The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas – THE FOURTH PETITION
“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.”
Sometimes it happens that one of great learning and wisdom becomes fearful and timid; and, therefore, it is necessary that he have fortitude of heart lest he lack necessities: “It is He that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not.” The Holy Spirit gives this fortitude: “And the Spirit entered into me, . . . and He set me upon my feet.” This fortitude which is given by the Holy Ghost so strengthens the heart of man that he does not fear for the things that are necessary for him, but he trusts that God will provide for all his needs. The Holy Spirit who gives us this strength teaches us to pray to God: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And thus He is called the Spirit of fortitude.
It must be noted that in the first three petitions of this prayer only things spiritual are asked for–those which indeed begin to be in this world but are only brought to fruition in the life eternal. Thus, when we pray that the name of God be hallowed, we really ask that the name of God be known; when we pray that the kingdom of God may come, we ask that we may participate in God’s kingdom; and when we pray that the will of God be done, we ask that His will be accomplished in us. All these things, however, although they have their beginning here on earth, cannot be had in their fullness except in heaven. Hence, it is necessary to pray for certain necessaries which can be completely had in this life. The Holy Spirit, then, taught us to ask for the requirements of this present life which are here obtainable in their fullness, and at the same time He shows that our temporal wants are provided us by God. It is this that is meant when we say: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In these very words the Holy Spirit teaches us to avoid five sins which are usually committed out of the desire for temporal things. The first sin is that man, because of an inordinate desire, seeks those things which go beyond his state and condition of life. He is not satisfied with what befits him. Thus, if he be a soldier and desires clothes, he will not have them suitable for a soldier, but rather for a knight; or if he be a cleric, clothes fit for a bishop. This vicious habit withdraws man from spiritual things, in that it makes his desires cleave to transitory things. The Lord taught us to avoid this vice by instructing us to ask for the temporal necessities of this present life as they are in accord with the position of each one of us. All this is understood under the name of “bread.” And so He does not teach us to pray for that which is luxurious, nor for variety, nor for what is over-refined, but for bread which is common to all and without which man’s life could not be sustained: “The chief thing for man’s life is water and bread.” And: “Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content.”
The second sin is that some in acquiring temporal goods burden others and defraud them. This vicious practice is dangerous, because goods thus taken away can be restored only with difficulty. For, as St. Augustine says: “The sin is not forgiven until that which is taken away is restored.” “They eat the bread of wickedness.” The Lord teaches us to avoid this sin, and to pray for our own bread, not that of another. Robbers do not eat their own bread, but the bread of their neighbor.
The third sin is unnecessary solicitude. There are some who are never content with what they have, but always want more. This is wholly immoderate, because one’s desire must always be measured by his need: “Give me neither beggary nor riches, but give me only the necessaries of life.” We are taught to avoid this sin in the words, “our daily bread,” that is, bread of one day or for one time.
The fourth sin is inordinate voracity. There are those who in one day would consume what would be enough for many days. Such pray not for bread for one day, but for ten days. And because they spend too much, it happens what they spend all their substance. “They that give themselves to drinking and that club together shall be consumed.” And: “A workman that is a drunkard shall not be rich.”
The fifth sin is ingratitude. A person grows proud in his riches, and does not realize that what he has comes from God. This is a grave fault, for all things that we have, be they spiritual or temporal, are from God: “All things are Thine; and we have given Thee what we received of Thy hand.” Therefore, to take away this vice, the prayer has, “Give us” even “our daily bread,” that we may know that all things come from God.
From all this we draw one great lesson. Sometimes one who has great riches makes no use of them, but suffers spiritual and temporal harm; for some because of riches have perished. “There is also another evil which I have seen under the sun, and that frequent among men. A man to whom God hath given riches and substance and honor, and his soul wanteth nothing of all that he desireth; yet God doth not give him power to eat thereof, but a stranger shall eat it up.” And again: “Riches kept to the hurt of the owner.” We ought, therefore, pray that our riches will be of use to us; and it is this we seek for when we say, “Give us our bread,” that is, make our riches be of use to us. “His bread in his belly shall be turned into the gall of asps within him. The riches which he hath swallowed, he shall vomit up; and God shall draw them out of his belly.”
Another great vice is concerned with the things of this world, viz., excessive solicitude for them. For there are some who daily are anxious about temporal goods which are enough for them for an entire year; and they who are thus troubled will never have rest: “Be not solicitous therefore, saying: “What shall we eat, or What shall we drink, or Wherewith shall we be clothed?” The Lord, therefore, teaches us to pray that to-day our bread will be given us, that is, those things which will be needful for us for the present time.
One may also see in this bread another twofold meaning, viz., Sacramental Bread and the Bread of the Word of God. Thus, in the first meaning, we pray for our Sacramental Bread which is consecrated daily in the Church, so that we receive it in the Sacrament, and thus it profits us unto salvation: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” And: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.”
In the second meaning this bread is the Word of God: “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” We pray, therefore, that He give us bread, that is, His Word. From this man derives that happiness which is a hunger for justice. For after spiritual things are considered, they are all the more desired; and this desire arouses a hunger, and from this hunger follows the fullness of life everlasting.
(For “Questions for Discussion” see Chapter 6.)
1. Isa., xl. 29.
2. Ezech., ii. 2.
3. “The fourth and following petitions, in which we particularly and expressly pray for the necessary wants of soul and body, are subordinate to those which have preceded. According to the order of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for what regards the body and its preservation only after we have prayed for the things that pertain to God” (“Roman Catechism,” “Lord’s Prayer,” Chapter xiii, 1).
4. Ecclus., xxix. 27.
5. I Tim., vi. 8. “We also ask ‘our daily bread,’ that is, necessary sustenance, and under the name of bread we understand whatever is necessary for food and raiment. . . . To comprehend fully the meaning of this petition, it is also to be noted that by this word ‘bread’ ought not to be understood an abundance of exquisite food and of rich clothing, but what is necessary and simple” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 10).
6. “Epistle” cliii, in Migne, P.L., XXXIII, 662.
7. Prov., iv. 17.
8. “Ibid.,” xxx. 8.
9. “We also call it ‘our daily bread,’ because we use it to regain the vital energy that is daily consumed. . . . Finally, the word ‘daily’ implies the necessity of continually praying to God. in order to be kept in the habit of loving and serving Him, and that we may be thoroughly convinced of the fact that upon Him we depend for life and salvation” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 12).
10. Prov., xxiii. 21.
11. Ecclus., xix. 1.
12. I Paral., xxix. 14.
13. Eccles., vi. 1-2.
14. “Ibid., v. 12.
15. Job. xx. 14-15
16. Matt., vi. 31.
17. John, vi. 51.
18. I Cor., xi. 29. “But Christ our Lord, substantially present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is preeminently this bread. This ineffable pledge of His love He gave us when about to return to His Father, and of it He said: ‘He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him’ (John, vi.
57). ‘Take ye and eat: this is My body’ (Matt., xxvi. 26). . . . This Bread is called ‘our bread.’ because it is the spiritual food of the faithful only, that is, of those who, uniting charity to faith, wash away sin from their souls in the Sacrament of Penance, and mindful that they are the children of God, receive and adore this divine mystery with all the holiness and veneration to which they can arouse themselves” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 20).
19. Matt., iv. 4.
20. “It remains to speak of that spiritual bread which also is the object of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which takes in everything that is necessary for the health and safety of the spirit and soul. Just as the food by which the body is nourished is of various sorts, so is the food which preserves the life of the spirit and soul not of one kind. Thus, the word of God is the food of the soul” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 18).