HALLOWED BE (The Our Father, Word by Word)

March 26, 2011 | 9 comments

Our Father who art in Heaven

by Melanie Bettinelli


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.


  1. Calah

    This is beautiful, Melanie. Just exquisite. Also speaks directly to me, and I think probably everyone, in this Lenten season. Thank you.

  2. Meghan Maresh

    Wonderful! Like so many other ideas in our faith, it would be easy to just intellectualize holiness and make it seem impossible, and you remind us that it’s as close as a prayer. Thank you!

  3. Theresa in Alberta

    Holines should be something we christians should practise more often. It is real easy, I will give you some examples that I TRY to practise….
    Not telling off that biligerent person who almost runs you over at the mall where to go and how to get there….letting that person who has one quart of milk and loaf of bread ahead of you and your very full cart of groceries at the store…if you are older and attending mass SMILE at that embarassed/stressed parent during mass when their very normal small child acts up during the sermon….while you are at it, show up on time and wait to leave until after the recessional hymn has finished. CONGRATULATE the parent(s) on the little addition to the family who arrives after child number 2.
    signed one of “those older ladies at church” 😉

    • Theresa in Alberta

      and when I fail, thank GOD for the sacrement of reconciliation!!!

  4. Keystone

    Perspectives on Hallowed Be:

    It is an unusual word….hallowed, but used daily around the globe in the Lord’s Prayer, and remembered for all eternity by those who seek liberty.
    Abraham Lincoln used it too.

    “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not HALLOW — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have CONSECRATED it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
    ~~~Gettysburg Address Nov 19, 1863 (The battle was July 1,2,3, 1863)

    The world was watching as brothers from North and South shed blood and HALLOWED the ground with their blood for the sake of freedom. Gettysburg is filled with Yankee and Dixee blood as no other battle.

    France took note. They had a revolution a few decades prior, and if the American Experiment failed, theirs would too. That battle and Abe’s death began France’s quest to honor freedom and liberty. It would take another 2 decades for a man from France to finish his tribute to these noble goals, and create the Statue of Liberty proclaiming the value of what occurred at Gettysburg. The Statue still stands!

    Another battleground saw the shedding of blood. It was a spiritual war and the ground soaked was Calvary. The shedding of blood was done by God, as human. Why?
    “….without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.(of sins)”
    ~~~Hebrews 9:22

    What is it about blood that makes us hallowed when we eat His flesh and drink his blood in communion?

    “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
    ~~~ 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

    In the Old Testament, priests placed blood of slain animals on a goat, while the slain was burnt as an offering. The goat was led to the city gates and allowed to go free. The sins of the people were released in the blood. This is the origin of “scapegoat”, just as we get out of punishment for our sins and become hallowed ourselves, as we draw nearer to Christ, who shed blood for all folks for all time. There would be no more scapegoats to be hallowed. The Good Shepherd saw to that.

    There is NO sin in God; Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.
    And no sin produces hallowed.
    But we are all sinners. We can not be hallowed or holy, unless the sins are forgiven.
    They were.
    On Calvary.
    By God.
    Who is Hallowed.
    Shedding His blood for the forgiveness of sins.
    By Our Father’s Son, Jesus Christ.

    He came from His place, to our place, to take our place, so we could go to His place.

    Hallowed Be.

  5. Margaret in Minnesota

    Melanie, I never knew you were a former English teacher! *I’m* a former English teacher! We need to, like, go to a conference sometime.

    And drink lots & lots of coffee.

    This is a beautiful, thoughtful analysis–yes, God’s holiness is a mystery, but it is also (meant to be) within our reach. We are called to be holy as HE is holy and–you are right to mention–that’s the BIG goal (or should be) of Lent for us.

    Blessed be the name of God. Blessed be God in His angels and in His (future) saints. 🙂

  6. Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    I’d kind of like this use of the passive voice to end up contrasted with the later “thy will be done” later in the series. “Hallowed be” really feels to me like it doesn’t have any implied subject doing the hallowing — it sounds like it just reflects the intrinsic nature of God. I imagine the question of by whom God’s will will be done will be more complex.

  7. Andrea

    What wonderful, thought-provoking words. Thank you for this.

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