Symbols of the Seven Sacraments Are Found in the ‘Our Father’
“The Lord’s Prayer is the quintessential prayer of the Church. ... Integrated into the Eucharist it reveals the eschatological character of its petitions, hoping for the Lord, ‘until he comes.’” (CCC 2776)
Before Jesus died, he established seven sacraments in the Church to shield us with the graces of the Holy Spirit. We can find many types or symbols of the sacraments in the Old and New Testaments, but one passage that does lay out all seven sacraments is the ‘Our Father’ found in the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.
“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test” (Luke 11:2-4).
This is the Our Father, as we all know. There are seven petitions in Luke’s version. The first petition is “Father.” We baptized Catholics know that our Father is God. This petition is about the petition of knowledge. We ask God to know him as our Father and to have faith in him. If we want to refer to God as our Father, we have to be the children of God first. So this petition implies the sacrament of Baptism, which makes us children of God. Our parents and godparents are there to help us to live a life of faith.
The second petition is: “Hallowed be your name.” In this petition, we ask God’s name to be holy and sanctified. We are asking God to help us to worship God and love God. We are also asking God to spread and strengthen the Church so that more people are gathered under God’s wings. So this petition implies the sacrament of Holy Orders, which enables the Church to hand on the apostolic authority of Jesus’s disciples and to administer other sacraments.
The third petition is: “Your kingdom come.” This petition is to ask God to help us to serve God. It implies the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick because serving God is to serve the most marginalized and vulnerable.
Those three petitions carry us toward God and direct us to pursue God’s name, will, kingdom and good life.
The fourth petition is: “Give us each day our daily bread.” Here, we ask not only our daily bread but also the bread of Heaven, the Body of Christ. So it implies the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the Bible, bread symbolizes good life. Good life does not necessarily mean an easy and cozy life, but it means a life that gains us our treasure of Heaven. In any all circumstances, in sufferings or in blessings, we are asking God to help us to live a good life.
The last three petitions draw God’s mercy upon us. They also help us to defeat the flesh, the world and the devil. Those three things are ways that the evil defeats us and blocks us to serve, love and know God.
The fifth petition is: “Forgive us our sins.” It implies the sacrament of Penance, which forgives our sins and defeat our fleshly desire. If we defeat our fleshly desire, we can better serve God.
The sixth petition is: “As we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” This petition is asking about the good relationship with others and implies the sacrament of Matrimony. In family, we practice and learn how to love each other, to forgive and to understand each other. We ask God to help us to love others in this world so that we can love people in Heaven. The sacrament of Marriage also helps us to defeat the temptations of the world, such as excess desires of power, wealth and fame. If we pursue power, wealth, and fame above God, we will turn away from God and sin against him. The sacrament of Marriage helps us to defeat those worldly temptations, and to better love God. If you are married and have children, you know that supporting family is important, but spending time with family is even more important for the good health of your family.
The seventh and final petition is: “Do not subject us to the final test.” We ask God for his strength and to help us conform to his will. So this petition implies the sacrament of Confirmation that pours down the gifts of the Holy Spirit on us and strengthens our faith. The sacrament of Confirmation helps us to defeat the devil and to know God.
When we see the whole picture of the Lord’s Prayer, it has a structure of a mountain. The first and the seventh petitions, Baptism and Confirmation, are the bottom of the mountain and initiate our faith life. The second and the sixth petitions, Holy Orders and Marriage, are the next level and they are the sacraments of service. The third and the fifth petitions, Anointing of the Sick and Confession, are the next level, and they are the sacraments of healing. On the very top is the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is the greatest sacrament and the summit of our faith. The sacraments on the side of the mountains help us to reach to the top of the mountain. If we do not ask God the lower-level petitions, we are hindered from getting to the top of the mountain.
Jesus continued his teachings on prayer:
“Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, … I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence” (Luke 11:5, 8).
Here again, the loaves of bread symbolize the good life that leads us to Heaven, and it implies the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist — “Give us each day our daily bread.”
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
Here, in order to ask, we need to know first what to ask. So it is a petition of knowledge and implies the sacrament of Baptism that allows us to be the children of God, just as when we say “‘Father.”
To seek leads us to find what is lost, just as in the parable of the prodigal son, and it is a petition of love. God always loves us but we are always tempted to be away from God. We must always seek God’s love and find the right relationship with God. This petition implies the sacrament of Holy Orders, which ordains men to love and serve God and the Church — “hallowed be your name.”
To “knock and the door will be opened” means that we knock on the door of Heaven to join the wedding feast in Heaven. It is a petition of serving God because we can receive the intimacy with God by serving him. It implies the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as we serve God by serving the most vulnerable — “‘your kingdom come.”
So praying to ask, seek and knock is to pray to know, love and serve God.
“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11: 11-13)
There are many hidden symbols in this paragraph. A fish symbolizes our holy relationship with God while a snake symbolizes our sin. The sin keeps us from having a holy relationship with God. God gives us fish but the snake tempts us and blocks us from God. So we have to turn to God by confessing our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. So this line implies the sacrament of Penance — “forgive us our sins.”
The egg symbolizes a new life and the scorpion has a deadly venom and symbolizes unforgiveness. God wants us to have a good relationship in our family, in our community, and in the church. So this line implies the sacrament of Marriage, which helps us to increase our capacity of forgiveness and love — “for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.”
The last line, “How much more will the Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” symbolizes the sacrament of Confirmation, which gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can defeat the devil and be strengthened in our faith — “do not subject us to the final test.”
Both the Lord’s Prayer and the further teachings on prayer end with the sacrament of Confirmation and contain all the seven sacraments. If we know those meanings and the structure, we can pray the Our Father and read this part of the Scripture with a deeper understanding and better appreciation.
As we commemorate the Paschal mystery, let us thank Jesus for his suffering, death and resurrection for our salvation. And let us not forget that Jesus has taught how to pray and has prepared the seven sacraments to help in our spiritual warfare and stay in the state of grace.
Note: This article was prepared and written under guidance of Father Jim Dubert of the Diocese of Des Moines.