What Is the Meaning of the Lord's Prayer?

Praying as Jesus Taught Us to Pray

The Last Discourse of Our Lord Jesus Christ by James Tissot
The Last Discourse of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by James Tissot (1836-1902). SuperStock/Getty Images

The Lord's Prayer is a common name for the Our Father, which derives from the fact that it is the prayer that Christ taught to His disciples when they asked Him how to pray (Luke 11:1-4). The name "the Lord's Prayer" is used more often today by Protestants than by Catholics, but the English translation of the Novus Ordo Mass refers to the recitation of the Our Father as the Lord's Prayer.

The Lord's Prayer is also known as the Pater Noster, after the first two words of the prayer in Latin.

The Text of the Lord's Prayer (Our Father)

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

The Meaning of the Lord's Prayer, Phrase by Phrase

Our Father: God is "our" Father, the Father not only of Christ but of all of us. We pray to Him as brothers and sisters to Christ, and to one another. (See paragraphs 2786-2793 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for more detail.)

Who art in Heaven: God is in Heaven, but that does not mean that He is distant from us. He is exalted above all of Creation, but He is also present throughout Creation. Our true home is with Him (paragraphs 2794-2796).

Hallowed be Thy Name: To "hallow" is to make holy; God's Name is "hallowed," holy, above all others. But this isn't simply a statement of fact but a petition to God the Father. As Christians, we desire that all honor God's Name as holy, because acknowledging God's holiness draws us into the right relationship with Him (paragraphs 2807-2815).

Thy kingdom come: The kingdom of God is His reign over all mankind. It is not simply the objective fact that God is our King, but also our acknowledgment of His reign. We look forward to the coming of His kingdom at the end of time, but we also work toward it today by living our lives as He wishes us to live them (paragraphs 2816-2821).

Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven: We work toward the coming of the kingdom of God by conforming our lives to His will. With these words, we petition God to help us know and carry out His will in this life, and for all mankind to do so as well (paragraphs 2822-2827).

Give us this day our daily bread: With these words, we petition God to provide us with everything that we need (rather than want). "Our daily bread" is that which is essential for everyday life. But that does not mean simply the food and other goods that keep our physical body alive, but that which nourishes our souls as well. For that reason, the Catholic Church has always seen "our daily bread" as a reference not only to everyday food but to the Bread of Life, the Eucharist—Christ's own Body, present to us in Holy Communion (paragraphs 2828-2837).

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us: This petition is the hardest part of the Lord's Prayer, because it requires us to act before God responds. We have asked Him already to help us know His will and to do it; but here, we ask Him to forgive us our sins—but only after we have forgiven the sins of others against us. We beg God to show us mercy, not because we deserve it but rather because we do not; but we must first show mercy toward others, especially when we think that they do not deserve mercy from us (paragraphs 2838-2845).

And lead us not into temptation: This petition seems puzzling at first, because we know that God does not tempt us; temptation is the work of the devil. Here, knowledge of the Greek word translated by the English lead is helpful: As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes (para. 2846), "the Greek means both 'do not allow us to enter into temptation' and 'do not let us yield to temptation.'" A temptation is a trial; in this petition we ask God to keep us from entering into trials that test our faith and virtue, and to keep us strong when we must face such trials (paragraphs 2846-2849).

But deliver us from evil: The English translation again hides the full meaning of this final petition. The "evil" here is not just bad things; in the Greek, it is "the evil one"—that is, Satan himself, the one who tempts us. We pray first not to enter into Satan's trial, and not to yield when he does tempt us; and then we beg God to deliver us from Satan's grasp. So why is the standard translation not more specific ("deliver us from the Evil One")? Because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes (para. 2854), "When we ask to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator" (paragraphs 2850-2854).

The Doxology: The words "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever" are not actually part of the Lord's prayer, but a doxology—a liturgical form of praise to God. They are used in the Mass and the Eastern Divine Liturgy, as well as in Protestant services, but they are not properly part of the Lord's Prayer nor are they necessary when praying the Lord's Prayer outside of a Christian liturgy (paragraphs 2855-2856).