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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE FIFTH PETITION: "And Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us."
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THE FIFTH PETITION: "And Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us."

 

There are some men of great wisdom and fortitude who, because they trust too much in their own strength, do not wisely carry out what they attempt, and they do not bring to completion that which they have in mind. "Designs are strengthened by counsels."1 It must be known that the Holy Ghost who gives fortitude also gives counsel. Every good counsel concerning the salvation of man is from the Holy Ghost. Thus, counsel is necessary for man when he is in difficulty, just as is the counsel of physicians when one is ill. When man falls into spiritual illness through sin, he must look for counsel in order to be healed. This necessity for counsel on the part of the sinner is shown in these words: "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and redeem thou thy sins with alms."2 The best counsel, therefore, against sin is alms and mercy. Hence, the Holy Spirit teaches sinners to seek and to pray: "Forgive us our trespasses."3

 

We owe God that which we have taken away from His sole right; and this right of God is that we do His will in preference to our own will. Now, we take away from God's right when we prefer our will to God's will, and this is a sin. Sins, therefore, are our trespasses.4 And it is the counsel of the Holy Spirit that we ask God pardon for our sins, and so we say: "Forgive us our trespasses."

 

We can consider these words in three ways: (1) Why do we make this petition? (2) How may it be fulfilled? (3) What is required on our part?

 




1. Prov., xx. 18.

 



2. Dan., iv. 24.

 



3. "In this petition we find a new manner of prayer. In the other petitions we asked of God not only eternal and spiritual goods, but also transient and temporal advantages. But now we ask to be liberated from the evils of the soul and of the body. of this life and of the life to come" ("Roman Catechism," "Lord's Prayer," Chapter XIV, 1).

 



4. Literally, our debts; that is, the difference between what we ought to give God and actually do not give Him. "The type of offense requiring expiation, a sin" (Oxford English Dictionary). What we pray for is that God may deliver us from sin This is the interpretation of St. Luke, who, instead of 'debts,' uses the word 'sins, because through our sins we become guilty before God and incur a debt of punishment which we must pay either by satisfaction or by suffering. . . . With regard to serious 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' ( Roman Catechism," "loc. cit.," 15).

 






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