THE FOURTH PETITION OF THE LORD’S PRAYER: “GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD”
The Relation Of The Following Petitions To Those That Preceded
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.
How To Pray For Temporal Blessings
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.
Means Of Ascertaining Purity Of Intention In Offering This Petition
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.
Necessity of the Fourth Petition
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.
Man Needs Many Things For His Bodily Life
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.
To Supply His Bodily Wants Man Must Labor
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.
Without God’s Help Man’s Labor Is Vain
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.
Inducements to Use this Petition
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.
We Ask For Temporal Blessings
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.
It Is Lawful To Pray For Temporal Blessings
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 l 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.
The Wants, Not The Luxuries Of This Life Are Meant By The Word “Bread”
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 is�also 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 shall�not 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.
The Spiritual Bread Asked for in this Petition
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 Our Spiritual Bread
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.
Christ Is Our Spiritual Bread, Especially In The Holy Eucharist
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.
Why The Holy Eucharist Is Called Our “Daily” Bread
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.