The Catechism of Trent 4400
The fourth and following Petitions, in which we particularly and expressly pray for the needs of soul and body, are subordinate to those which preceded. According to the order of the Lord's Prayer we ask for what regards the body and the preservation of life after we have prayed for the things which pertain to God. For since man has God as his last end, the goods of human life should be subordinated to those that are divine. These goods should be desired and prayed for, either because the divine order so requires, or because we need them to obtain divine blessings, that being assisted by these (temporal things) we may reach our destined end, the kingdom and glory of our heavenly Father, and the reverential observance of those commands which we know to emanate from His holy will. In this Petition, therefore, we should refer all to God and His glory.
In the discharge of his duty towards the faithful the pastor, therefore, should endeavour to make them understand that, in praying for the use and enjoyment of temporal blessings, our minds and our desires are to be directed in conformity with the law of God, from which we are not to swerve in the least. By praying for the transient things of this world, we especially transgress; for, as the Apostle says, We know not what we should pray for as we ought. These things, therefore, we should pray for as we ought, lest, praying for anything as we ought not, we receive from God for answer, You know not what you ask.
A sure standard for judging what petition is good, and what bad, is the purpose and intention of the petitioner. Thus if a person prays for temporal blessings under the impression that they constitute the sovereign good, and rests in them as the ultimate end of his desires, wishing nothing else, he unquestionably does not pray as he ought. As St. Augustine observes, we ask not these temporal things as our goods, but as our necessaries. The Apostle also in his Epistle to the Corinthians teaches that whatever regards the necessary purposes of life is to be referred to the glory of God: Whether you eat or drink, or whatever else you do, do all to the glory of God.
In order that the faithful may see the importance of this Petition, the pastor should remind them how much we stand in need of external things, in order to support and maintain life; and this they will the more easily understand, if he compares the wants of our first parent with those of his posterity.
It is true that in that exalted state of innocence, from which he himself, and, through his transgression, all his posterity fell, he had need of food to recruit his strength; yet there is a great difference between his wants and those to which we are subject. He stood not in need of clothes to cover him, of a house to shelter him, of weapons to defend him, of medicine to restore health, nor of many other things which are necessary to us for the protection and preservation of our weak and frail bodies. To enjoy immortality, it would have been sufficient for him to eat of the fruit which the blessed tree of life yielded without any labor from him or his posterity.
Nevertheless, since he was placed in that habitation of pleasure in order to be occupied, he was not, in the midst of these delights, to lead a life of indolence. But to him no employment would have been troublesome, no duty unpleasant. From the cultivation of those beautiful gardens he would always have derived fruits the most delicious, and his labours and hopes would never have been frustrated.
His posterity, on the contrary, are not only deprived of the fruit of the tree of life, but also condemned to this dreadful sentence: Cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.
Our condition, therefore, is entirely different from what his and that of his posterity would have been, had Adam listened to the voice of God. All things have been thrown into disorder, and have changed sadly for the worse. Of the resultant evils, this is not the least, that the heaviest cost, and labor, and toil, are frequently expended in vain; either because the crops are unproductive, or because the fruits of the earth are smothered by noxious weeds that spring up about them, or perish when stricken and prostrated by heavy rains, storms, hail, blight or blast. Thus is the entire labor of the year quickly reduced to nothing by some calamity of air or soil, inflicted in punishment of our crimes, which provoke the wrath of God and prevent Him from blessing our efforts. The dreadful sentence pronounced against us in the beginning remains.
Pastors, therefore, should apply themselves earnestly to the treatment of this subject, in order that the faithful may know that men fall into these perplexities and miseries through their own fault; that they may understand that while they must sweat and toil to procure the necessaries of life, unless God bless their labours, their hope must prove fallacious, and all their exertions unavailing. For neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth but God who giveth the increase; unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
Parish priests, therefore, should point out that the things necessary to human existence, or, at least, to its comfort, are almost innumerable; for by this knowledge of our wants and weaknesses, Christians will be compelled to have recourse to their heavenly Father, and humbly to ask of Him both earthly and spiritual blessings.
They will imitate the prodigal son, who, when he began to suffer want in a far distant country, and could find no one to give him even husks in his hunger, at length entering into himself, perceived that from the evils by which he was oppressed, he could expect relief from no one but from his father.
Here the faithful will also have recourse more confidently to prayer, if, in reflecting on the goodness of God, they recollect that His paternal ears are ever open to the cries of His children. When He exhorts us to ask for bread, He promises to bestow it on us abundantly, if we ask it as we ought; for, by teaching us how to ask, He exhorts; by exhorting, He urges; by urging, He promises; by promising, He puts us in hope of most certainly obtaining our request.
When, therefore, the faithful are thus animated and encouraged, (the pastor) should next proceed to declare the objects of this Petition; and first, what that bread is which we ask.
It should then be known that, in the Sacred Scriptures, by the word bread, are signified many things, but especially two: first, whatever we use for food and for other corporal wants; secondly, whatever the divine bounty has bestowed on us for the life and salvation of the soul.
In this Petition, then, according to the interpretation and authority of the holy Fathers, we ask those helps of which we stand in need in this life on earth.
Those, therefore, who say that it is unlawful for Christians to ask from God the earthly goods of this life, are by no means to be listened to; for not only the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, but also very many examples, both in the Old and New Testaments, are opposed to this error.
Thus Jacob, making a vow, prayed as follows: If God shall be with me, and shall keep me in the way, by which I walk, and shall give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, and I shall return prosperously to my father's house, the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a title, shall be called the house of God; and of all things thou shalt give to me, I will offer up tithes to thee. Solomon also asked a certain means of subsistence in this life, when he prayed: Give me neither beggary nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life.
Nay, the Saviour of mankind Himself commands us to pray for those things which no one will dare deny appertain to the benefit of the body. Pray, He says, that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath. St. James also says: Is any one of you sad? Let him pray. Is he cheerful in mind? Let him, sing. And the Apostle thus addressed himself to the Romans: I beseech you, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you assist me in your prayers for me to God, that I may be delivered front the unbelievers that are in Judea. As, then, the faithful are divinely permitted to ask these temporal succours, and as this perfect form of prayer was given us by Christ the Lord, there remains no doubt that such a request constitutes one of the seven Petitions.
We also ask our daily bread; that is, the things necessary for sustenance, understanding by the word bread, what is sufficient for raiment and for food, whether that food be bread, or flesh, or fish, or anything else. In this sense we find Eliseus to have used the word when admonishing the king to provide bread for the Assyrian soldiers, to whom was then given a large quantity of various kinds of food. We also know that of Christ the Lord it is written, that He went into the house of a certain prince of the Pharisees on the sabbath day to eat bread, by which words we see are signified the things that constitute food and drink.
To comprehend the full signification of this Petition, it is, moreover, to be observed that by this word bread ought not to be understood an abundant and exquisite profusion of food and clothing, but what is necessary and simple, as the Apostle has written: Having food and wherewith to he covered, with these we are content; and Solomon, as said above: Give me only the necessaries of life.
Of this frugality and moderation we are admonished in the next word; for when we say our, we ask for bread sufficient to satisfy our necessities, not to gratify luxury.
We do not say our in the sense that we are able of ourselves, and independently of God, to procure bread; for we read in David: All expect of thee that thou give them food in season: when thou givest to them they shall gather up: when thou openest thy hand they shall all be filled with good; and in another place, The eyes of all hope in thee, O Lord, and thou givest them meat in due season. (We say our bread, then), because it is necessary for us and is given to us by God, the Father of all, who, by His providence, feeds all living creatures.
It isalso called our bread for this reason, that it is to be acquired by us lawfully, not by injustice, fraud or theft. What we procure in evil ways is not our own, but the property of another. Its acquisition or possession, or, at least, its loss, is generally calamitous; while, on the contrary, there is in the honest and laborious gains of good men peace and great happiness, according to these words of the Prophet: For thou shalt eat the labours of thy hands: blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee. Indeed to those who seek subsistence by honest labor, God promises the fruit of His kindness in the following passage: The Lord will send forth a blessing upon thy storehouses, and upon all the works of thy hands, and will bless thee.
Not only do we beg of God to grant us to use, with the aid of His goodness, the fruit of our virtuous toil and that is truly called ours but we also pray for a good mind, that we may be able well and prudently to use what we have honestly acquired.
By the word (daily) also is suggested the idea of frugality and moderation, to which we referred a short time ago; for we pray not for variety or delicacy of food, but for that which may satisfy the wants of nature. This should bring the blush of shame to those who, disdaining ordinary food and drink, look for the rarest viands and wines.
Nor by this word daily are they less censured to whom Isaias holds out those awful threats: Woe to you that join house to house, and lay field to field, even to the end of the place: shall you alone dwell in the midst of the earth? Indeed the cupidity of such men is insatiable, and it is of them that Solomon has written: A covetous man shallnot be satisfied with money. To them also applies that saying of the Apostle: They who would become rich fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil.
We also call it our daily bread, because we use it to recruit the vital power that is daily consumed by the natural heat of the system.
Finally, another reason for the use of the word daily is the necessity of continually praying to God, in order that we may be kept in the practice of loving and serving Him, and that we may be thoroughly convinced of the fact that on Him depend our life and salvation.
With regard to the two words give us, what ample matter they supply for exhorting the faithful piously and holily to worship and revere the infinite power of God, in whose hands are all things, and to detest that abominable boast of Satan: To me all things are delivered, and to whom I will I give them, must be obvious to everyone. For it is by the sovereign will of God alone that all things are dispensed, and preserved, and increased.
But what necessity, some one may say, is there imposed on the rich to pray for their daily bread, seeing that they abound in all things? They are under the necessity of praying thus, not that those things be given them which by the goodness of God they have in abundance, but that they may not lose their possessions. Hence the Apostle writes that the rich should learn from this not to be highminded, nor to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us abundantly all things to enjoy.
St. Chrysostom adduces as a reason for the necessity of this Petition, not only that we may be supplied with food, but that we be supplied with it by the hand of the Lord, which imparts to our daily bread so wholesome and salutary an influence as to render the food profitable to the body, and the body subject to the soul.
But why say give us, in the plural number, and not give me? Because it is the duty of Christian charity that each individual be not solicitous for himself alone, but that he be also active in the cause of his neighbour; and that, while he attends to his own interests, he forget not the interests of others.
Moreover, the gifts which are bestowed by God on anyone are given, not that he alone should possess them, or that he should live luxuriously in their enjoyment, but that he should impart his superfluities to others. For, as St. Basil and St. Ambrose say, It is the bread of the hungry that you withhold; it is the clothes of the naked that you lock up; that money you bury under ground is the redemption, the freedom of the wretched.
The words this day remind us of our common infirmity. For who is there that, although he does not expect to be able by his own individual exertions to provide for his maintenance during a considerable time does not feel confident of having it in his power to procure necessary food for the day? Yet even this confidence God will not permit us to entertain, but has commanded us to ask Him for the food even of each successive day; and the necessary reason is, that as we all stand in need of daily bread, each should also make daily use of the Lord's Prayer.
So far we have spoken of the bread which we eat and which nourishes and supports the body; which is common to believers and unbelievers, to pious and impious, and is bestowed on all by the admirable bounty of God, Who maketh his sun to rise on the good and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.
It remains to speak of the spiritual bread which we also ask in this Petition, by which are meant all things whatever that are required in this life for the health and safety of the spirit and soul. For as the food by which the body is nourished and supported is of various sorts, so is the food which preserves the life of the spirit and soul not of one kind.
The Word of God is the food of the soul, as Wisdom says: Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you. And when God deprives men of the means of hearing His Word, which He is wont to do when grievously provoked by our crimes, He is said to visit the human race with famine; for we thus read in Amos: I will send forth a famine into the land, not a famine of bread, or a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord.
And as an incapability of taking food, or of retaining it when taken, is a sure sign of approaching death, so is it a strong argument for their hopelessness of salvation, when men either seek not the Word of God, or, having it, endure it not, but utter against God the impious cry, Depart from us, We desire not the knowledge of thy ways. This is the spiritual folly and mental blindness of those who, disregarding their lawful pastors, the Catholic Bishops and priests, and, abandoning the Holy Roman Church, have transferred themselves to the direction of heretics that corrupt the Word of God.
Now Christ the Lord is that bread which is the food of the soul. I am, He says of Himself, the living bread which came down from heaven. It is incredible with what pleasure and delight this bread fills devout souls, even when they must contend with earthly troubles and disasters. Of this we have an example in the Apostles, of whom it is written: They, indeed, went into the presence of the council rejoicing. The lives of the Saints are full of similar examples; and of these inward joys of the good, God thus speaks: To him that overcometh, I will give the hidden manna.
But Christ the Lord is especially our bread in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which He is substantially contained. This ineffable pledge of His love He gave us when about to return to the Father, and of it He said: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him, Take ye and eat: this is my body. For matter useful to the faithful on this subject the pastor should consult what we have already said on the nature and efficacy of this Sacrament.
The Eucharist is called our bread, because it is the food of the faithful only, that is to say, of those who, uniting charity to faith, wash away the defilement of their sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and mindful that they are the children of God, receive and adore this divine Sacrament with all possible holiness and veneration.
The Eucharist is called daily (bread) for two reasons. The first is that it is daily offered to God in the sacred mysteries of the Christian Church and is given to those who seek it piously and holily. The second is that it should be received daily, or, at least, that we should so live as to be worthy, as far as possible, to receive it daily. Let those who hold the contrary, and who say that we should not partake of this salutary banquet of the soul but at distant intervals, hear what St. Ambrose says: If it is daily bread, why do you receive it yearly?
In the explanation of this Petition the faithful are emphatically to be exhorted that when they have honestly used their best judgment and industry to procure the necessary means of subsistence, they leave the issue to God and submit their own wish to the will of Him who shall not suffer the just to waver for ever. For God will either grant what is asked, and thus they will obtain their wishes; or He will not grant it, and that will be a most certain proof that what is denied the good by Him is not conducive either to their interest or their salvation, since He is more desirous of their eternal welfare than they themselves. This topic the pastor will be able to amplify, by explaining the reasons admirably collected by St. Augustine in his letter to Proba.
In concluding his explanation of this Petition the pastor should exhort the rich to remember that they are to look upon their wealth and riches as gifts of God, and to reflect that those goods are bestowed on them in order that they may share them with the indigent. With this truth the words of the Apostle, in his First Epistle to Timothy,' will be found to accord, and will supply parish priests with an abundance of matter wherewith to elucidate this subject in a useful and profitable manner.
So many are the things which display at once God's infinite power and His equally infinite wisdom and goodness, that wheresoever we turn our eyes or direct our thoughts, we meet with the most certain signs of omnipotence and benignity. And yet there is truly nothing that more eloquently proclaims His supreme love and admirable charity towards us, than the inexplicable mystery of the Passion of Jesus Christ, whence springs that neverfailing fountain to wash away the defilements of sin. (It is this fountain) in which, under the guidance and bounty of God, we desire to be merged and purified, when we beg of Him to forgive us our debts.
This Petition contains a sort of summary of those benefits with which the human race has been enriched through Jesus Christ. This Isaias taught when he said: The iniquity of the house of Jacob shall be forgiven; and this is all the fruit, that the sin thereof should be taken away. David also shows this, proclaiming those blessed who could partake of that salutary fruit: Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.
The pastor, therefore, should study and explain accurately and diligently the meaning of this Petition, which, we perceive, is so important to the attainment of salvation.
In this Petition we enter on a new manner of praying. For hitherto we asked of God not only eternal and spiritual goods, but also transient and temporal advantages; whereas, we now ask to be freed from the evils of the soul and of the body, of this life and of the life to come.
Since, however, to obtain what we ask we must pray in a becoming manner, it appears expedient to explain the disposition with which this prayer should be offered to God.
The pastor, then, should admonish the faithful, that he who comes to offer this Petition must first acknowledge, and next feel sorrow and compunction for his sins. He must also be firmly convinced that to sinners, thus disposed and prepared, God is willing to grant pardon. This confidence is necessary to sinners, lest perhaps the bitter remembrance and acknowledgment of their sins should be followed by that despair of pardon, which of old seized the mind of Cain and of Judas, both of whom looked on God solely as an avenger and punisher, forgetting that He is also mild and merciful.
In this Petition, therefore, we ought to be so disposed, that, acknowledging our sins in the bitterness of our souls, we may fly to God as to a Father, not as to a Judge, imploring Him to deal with us not according to His justice, but according to His mercy.
We shall be easily induced to acknowledge our sins if we listen to God Himself admonishing us through the Sacred Scriptures in this regard. Thus we read in David: They are all gone aside; they are become unprofitable together; there is none that doeth good, no not one. Solomon speaks to the same purpose: There is no just man upon earth, that doth good, and sinneth not. To this subject apply also these words: Who can say: "my heart is clean, I am pure from sin?" The very same has been written by St. John to deter men from arrogance: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Jeremias also says: Thou hast said: "I am without sin, and am innocent"; and therefore, let thy anger be turned away from me. Behold, I will contend with thee in judgment, because thou hast said: "I have not sinned."
Christ the Lord, who spoke by the mouth of all these, confirms their teaching by this Petition in which He commands us to confess our sins. The Council of Milevi forbids us to interpret it otherwise. It hath pleased the Council, that whosoever will have it that these words of the Lord's prayer, "forgive us our debts," are said by holy men in humility, not in truth, let him be anathema. For who can endure a person praying, and lying not to men, but to the Lord Himself, saying with the lips that he desires to be forgiven, but with the heart, that he has no debts to be forgiven ?
In making this necessary acknowledgment of our sins, it is Dot enough to call them to mind lightly; for it is necessary that the recollection of them be bitter, that it touch the heart, pierce the soul, and imprint sorrow. Wherefore, the pastor should treat this point diligently, that his pious hearers may not only recollect their sins, and iniquities, but recollect them with pain and sorrow; so that with true interior contrition they may betake themselves to God their Father, humbly imploring Him to pluck from the soul the piercing stings of sin.
The pastor, however, should not be content with placing before the eyes of the faithful the turpitude of sin. He should also depict the unworthiness and baseness of men, who, though nothing but rottenness and corruption, dare to outrage in a manner beyond all belief the incomprehensible majesty and ineffable excellence of God, particularly after having been created, redeemed and enriched by Him with countless and invaluable benefits.
And for what? Only for this, that separating ourselves from God our Father, who is the supreme Good, and lured by the most base rewards of sin, we may devote ourselves to the devil, to become his most wretched slaves. Language is inadequate to depict the cruel tyranny which the devil exercises over those who, having shaken off the sweet yoke of God, and broken the most lovely bond of charity by which our spirit is bound to God our Father, have gone over to their relentless enemy, who is therefore called in Scripture, the prince and ruler of the world, the prince of darkness, and king over all the children of pride. Truly to those who are oppressed by the tyranny of the devil apply these words of Isaias: O Lord our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us.
If these broken covenants of love do not move us, let at least the calamities into which we fall by sin move us. The sanctity of the soul is violated, which we know to have been wedded to Christ. That temple of the Lord is profaned, against the contaminators of which the Apostle utters this denunciation: If any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy.
Innumerable are the evils brought upon man by sin, that almost infinite pest of which David says: There is no health in my flesh, because of thy wrath; there is no peace for my bones, because of my sins. In these words he marks the violence of the plague, confessing that it left no part of him uninfected by pestiferous sin; for the poison had penetrated into his bones, that is, it infected his understanding and will, which are the two most intimate faculties of the soul. This widespread pestilence the Sacred Scriptures point out, when they designate sinners as the lame, the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the paralysed.
But, besides the anguish which he felt on account of the enormity of his sins, David was afflicted yet more by the knowledge that he had provoked the wrath of God against him by his sin. For the wicked are at war with God, who is offended beyond belief at their crimes; hence the Apostle says: Wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil. Although the sinful act is transient, yet the sin by its guilt and stain remains; and the imminent wrath of God pursues it, as the shadow does the body.
When, therefore, David was pierced by these tormenting thoughts, he was moved to seek the pardon of his sins. That the faithful, imitating the Prophet, may learn to grieve, that is, to become truly penitent, and cherish the hope of pardon, the pastor should call to their attention the example of David's penitential sorrow, and the lessons of instruction drawn from his fiftieth Psalm.
How great is the utility of this sort of instruction, which teaches us to grieve for our sins, God Himself declares by the mouth of Jeremias, who, when exhorting the Israelites to repentance, admonished them to awake to a sense of the evils that follow upon sin. See, he says, that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not with thee, saith the Lord, the God of hosts. They who lack this necessary sense of acknowledgment and grief, are said by the Prophets Isaias, Ezechiel and Zachary to have a hard heart, a stony heart, a heart of adamant, for, like stone, they are softened by no sorrow, having no sense of life, that is, of the salutary recognition (of their sinfulness).
But lest the faithful, terrified by the grievousness of their sins, despair of being able to obtain pardon, the pastor ought to encourage them to hope by the following considerations.
As is declared in an Article of the Creed, Christ the Lord has given power to the Church to remit sins.
Furthermore, in this Petition, our Lord has taught how great is the goodness and bounty of God towards mankind; for if God were not ready and prepared to pardon penitents their sins, never would He have prescribed this formula of prayer: Forgive us our trespass. Wherefore we ought to be firmly convinced, that since He commands us in this Petition to implore His paternal mercy, He will not fail to bestow it on us. For this Petition assuredly implies that God is so disposed towards us, as willingly to pardon those who are truly penitent.
God it is against whom, having cast off obedience, we sin; the order of whose wisdom we disturb, as far as in us lies; whom we offend; whom we outrage by words and deeds. But it is also God, our most beneficent Father, who, having it in His power to pardon all transgressions, has not only declared His willingness to do so, but has also obliged men to ask Him for pardon, and has taught in what words they are to do so. To no one, therefore, can it be a matter of doubt, that under His guidance it is in our power to be reconciled to God. And as this declaration of the divine willingness to pardon increases faith, nurtures hope and inflames charity, it will be worth while to amplify this subject, by citing some Scriptural authorities and some examples of penitents to whom God granted pardon of the most grievous crimes. Since, however, in the introduction to the Lord's Prayer and in that portion of the Creed which teaches the forgiveness of sins, we were as diffuse on the subject as circumstances allowed, the pastor will borrow from those places whatever may seem pertinent for instruction on this point, for the rest drawing on the fountains of the Sacred Scriptures.
The pastor should also follow the same plan which we thought should be used in the other Petitions. Let him explain, then, what the word debts here signifies, lest perhaps the faithful, deceived by its ambiguity, pray for something different from what should be prayed for.
First, then, we are to know, that we by no means ask for exemption from the debt we owe to God on so many accounts, the payment of which is essential to salvation, namely, that of loving Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind; neither do we ask to be in future exempt from the duties of obedience, worship, veneration, or any other similar obligation, comprised also under the word debts.
What we do ask is that He may deliver us from sins. This is the interpretation of St. Luke, who, instead of debts, makes use of the word sins, because by their commission we become guilty before God and incur a debt of punishment, which we must pay either by satisfaction or by suffering. It was of this debt that Christ the Lord spoke by the mouth of His Prophet: Then did I pay that which I took not away. From these words of God we may understand that we are not only debtors, but also unequal to the payment of our debt, the sinner being of himself utterly incapable of making satisfaction.
Wherefore we must fly to the mercy of God; and as justice, of which God is most tenacious, is an equal and corresponding attribute to mercy, we must make use of prayer, and the intercession of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, without which no one ever obtained the pardon of his sins, and from which, as from its source, have flown all the efficacy and virtue of satisfaction. For of such value is that price paid by Christ the Lord on the cross, and communicated to us through the Sacraments, received either actually or in purpose and desire, that it obtains and accomplishes for us the pardon of our sins, which is the object of our prayer in this Petition.
Here we ask pardon not only for our venial offences, for which pardon may most easily be obtained, but also for grievous and mortal sins. With regard to grave sins, however, this Petition cannot procure forgiveness unless it derive that efficacy from the Sacrament of Penance, received, as we have already said, either actually or at least in desire.'
The words our debts are used here in a sense entirely different from that in which we said our bread. That bread is ours, because it is given us by the munificence of God; whereas sins are ours, because with us rests their guilt. They are our voluntary acts, otherwise they would not have the character of sin.
Admitting, therefore, and confessing the guilt of our sins, we implore the clemency of God, which is necessary for their expiation. In this we make use of no palliation whatever, nor do we transfer the blame to others, as did our first parents Adam and Eve. We judge ourselves, employing, if we are wise, the prayer of the Prophet: Incline not my heart to evil words, to make excuses in sins.
Nor do we say, forgive me, but forgive us; because the fraternal relationship and charity which subsist between all men, demand of each of us that, being solicitous for the salvation of all our neighbours, we pray also for them while offering prayers for ourselves.
This manner of praying, taught by Christ the Lord, and subsequently received and always retained by the Church of God, the Apostles most strictly observed themselves and taught others to observe.
Of this ardent zeal and earnestness in praying for the salvation of our neighbours, we have the splendid example of Moses in the Old, and of St. Paul in the New Testament. The former besought God thus: Either forgive them this trespass; or, if thou dost not, strike me out of the book that thou hast written; ' while the latter prayed after this manner: I wished myself to be anathema from Christ for my brethren.
The word as may be understood in two senses. It may be taken as having the force of a comparison, meaning that we beg of God to pardon us our sins, just as we pardon the wrongs and contumelies which we receive from those by whom we have been injured. It may also be understood as denoting a condition, and in this sense Christ the Lord interprets that formula. If, He says, you forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your offences; but if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your sins.
Either sense, however, equally contains the necessity of forgiveness, intimating, as it does that, if we desire that God should grant us the pardon of our offences, we ourselves must pardon those from whom we have received injury; for so rigorously does God exact from us forgetfulness of injuries and mutual affection and love, that He rejects and despises the gifts and sacrifices of those who are not reconciled to one another.
Even the law of nature requires that we conduct ourselves towards others as we would have them conduct themselves towards us; hence he would be most impudent who would ask of God the pardon of his own offences while he continued to cherish enmity against his neighbour.
Those, therefore, on whom injuries have been inflicted, should be ready and willing to pardon, urged to it as they are by this form of prayer, and by the command of God in St. Luke: If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him; and if he repent, forgive him; and if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, "I repent," forgive him. In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read: Love your enemies; and the Apostle, and before him Solomon wrote: If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink; and finally we read in the Gospel of St. Mark: When you shall stand to pray, forgive if you have anything against any man; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your sins.
But since, on account of the corruption of nature, there is nothing to which man brings himself more reluctantly than to the pardon of injuries, let pastors exert all the powers and resources of their minds to change and bend the dispositions of the faithful to this mildness and mercy so necessary to a Christian. Let them dwell on those passages of Scripture in which we hear God commanding to pardon enemies.
Let them also insist on this certain truth, that one of the surest signs that men are children of God is their willingnessto forgive injuries and sincerely love their enemies; for in loving our enemies there shines forth in us some likeness to God our Father, who, by the death of His Son, ransomed from everlasting perdition and reconciled to Himself the human race, which before was most unfriendly and hostile to Him.
Let the close of this exhortation and injunction be the command of Christ the Lord, which, without utter disgrace and ruin, we cannot refuse to obey: Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven.
But in this matter no ordinary prudence is required on the part of the pastor, lest, knowing the difficulty and necessity of this precept, anyone despair of salvation.
There are those who, aware that they ought to bury injuries in voluntary oblivion and ought to love those that injure them, desire to do so, and do so as far as they are able, but feel that they cannot efface from their mind all recollection of injuries. For there lurk in the mind some remains of private grudge, in consequence of which such persons are disturbed by misgivings of conscience, fearing that they have not in simplicity and frankness laid aside their enmities and consequently do not obey the command of God.
Here, therefore, the pastor should explain the contrary desires of the flesh and of the spirit; that the former is prone to revenge, the latter ready to pardon; that hence a continual struggle and conflict goes on between them. Wherefore he should point out that although the appetites of corrupt nature are ever opposing and rebelling against reason, we are not on this account to be uneasy regarding salvation, provided the spirit persevere in the duty and disposition of forgiving injuries and of loving our neighbour.
There may be some who, because they have not yet been able to bring themselves to forget injuries and to love their enemies, are consequently deterred by the condition contained in this Petition from making use of the Lord's Prayer. To remove from their minds this pernicious error, the pastor should adduce the two following considerations.
(In the first place), whoever belongs to the number of the faithful, offers this prayer in the name of the entire Church, in which there must necessarily be some pious persons who have forgiven their debtors the debts here mentioned.
Secondly, when we ask this favour from God, we also ask for whatever cooperation with the Petition is necessary on our part in order to obtain the object of our prayer. Thus we ask the pardon of our sins and the gift of true repentance; we pray for the grace of inward sorrow; we beg that we may be able to abhor our sins, and confess them truly and piously to the priest. Since, then, it is necessary for us to forgive those who have inflicted on us any loss or injury, when we ask pardon of God we beg of Him at the same time to grant us grace to be reconciled to those against whom we harbour hatred.
Those, therefore, who are troubled by that groundless and perverse fear, that by this prayer they provoke still more the wrath of God, should be undeceived and should be exhorted to make frequent use of a prayer in which they beseech God our Father to grant them the disposition to forgive those who have injured them and to love their enemies.
But that this Petition may be really fruitful we should first seriously reflect that we are suppliants before God, soliciting from Him pardon, which is not granted but to the penitent; and that we should, therefore, be animated by that charity and piety which are fitting in penitents, whom it eminently becomes to keep before their eyes, as it were, their own crimes and enormities and to expiate them with tears.
To this thought should be joined caution in guarding for the future against every occasion of sin, and against whatever I nay expose us to the danger of offending God our Father. With this solicitude the mind of David was occupied when he said: My sin is always before me; and: Every night I will wash my bed; I will water my couch with my tears.
Let each one also call to mind the ardent love of prayer of those who obtained from God through their entreaties the pardon of their sins. Such was the publican, who, standing afar off through shame and grief, and with eyes fixed on the ground, only smote his breast, crying: O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Such was also the woman, a sinner, who, standing behind Christ the Lord, washed His feet, wiped them with her hair, and kissed them. Lastly, there is the example of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, who going forth wept bitterly.
They should next consider that the weaker men are, and the more liable to diseases of the soul, which are sins, the more numerous and frequent are the remedies they need. Now the remedies of a sick soul are Penance and the Eucharist; these, therefore, the faithful should frequently make use of.
Next almsdeeds, as the Sacred Scriptures declare, are a medicine suited to heal the wounds of the soul. Wherefore, let those who desire to make pious use of this prayer act kindly to the poor according to their means. Of the great efficacy of alms in effacing the stains of sin, the Angel of the Lord in Tobias, holy Raphael, is a witness, who says: Alms deliver from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting. Daniel is another witness, who thus admonished King Nabuchodonosor: Redeem thou thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor.
The best alms and the most excellent act of mercy is forgetfulness of injuries, and good will towards those who have injured us or ours, in person, in property, or in character. Whoever, therefore, desires to experience in a special manner the mercy of God, should make an offering to God Himself of all his enmities, remit every offence, and pray for his enemies with the greatest good will, seizing every opportunity of doing them good. But as this subject was explained when we treated of murder, we refer the pastor to that place.
The pastor ought to conclude his explanation of this Petition with this final reflection, that nothing is, or can be conceived, more unjust than that he who is so rigorous towards men as to extend indulgence to no one, should himself demand that God be mild and kind towards him.
The Catechism of Trent 4400