After Christ in the preceding chapter had expounded one by one the precepts of the Law, which prescribe all righteousness, i.e., whatever is just, and right, and holy, or all good works. Now, in this chapter He proceeds to teach the way of doing things in a holy and right manner, that we should do them with a right intention, and with the desire of pleasing God, not man. He begins with alms. Then He teaches how we ought to pray, and next how to fast; for with these three vanity is removed. St. Chrysostom.
verse 1: To be seen - the intention and the end. "Do not do holy and just works with this intention and object, to be seen and praised of men, for this is a vain show. But Christ does not here forbid them to be done publicly, and advantageously, that men may see them and glorify God. Whence S. Gregory says, "Let thy works be so done openly that thy intention may remain in secret, and that we may afford an example of good works to our neighbors, so that yet with our intentions, by which we seek to please God only, we may always desire secrecy."
Otherwise you shall not have a reward. The reward of vanity is the applause and favor of men. He who seeks to please men displeases God. For God, forasmuch as He is the author of good works, desires to be the object and end of the same, that we should do them for God, and refer them to His glory. Wherefore S. Paul says, "For if I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10)
verse 2: Therefore when you do an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before you. Syr. do not blow a horn. When the Scribes and Pharisees were about to give away alms in the public streets they either sent a trumpeter before them, or else blew a horn themselves, under the pretext of drawing together by that means crowds of poor persons, who might run and receive alms, but in reality out of ostentation, and that their liberality might be seen and talked of by those who flocked together. They have received their reward, what they sought for.
verse 3: But when you give alms. If, per impossibile, your left hand could have eyes, it should not be able to see what good your right hand does, what, or how great alms you give. It is a parabolical hyperbole (exageration) common among the Syrians.
St. Gregory gave alms to an angel in form of a shipwrecked sailor. He gave him large alms, again and again, when the angel asked them, but always in secret. But through this he gained the very summit of public glory; for the angel afterwards revealed that it was for this cause Gregory had deserved the chief bishopric of the Church. So Christ, in the form of a ragged beggar, asked of S. Catherine of Sienna first her tunic, then her cape, then her gloves, all of which she freely and secretly gave Him. On the following night He appeared to her, showing her the tunic filled with jewels, and promising that he would give her an invisible gown, which would preserve her from all cold (wherefore in future she never felt any cold), and in heaven public and illustrious glory.
Ver. 5 . Stand and pray. The Priests and Levites sacrificed and sang Psalms to God standing, and the people who were present also stood, because if they had knelt they would have been unable to witness the sacrifices, especially in a great press of people, on account of the screen, three cubits (19-20 inches) in height, interposed between them and the altar. Again the people stood to hear a sermon, or to receive benediction, as in Solomon's case; also in a solemn thanksgiving for victory, or any similar benefit, as we stand when a Te Deum is sung. S. Azarias and his companions stood and sang the Benedicite in the fiery furnace of Babylon. But at other times the Jews prayed kneeling, especially in acts of adoration or penitence. Especially Solomon at the Dedication of the Temple prayed and worshipped kneeling. He knelt with both his knees upon the ground. (1 Kings 8:54). Daniel knelt down three times a day and worshipped God (Daniel 6:10). So Micah (6:6): "I kneel before the High God." For this is the manner of adoration among all nations. Hence the words, "I will leave me seven thousand men in Israel, whose knees have not been bowed to Baal."(3 Kings 19:18). And God says (Is. 45:24), "Every knee shall be bowed to me." And (2 Chron. 29:30 [Parilap]), "And bowing the knee adored." This standing then to pray on the part of the Scribes and Pharisees was a part of their pride and vanity. They thought themselves to be worthier and holier than the rest of the people. As for Christians, from the very beginning they have been accustomed to kneel down to pray. For when Christ was near to die, he prayed, kneeling down; actually prostrating Himself. See also S. Peter (Acts 9:40), and S. John (Apoc. 19:10, and 22:8); and S. Paul Acts 20:36; and Eph. 3:14, "For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".
Christians, therefore, in memory of the fall of Adam and his posterity, pray kneeling at all times except Sundays and the Paschal season, when they pray standing, in honor and as a figure of the Resurrection of Christ, as S. Justin teaches, "Whence is this custom in the Church? Because we ought to retain in everlasting remembrance both our fall through sin, and the grace of our Christ by which we have risen again from our fall. So for six days we kneel in token of our fall through sin, and on the Lord's Day we stand in token of our deliverance from sin and death." S. Irenaeus teaches that this practice began in the time of the Apostles. Tertullian enjoins the same custom.
Verse 6: SS. Augustine, Jerome, and Ambrose understand by closet,
the heart or the mind, and
their privacy, as though he who prays should enter there and shut it, so
that no distractions may creep
in to draw away the soul from God. As S. Jerome says: "Shut to the door
i.e., shut your
lips and pray inwardly in your mind, as Hannah, the mother of Samuel, did"
(1 Sam. 1:13). Cassian
gives another reason: "We must pray in silence, that the intention of our
prayer may not become known
to our enemies the demons, lest they should hinder it."
S. Cyprian: "The Lord bids us pray secretly in hidden places apart, in our very chambers, because it is more agreeable to faith, in order that we may know God is everywhere present, hears and sees all, and in the plenitude of His majesty penetrates the most hidden and secret places, as it is written: "I am a God at hand, and not a God afar off." (Jer. 23)
So, then, Christ does not here condemn public prayer in church, which has been the common laudable practice both of Jews and Christians, as is plain from 1 Kings 8:30 (3 Kings DR), Acts 1:24.
Our missionaries also in China cover their heads when saying mass, in accordance with an Indult of Pope Paul V., because among the Chinese it is a mark of disgrace to uncover the head.
Verse 7: much speaking. Trifling and futile profusion and
repetition of words, as if by
this their rhetoric they would give God information concerning His own
Christ teaches that the essence of prayer does not consist long, drawn out, wordy prayers, but in the soul conversing with God.
Don't be like them. The heathen thinks that God is ignorant, or at least does not consider their miseries and wants. They use many words, that they themselves may tell Him of them. But they err, for God knows and considers their wants far more than they do. Still, God wishes to be prayed to, and often He will not give without being asked, that men may recognize both their own miseries and God's mercies, and may know that they are not delivered by their own merit, but by the gift and grace of God. S. Augustine adds, "that God in prayer exercises our desire, that by it we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give. For that is something very great indeed, but we are too small and narrow to receive it."
1 Kings 18:25-29 (3 Kings DR) - heathens call on Baal for hours
Luke 6:12 - Jesus spends "the whole night in prayer"
Mark 13:33-37 - watch and pray always, you do not know when the end times will be.
Luke 21:36 - Watch therefore, praying at all times.
Matt. 26:44 - Jesus prayed a third time the same petition, meanwhile the apostles were supposed to pray continually - "Can you not watch one hour with me?" (We can see Peter learned his lesson from this by the Epistle he wrote: "be prudent therefore and watch in prayers" [1 Peter 4:7], and "Be sober and watch" [1 Peter 5:8].)
Luke 18:13 - publican beat his breast, "be merciful to a sinner"
1 Thess 5:17 - pray without ceasing
1 Peter 4:7 - "Be prudent therefore and watch in prayers."
Apocalypse 3:3 - if you do not watch, I will come to you as a thief.
Verse 9: Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father, &c.
Christ here delivers to
Christians a method of prayer, but He does not command that we should use
these words and none else,
but only teaches the things which should be asked of God, and in what order
and with what brevity they
may be asked.
S. Augustine and Theologians after him, divide this prayer into seven petitions, the three first of which deal with the honor of God, the remaining four with our service. For first, before everything else, we must seek the honor of God. This is our end, and the means by which we may attain it.
Our Father. S. Cyprian bids us observe "the wonderful condescension
of God, who bids us
pray in such wise that we should call God our Father, and that as Christ
is the Son of God, so we also,
for whom eternity is laid up in store, may call ourselves the sons of God."
Hence he gathers that "we
ought to remember that when we call God our Father, we should act as sons
of God, that as we have
complacency in God being our Father, so He likewise may have complacency
in our being His children.
Let us have our conversation as temples of God, that it may be evident that
God dwelleth in us. Nor let
our actions be degenerate from our spirit, that we who have begun to be celestial
and spiritual may think
and act only after a heavenly and spiritual manner."
Our. Christ does not here say, My Father. For this expression is appropriate to Christ alone, who is the only Son of God by nature. But He says, Our Father, because He is speaking in behalf of all, that He may teach that God is the Father of all, and that all we are brethren, and ought therefore to love one another and pray for one another.
Who art in heaven. This expression signifies, first, the supreme power and dominion of God, that He is both able and willing to grant whatever we ask; that as being Father, he is most good, but that He is also most great. 2. It signifies our inheritance, which we hope for by reason of our adoption of God our Father, and that it is heavenly, not earthly. We should transfer our thoughts from earth to heaven, where God manifests His glory to angels and saints. So S. Chrysostom. Therefore when we pray we turn to the east, where the sun rises, says S. Augustine, that we may be all instructed to turn to God.
When we say, Hallowed be Thy Name, we also desire our own sanctification. We cannot sanctify God as He is in Himself, nor can we increase His eternal and infinite glory; but when we sanctify God, sanctity is added to, and increases in, ourselves - faith, charity, the worship of God. By these things we are sanctified inwardly, and We hallow God outwardly, because by means of our holiness the holiness of God is glorified and made known among men. All our own hallowing of God is finite and poor; learn therefore that there is a twofold way of infinitely hallowing God. The first is, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." That is, I ascribe to God that infinite glory which He has had from all eternity, that glory with which the Father, the Son, and the Spirit perpetually glorify each other with Divine and infinite praises. The other way is, when we offer Christ crucified to God in the Mass. For Christ, because He is God and Man, is a Divine Victim, commensurate with God, and infinite. Iterate then, and constantly use, both these methods, that thou mayest hallow God as He deserves, and as He ought to be sanctified and glorified.
Verse 10: Thy kingdom come. The Kingdom of God is fourfold:
1. It is the empire of God over all created things.
2. God's mystical kingdom: by it, through faith and grace, He reigns in the hearts of the Faithful. The devil should cease to reign in the world, and that sin should no longer reign in our mortal bodies, (SS. Ambrose & S. Jerome). S. Ambrose: "The petition is, that the kingdom of Christ may be in us. If God reign in us, the adversary can have no place in us. Fault, or sin reigns not, but virtue reigns, modesty and devotion reign."
3. The kingdom of God is in heaven, in which He happily and gloriously reigns among the Blessed. This is what Tertullian and S. Cyprian here understand. "Well indeed," says the latter, "do we pray for the kingdom of God, that is, the heavenly kingdom, because there is also an earthly kingdom. But he who has renounced the world is already greater than its honors and its kingdoms; and thus he who dedicates himself to God and to Christ desires not earthly but heavenly kingdoms."
4. The kingdom of God, most perfect and complete. After the kingdom of the devil, when sin and death have been destroyed, God alone will rule over both His friends that is, the saints and His enemies - the impious and the reprobate. And this will be at the Resurrection and the Day of Judgment, of which 1 Cor. 15:28. The first three petitions are concerned only with God's honor and glory, and with ours as a consequence.
The meaning, then, is this: We pray, O Lord, that You may reign wholly, and without adversary, that all creatures may be subject to You. We ask, as a consequence, for ourselves, that we may be quickly taken from this world, to heaven, that we may reign with Christ and His saints for ever.
"If we suffer, we will also reign with him" - 2 Tim. 2:12
"They will be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him." - Apoc. 20:6
For then will "God be all in all." (1 Cor. 15:28)
Thy will be done. The meaning, is - "Grant, O Lord, to us Your abundant
grace, that we may,
in doing Your will and carrying our cross, obey with as much promptness as
the angels obey it in
heaven." S. Jerome, Chrysostom, and Christ seems here to allude to the words
of Ps. 102:20, 21, "Bless
the Lord, all ye his angels, you that are mighty in strength, and execute
his word, listening to the voice
of his orders. Bless the Lord, all ye his hosts: you ministers of his that
do his will."
We should imitate the promptitude, swiftness, and perfection of the angels in fulfilling the will of God, that we may venerate and honor it, and in so doing we shall do good to ourselves. For, as the Apostle says (1 Thess. 4:3), "This is the will of God, your sanctification."
On earth as it is in heaven. Mystically, S. Cyprian by
heaven understands the
righteous, and by earth, sinners: Grant, O Lord, that sinners may
do Thy will as the righteous
S. Augustine by heaven understands Christ, who descended from heaven to earth, that He might wed the Church on earth to Himself by the Incarnation; as though He had said, Grant, O Lord, that like as Christ does Your will in all things, so also the Church may do it; for she is the Spouse of Christ, whom it behoves to be in all things conformed to her Bridegroom.
S. Gertrude repeated the words, Thy will be done, 365 times a day with the greatest devotion, and she perceived that this was a sacrifice most pleasing to God. Once, when she was told by God to make a choice of either health or sickness, she replied, "I most fervently desire that You would not do my will but Yours." And by this means she lived in the deepest peace and joy.
Verse 11: Give us this day our supersubstantial (many MSS.
bread. This is the fourth petition, in which we begin to ask for the
things which concern
ourselves. S. Chrysostom connects this petition with the one preceding -
Ask that the will of God may
be done by you, as it is done by the angels. We are not equal to the angels,
for we have need of bread;
they don't, for they are immortal and impassible, ye are mortal and
Supersubstantial. The Greek word is found only here and in S. Luke 11:3. Some have translated this to say tomorrow's bread. The Hebrews in the wilderness collected manna for the Sabbath, on which day they were to rest, so also, give us this day bread for to-morrow. It is in favor of this that S. Jerome writes that the Hebrew Gospel of the Nazarenes reads machar, i.e. "for to-morrow." S. Athanasius thinks that we there ask for the Holy Spirit, who is the Divine Bread, whom we hope to feed upon and enjoy in Heaven, and whose first-fruits we receive and taste in the Eucharist.
2. S. Jerome explains that it is principal, glorious, excellent. So also Cassian, Cyril, and S. Ambrose, who by this bread understands the Eucharist, which in Zech. 9:17 is called "the corn of the elect." (Vulg.)
3. Literally, the greek word means that which pertains to substance, say substantial, essential, that which is for the preservation of man's life and substance, as often as is necessary. The Syriac has the bread of our need; Arabic, bread sufficient. So, also the Egyptian, Ethiopic, and Persian versions. So also the Fathers who lived before S. Jerome's version, such as SS. Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, translate daily bread. And the Church in the Breviary and Missal uses the same ancient translation, and teaches the faithful to pray, Give us this day our daily bread.
S. Jerome corrected the Latin version of the New Testament, in accordance with the Greek, in this place substituted supersubstantial for daily, to bring the passage into accord with the Greek.
This supersubstantial, or daily bread, is a parallel expression to the Hebrew davar yom, "the thing, or matter of a day." For Christ forbids us to be anxious about the morrow, in which it is uncertain whether or not we will be alive. S. Jerome's reason for translating the greek literally, by supersubstantial, was to indicate that in this petition we ask above all for heavenly bread, such as we receive in the Eucharist.
Note that under the term bread, by a Hebraism, also means whatever is necessary for food, clothing, habitation, and the life both of the body and the soul, is sought for. "We ask for a sufficiency," S. Augustine, "By the word bread we mean everything."
Verse 12: And forgive, &c. So far we have been asking for
good things; the last three
petitions are against evil. S. Luke (11:4) interprets sins; for sin
is the greatest debt for the greatest
injury, a debt which God exacts. These debts incur the punishment
The Pelagians asserted that the righteous pray, Forgive us our debts, not for themselves, but for others who have sinned; or if they do say it for themselves, they say it out of humility. S. Augustine confutes both these errors: "For we say not, Forgive the debts of others, but, Forgive us our debts." The Council of Mileum (416 - approved by the Council of Carthage in 418). pronounces an anathema upon those who pretend that Forgive us our debts is said by the saints not truly, but out of humility. "For who," it asks, "could endure that in prayer a man should lie not to men, but to God; that he should ask with his lips that his own debts should be forgiven, and should mean in his heart that he has no debts to be forgiven?"
As we forgive, &c. Debts, that is, injuries done to us, that we should not follow them up with hatred, nor wish for private vengeance, or public punishment, unless the public welfare, or right reason require it.
Since we also forgive those who are indebted to us. This is the condition which God requires of us, and if it be fulfilled, He readily forgives, and if it be not fulfilled, He will not forgive, according to that which follows, For if ye forgive men their offences, your Father which is in heaven will forgive you, but if, &c.
And lead us not - not impel, as Calvin would interpret. "God is not a tempter of evils, and He tempts no man," S. James (1:13). God only permits us to be led into temptation. In a manner, God is said to do what He permits, since nothing can be done without His suffering it to be. The meaning then is:
1. Permit us not to be led into temptation in such a manner, at least, that we are overcome by it. "Let us not be without Your help, so that we should be deceived and consent to any temptation." Augustine.
2. Suffer not temptation to befall us. And yet in the Lives of the Fathers, we read, that certain saints wished for temptations as a means of increasing virtue, through fortitude of mind and trust in God. S. James says, "My brethren count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations." For by temptation we are proved and exercised, we fight and are perfected. Christ therefore puts us in mind of our infirmity, and that because of it, we should not expose ourselves to temptations; but should, as far as may be, ward them off, and pray against them. And we can only overcome temptation by the help of God's grace. As S. Peter Chrysologus says, "He goes into temptation, who goes not to prayer." And S. Gregory of Nyssa says, "If prayer precede business, sin finds no way of access to the mind."
But deliver us from evil. That is, from temptation. The devil
tempts all by means of
wicked men, the world, and the flesh. S. Cyprian understands that every evil
is intended here, everything
which either incites to sin, or is a hindrance to virtue. And thus there
is a clear distinction between this
petition, the last and seventh, from the one which precedes it. Hear S. Cyprian:
"When we say,
Deliver us from evil, nothing remains, which we need ask for further:
when once we ask for the
protection of God against evil, and obtain it, we stand secure against everything
which the devil or the
world can do. For what dread of the world can there be to any one whose protector
is God in
Amen. This, says S. Jerome, is the seal of the Lord's Prayer, approving and wishing that thus it may be.
In the Greek MSS. is added, For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen. So also read the Syriac, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius. But the Greeks seem to have added this by a pious custom, similar to that by which they add to the angelic salutation, For thou hast brought forth our Saviour, or to the Psalms the Gloria Patri. The Codex Vaticanus omits this doxology: and among the Latins, Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose.
Some of the Greek manuscripts did have added, "For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever." It is believed by some to have been added later (possibly from a gloss). The Codex Vaticanus does not have this phrase.
Verse 14 & 15: St. Augustine says, "Here we should not overlook that of all the petitions advised by the Lord, He judged that most worthy of further enforcement, which relates to forgiveness of sins, in which He would have us merciful; which is the only means of escaping misery."
Verse 16: And when you fast. Christ has taught the way to pray,
He now teaches how
to fast, because prayer without fasting is weak, as S. Chrysostom says. He
teaches that it should be in
earnest, and in secret, not with the object of pleasing men but God.
disfigure their faces, that they may appear to men to fast: It was a practice with the inhabitants of Palestine, in common with other Easterns, on holy days and other joyful occasions, especially at feasts, to anoint and wash the face, both for purposes of refreshment, for beauty, and for a sweet smell. Palestine is a very hot country that excites profuse perspiration. They wash the face then to wipe away the perspiration, and anoint to banish unpleasant odors. This is clear from Ruth 3:3, Judith 10:3, 2 Sam. 12:20, Luke 7:46. When the Magdalene anointed Christ the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. (John 12:3) So, in times of affliction and mourning they abstained from anointing and washing.
Verse 20: But lay up to yourselves, not for children or grandchildren, not for ungrateful heirs, but for yourselves, i. e., for your soul. The soul of the man who is voluntarily poor shines like gold. There is no moth there, no thief, no anxiety about the things of this life, but lives like the angels. It is not subject to the devils, but stands near to God.
Verse 21: For where your treasure, what you value, love or treasure the most is what you spend you time and thoughts on most.
Verse 22: CHRYS. Having spoken of bringing the understanding into
captivity, and because not
many would understood He conveys His meaning in sensible instances, saying,
The light of your
body is your eye. As though He had said, If you do not know what is meant
by the loss of the
understanding, learn a parable of the bodily members; for what the eye is
to the body, that the
understanding is to the soul. As by the loss of the eyes we lose much of
the use of the other limbs, so
when the understanding is corrupted, your life is filled with many evils.
Or; The eye He speaks of is not the external but the internal eye. The light is the understanding, through which the soul sees God. He whose heart is turned to God, has an eye full of light; that is, his understanding is pure, not distorted by late influence of worldly things. The darkness in us is our bodily senses, which always desire the things that pertain to darkness. Whoever then has a pure eye, that is, a spiritual understanding, preserves his body in light, that is, without sin; for though the flesh desires evil, yet by the might of divine fear the soul resists it. But whoever has an eye, that is, an understanding, either darkened by the influence of the passions, or fouled by sin, possesses his body in darkness; he does not resist the flesh when it lusts after evil things, because he has no hope in Heaven, which hope alone gives us the strength to resist desire.
Verse 24: No man, can serve two masters, not only opposite but even different masters. It is a proverb, signifying that it is a rare and difficult thing to satisfy two masters of different dispositions and tempers, or to belong equally to both. Christ applies this proverb to avarice and the religion and worship of God. It is impossible to be the servant of God and also of money. Wherefore if you desire to serve God and give Him your heart, you must tear it away from gold and riches.
Verse 25: For, be not solicitous, Christ forbids anxiousnous that distrusts God, a heart grovelling in the earth, and distracted from the service of God.
And in order that He may remove it from us, He gives us seven reasons or
arguments against it:
The 1st is "life is more than food" because God has care of our bodies;
2nd is drawn from the birds, for whom God cares and whom He feeds;
3rd, in ver. 27, from the uselessness of all our care without God;
4th, in ver. 28, from the lilies and the grass, which God clothes and adorns;
5th, in ver. 31, because such a care is fit only for pagans, not for Christians;
6th, in ver. 32, because God knows all things, and it pertains to His providence to provide us sustenance, that He should add food to those who seek the kingdom of God.
7th, ver. 34, because sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. So many arguments does Christ use, because by far the greater part of mankind labour under this undue anxiety about providing food and raiment for themselves and their families, which is a great misery, and more than asinine toil.
Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. That, is the day's trouble, care, affliction. Every day brings to man its own trouble and anxiety.
When we see the servant of God providing for necessary things, we do not think he is acting contrary to the commandment of God. For the Lord, as an example, kept a bag. And in the Acts of the Apostles we read, that necessary things were provided for the future on account of the threatened famine. We are therefore not forbidden to provide, but to fight on account of those things."