Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

SCOTT HAHN

Thereís something childlike about the turn we take with the fourth petition of the Lordís Prayer. In the first three petitions, we prayed to God for the sake of His name, His will, His kingdom.


Now we turn, like children, to ask Him for "our" bread. It is interesting to note that we ask Him for food as if it already belonged to us — as if He had an obligation to provide it — as if He were our Father.

Bread for Greatness

This is the filial boldness of God's children. We ask, and we know we shall receive. For what father, "[i]f his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?" (Mt. 7:9).

We ask for our bread because we address our Father, and fathers produce families, not individuals.

It's interesting, too, that we ask for "our" bread and not "my" bread. Jesus teaches us that, even when we pray in private, we do not pray alone (cf. Mt. 6:6). We pray in solidarity with all the children of God, the Church of the living and of the saints in heaven. And we pray for the whole Church, that all may have the bread they need today. This prayer is something intimate, yet something shared. It's familial.

In the ancient world, the dispensation of daily bread was a sign of a kingdom's prosperity. When the nation was doing well, winning its wars, and selling its goods, its citizens received an ample ration of bread, "without money and without price" (Is. 55:1). Even greater was Israel's vision of the ongoing banquet that would come with the reign of the anointed Son of David, the Messiah (cf. Is. 65:13-14).

The first Christians recognized that the Son of David had begun His reign — and His banquet. Moreover, His banquet had spiritual benefits that surpassed the most sumptuous worldly feast. For all the early Christian commentators, "our bread" meant not only their everyday material needs, but also their need for communion with God. "Our bread," in common speech, meant the Eucharist. "[T]hey devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts. 2:42, 46).

In the generations after the death of the apostles, we find that the common practice of Christians was to receive the Eucharist every day. Tertullian attests to this in North Africa, and St. Hippolytus in Rome.1 St. Cyprian of Carthage, in 252, speaks at length about the spiritual meaning of this petition:

And as we say "Our Father," because He is the Father of those who understand and believe, so also we call it "our bread," because Christ is the Bread of those who are in union with His Body. And we ask that this Bread be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, be prevented from receiving Communion and from partaking of the heavenly Bread and be separated from Christ's body.2

That Says It All

How succinctly this petition expresses all our needs in life, both individual and corporate, both material and spiritual. St. Augustine said that there are three levels of meaning to the bread we ask for: (1) all those things that meet the wants of this life; (2) the Sacrament of the Body of Christ, which we may daily receive; and (3) our spiritual Food, the Bread of Life, who is Jesus.3

Our bodies hunger after food; our souls hunger after God. God will fulfill both hungers because He is our Father. He can fulfill both hungers because He is almighty — "Our Father . . . in heaven." We pray to the God who loves us so much that He has counted the hairs of our heads (cf. Lk. 12:7). This is the God who can "spread a table in the wilderness" (Ps. 78:19), the God who drew water from a dry desert rock.

A child trusts his father to provide for his needs as they arise. A little child has no clear concept of the future, and so has little worry about tomorrow. The Lord's Prayer teaches us to desire a child's life of humility, trust, and dependence on God. We ask not for riches, but only for what we need for the day. We are confident that God will provide. This is a valuable lesson for us grown-ups to learn. We pride ourselves on self-reliance; we tend to want to control our lives and the lives of others. But, says St. Augustine, "no matter how rich a man is on earth, he is still God's beggar."4

Praying this way, we cultivate "a saint-like poverty," says St. Cyril of Alexandria. "For to ask is not the part of those who have, but of those rather who are in need . . . and cannot do without."5

Unsolved Mysteries

One word of this petition has baffled both scholars and saints since the early days of the Church. It is the word epiousios, which we usually translate as "daily." Some English translations have us pray for our "daily bread"; others, for our "bread for tomorrow"; still others, for our "supersubstantial bread." The truth is that the word is impossible to translate, since it appears nowhere else in all of ancient Greek literature; nor does it appear in personal correspondence, legal documents, or business records that have survived from the time of Christ. The greatest Fathers of the Church wrestled with the mystery — Cyril of Alexandria and Jerome are among the giants who have left us studies — and admitted the possibility of all the modern readings. But they could come to no final agreement about epiousios.

Tradition, however, leaves us with a solution: It's all true. We pray for our daily bread, for the material needs of the day. We pray for our daily spiritual communion with Jesus. We pray that God will give us grace in superabundance. And we pray even today for our "bread for tomorrow" — our share, right now, in the heavenly banquet of Jesus Christ, every time we go to Mass.

Endnotes:

  1. Tertullian, Ad Uxorem (To His Wife), bk. 2, chap. 5; The Apostolic Tradition of Saint Hippolytus, ed. Gregory Dix (London: SPCK, 1937), 58.
  2. St. Cyprian, Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, in Scott Hahn, Understanding "Our Father": Biblical Reflections on the Lord's Prayer (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2002), 92-93.
  3. St. Augustine, Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, in Scott Hahn, Understanding "Our Father": Biblical Reflections on the Lord's Prayer (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2002), 143-44.
  4. Saint Augustine, Sermon VI on New Testament Lessons, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 6, ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 276.
  5. Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 75, in Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke (n.p.: Studion Publishers, 1983).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Scott Hahn. "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread." Lay Witness (Jan/Feb. 2003).

This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

THE AUTHOR

Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. In 2005, he was appointed as the inaugural Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Letter and Spirit (Doubleday: New York, 2005) and Understanding the Scriptures (Midwest Theological Forum: Chicago, 2005) are the titles of his newest books. He is also the author of Swear to God, Scripture Matters, Lord Have Mercy, Understanding Our Father, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, and co-editor of Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God. Dr. Hahn has also written numerous articles in lay and academic publications.

Scott Hahn received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.

Copyright © 2003 LayWitness
 


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