To hallow is to make holy.
The Hebrew word for “holiness, ” has the connotation of “separateness.” Something holy is set apart, special. The Holy of Holies in the Temple was a place where only a few might enter. Only men who were consecrated priests, set apart from all other men. And only on certain days and after performing certain rituals to cleanse them and make atonement for their sins.
Likewise the tabernacle in a Catholic church is set apart. Up, away, behind, apart. Within the sanctuary of the Church, itself a space set apart for the purpose of worship, it is the holy of holies, the place that is veiled and hidden from our sight. The light of the lamp, the gleaming gold reminds us that something precious is within.
The Catechism says that “The holiness of God is the inaccessible center of his eternal mystery.” (2809 )
But now I feel like I’ve backed myself into a corner. This seems to say that holiness is something other and apart, unknowable mystery, and has nothing to do with me. How do I even begin to approach “inaccessible mystery”? Let’s start again.
Holy, holy, holy
It is the song of the angels. It is the call of the psalms.
Holiness is a hard concept for me. It’s slippery. As soon as I think I’ve caught up to it, it turns into a fish and slips off the hook.
If I were to imagine what holy looks like, I’d picture it as the gold of the tabernacle, the chalice, paten and ciborium, the gold ground of an icon or the halo of a saint, the golden gleam of a mosaic on a dome arching overhead. The gleaming white of clean altar linens. The worn polished look of stone or wood where believers have walked, knelt, touched, generations upon generations of prayer made visible.
My senses know what holy is; but my mind wrestles to pin it down.
Holy is a shine in the eye of my girls at Mass. Holy is the whispered name, Jesus Jesus, Jesus. Holy is silence. Holy is a voice chanting, seeking heaven. Holy is a hand clasp. Holy is prostration. A body stretched face down on a hard floor. Holy is remove your shoes this ground is holy. Holy is death if you touch it when you are not. Holy is cleansing. Holy is renewing. Holy is peaceful. Holy is painful. Holy is worship. Holy is praise. Holy is the Lord alone. Holy is the spirit. Holy are the saints. Holy are the angels.
My first thoughts when it comes to the holiness of God’s name is to return to my primary school understanding of the second commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Boy did I struggle with that one when I was younger! I fell into bad company and picked up a verbal “OMG” tic. Shedding it was so hard. Habits stick so firmly. But eventually I did kick it. And yet I’m still a bit shocked when otherwise pious ladies I know use it as thoughtless punctuation.
But all that aside, I know that to simply refrain from profaning the Lord’s name isn’t enough to fulfill the command implied by this first petition of the Lord’s prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.” To fully answer the call of this petition demands a positive action.
What does it mean to hallow? To make holy. Only God, the Holy One, can make holy. For us this command means to recognize the holy, to treat it in a holy way. Thus it seems to me we are to recognize God’s name as something sacred, set apart. But at the same time we are also called to realize that the revelation of his name is a gift, a call to intimacy. Abraham did not know his name; but followed his call anyway. In the vision of the burning bush Moses received a revelation of who God is: “The God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.” “I Am.” This revelation was an invitation to action and to relationship. In hearing God’s name Moses entered into a deep intimacy with God. Finally, in Jesus we have the most complete revelation of God’s name, the revelation of God’s self: God with us, God who saves. And we have the possibility of a new relationship. To be adopted, to be sons and daughters. Intimacy.
To know God’s name, to hallow it, then, is to be in a relationship with God. But what does that mean, exactly? How do I have a relationship with God? In this season of Lent the Church has an easy answer: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But I’m going to stick with prayer for now.
The psalms call us to praise his name always:
“Blessed be the name of the Lord
both now and forever.
From the rising of the sun unto its going down,
may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Psalm 112:2-3)
In part this petition is a call to prayer, a call to praise God’s name, to give thanks to his name for its saving power. I wake and begin to pray, start the day with praise, the psalms on my lips. I pray the psalms again at set times through the day. I pray spontaneously during the day. I end the day with prayer.
But it is even more than that. More than spoken prayers or even contemplation. The catechism tells us that this petition immerses us “in the innermost mystery of his Godhead and the drama of the salvation of our humanity.” (2807) Think about that for a minute. It immerses us in the innermost mystery. Mystery here does not mean foreign, set apart; but instead we are invited to become a part of the mystery. We are called to make God’s name holy within ourselves. I was made in his image and likeness. I am called to bear that image, to become more and more like him. To become a tabernacle myself, a vessel in which God’s name may be hallowed.
More, it immerses us in the drama of the salvation of our humanity. God became man. Is there any more dramatic tale ever in the history of the world? We are called to be players in that drama, to enter into the story. Not just read it or listen to it. To live it. To allow myself to be caught up in the action. To fall and rise. To take up arms and fight. To sin and repent. To confess and be made whole. To give up, give in. To take up my cross. To be healed. To become whole. To become holy.
To hallow the Lord’s name is to seek to fulfill the commandment: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” To hallow the Lord’s name is to burn with passion for the name as did the prophets and patriarchs of old.
God’s name is hallowed in us through our actions. How can I make every moment this day a prayer, a blessing? How can I hallow the hours and thus hallow God’s name and thus enter into his holiness? Not only in prayer, but in every deed, every moment? This is the challenge of “Hallowed”.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “Hallowed Be”?
Melanie Bettinelli is a Catholic wife and mother of four. A native Texan who is learning to adapt to New England winters, a former English teacher, booklover, wanna-be-homemaker, with an incurable writing habit that often gets in the way of cleaning the kitchen sink. Although she used to teach composition to college students, she has no fear of sentence fragments. She blogs about giving thanks for joyful chaos at thewinedarksea.com.
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