A Dominican friend from Panama suggested to me that the English translation of the Our Father is the worst of all of the modern languages. I have always disagreed with him, until pondering the use of ‘hallowed be thy name’ in the Lord’s prayer. How often do we ever hear the word ‘hallowed’ used in any other context than the Our Father? Hallowed is a strange word sounding a bit like like ‘halloween’ but not really having much other use than here in the Our Father. I would translate the Latin text ‘sanctificetur nomen tuum’ into English as ‘sacred is your name’ or perhaps ‘your name is most holy and sacred’. When we pray to God, perhaps no language can express the magnitude of sacredness and holiness of God.
In a letter to Proba by St Augustine, he ponders the purpose of praying. If the Lord knows what we need before we ask for it, then what is the point of approaching God who is all-knowing (omniscient) and omnipotent? If God knows what we want, what we need and can provide then do we really need to ask in the first place? This uber-sacredness of God, His hallowed name, is highlighted by St Augustine, who teaches that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (as he cannot fail to know this), but instead wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told, Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers. The deeper our faith, stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the greater our capacity will be to receive that gift.
Just as sacredness or ‘hallowed-ness’ is difficult to imagine or perceive, it requires effort to remember just who and what God is. God is the highest of all that is sacred and holy, and the way for us to obtain a life of happiness in eternity. St Augustine reminds us that we are limited, but we can grow in our capacity to receive the gift of a life of happiness, through prayer. Yes, our understanding of the sacred is limited, but what we can do is try our best to have the sacred be exactly that. Sacred liturgy, music and artwork in our churches help direct us to the Almighty. The hallowed nature of Catholic churches needs to be maintained and promoted as being something that is not disposable, everyday or open to unthinking reform. This is partly why I despise some of the tacky and banal Church architecture of the mid to late 20th century. Such buildings do not represent hallowed ground or the sacred, they just look like some concrete community centre. Catholicism means turning our lives to God rather than selling out to worldly pursuits. We are taught to build up virtues that will serve us for life, rather than believing money will give us permanent happiness. To paraphrase Frank Underwood in the US series House of Cards, “Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years.” Hallowed is the old stone building that stands for centuries.