him pray [with a tranquil soul]” (James 5,13).

Prayer delivers us from persecution and our enemies: “In return for my love they slandered me, but I prayed” (Ps. 108,4).

Prayer is efficacious and useful to obtain everything we desire: “All things whatsoever you pray for, believe that you shall obtain them” (Mc. 11, 24). And if we are not heard, it is because we do not pray with insistence: “For we ought always to pray and never to faint” (Lc. 18, 1), or because what we ask is not more expedient for our salvation, as St. Augustine says: “The Lord is good, for sometimes He does not grant what we ask so that He may give something better.” This was true of St. Paul, who three times beseeched the Lord to take away from him his affliction, and his petition was not granted.

Prayer is also useful, for it makes us intimate with God: “May my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight” (Ps. 140,2).


There are two important things here: how God is our Father, and what we owe to Him on account of His fatherhood. God is called Father by virtue of the particular manner in which He created us, for He created us in His image and likeness, which He did not impress upon other creatures: “He is thy Father, who formed and created thee” (Deut. 23, 6). Likewise is God called Father because of the solicitude with which He governs: although He governs all things, He governs us as masters of creation, but governs other creatures as slaves. “Thy providence O Father, governs all things” (Wis. 14, 3), and also “With much favor dost Thou govern us” (Wis. 12, 18).

God is also Father because He has adopted us: for to other creatures He gave but slight gifts, while to us He has given an inheritance, as to His own children, but if we are children, then heirs also: “For you have not received the spirit of servitude unto fear, but the spirit of adoption of sons, in which we cry out, Abba, Father.”

We owe Him then four things, and in the first place honor: “If then I am a Father, where is the honor due to Me?” (Mai. 1, 6)—and this honor consists in three things. In the first place it consists in giving praise to God, for the “sacrifice of praise shall honor Me” (Ps. 49, 23), and this must be not only on the tongue, but in the heart, as Isasias says: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”

We must honor God, secondly, by the purity of the body: “Glorify God and bear Him in your body” (I Cor. 6, 20).

Lastly, we honor God by practicing justice towards our neighbor: “The honor of the king loves justice” (Ps. 98,4).

We must imitate God as well, because He is Father: “You shall call Me Father, and never cease to walk after Me” (Jer. 3, 19). This is made perfect by three things. Firstly, by love: “Be ye imitators of God, as very dear children, and walk in love” (Eph. 5, 1-2), and this must be in the heart.

We imitate God by mercy, which must accompany love: “Be ye merciful” (Lc. 6, 36), that is, we must practice mercy in our works.

We imitate God by perfection, for love and mercy must be perfect: “Be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5, 48).

We owe God, in the third place, obedience. “We had fathers according to the flesh, and reverenced them. Shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits?” (Heb. 12, 9). We owe God obedience because of His sovereign dominion, for He is truly Lord of all things: “All things which the Lord has said we shall do, and obey” (Ex. 24, 7).

Our obedience is founded also on the example of Christ, true Son of God, Who became obedient to the Father unto death (Phil. 2, 8).

The third motive of our obedience is our own interest, for David says: “I will make merry before the Lord, Who has chosen me” (II Kings 6, 21).

We owe God, lastly, patience when He chastises us:

“The discipline of the Lord, my son, disdain not; Spurn not His reproof; For whom the Lord loves He reproves, And He chastises the son He favors” (Prov. 3, 11-12).

All this shows that we owe two things to our neighbors. In the first place, love, since they are our brothers, since we are all children of God: “He who does not love his brother whom he sees, how can he love God, whom he does not see?” (I Jn 4, 20).

Likewise, we owe our neighbors the profound respect due to children of God: “Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why then does each one of you despise his brother?” (Mai. 2, 10). And St. Paul says to the Romans, “Love one another with fraternal charity, anticipating one another with honor.”

The accomplishment of this double duty entitles us to the fruits won for us by Christ: “Who has become, for all those who obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5, 9).


Andrew Latham
Andrew Latham


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