When I was a student in the first DWS class at IWS (“Alpha Class”), I did my thesis work on the topic of the Daily Office. Daily prayer has been a significant cornerstone in my devotional life ever since. One of the consistent components in every Daily Office (online examples here and here) rite is the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father. I have prayed this prayer many hundreds of times each year for at least the past 40 years, and it’s formative impact in my life and my family’s life has been critical and meaningful.
But, up until the last few years I somewhat glossed over “Give us this day our daily bread.” I associated the phrase with a petition of provision for our needs and the needs of the poor so that we all may remain constantly thankful for all the goodness that abounds from the hand of God. And, that certainly is an appropriate and perhaps most obvious meaning of the phrase. However, when I came to understand the Greek word used for “daily” is epiousios translated by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate as supersubstantialis, I discovered another, deeper meaning-in fact, a multi-faceted meaning. Epiousios and supersubstantialis are both unique words, found nowhere else in Greek or Latin literature, and their meanings are somewhat debated among scholars. Both words contain the meaning of “the substance above.” In his book Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Joseph Ratzinger states that the Church Fathers were practically unified in viewing this phrase as a reference to the Eucharist, asking God to feed us with the new manna, the bread of life, Jesus himself.
Seeing this fuller meaning of “our daily bread” has altered the way I pray this phrase. I recognize it not only as a prayer for abundant provision, both for today and tomorrow, both for myself, my family and the world’s poor, but I also recognize it and reflect on it as a petition for our communion with the Bread of Life, the One who truly sustains us on the journey, the One who finally brings us home.
Joseph Ratzinger quotes third century African bishop St. Cyprian who wrote, “On this account we pray that ‘our’ bread, Christ, be given to us every day, that we, who remain and live in Christ, may not depart from his healing power and from his body” (De dominica oratione 18; CSEL III, 1, pp. 280f.)
May it be so every day.