The Catechism of Trent – HE FIFTH PETITION OF THE LORD’S PRAYER
” AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS”
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, 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 ?
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).
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let them also insist on this certain truth, that one of the surest signs that men are children of God is their willingness�to 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.
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.
(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.
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.