Last week we considered how “Our Father, who art in heaven” is a reminder of our Baptismal dignity. Baptism makes us children of the heavenly father. But Baptism, like childhood, is only potential, looking forward with promise.
That promise looks forward, above all, to praise. We are given divine birth so that we can know the divine. We become “sons in the Son” so that, like the Son, we can become eternal praise of the Father.
Every newborn baby has a father, but does not yet know his name. The promise of earthly birth is, above all, the possibility of relationship, of knowing others in the world, above all our family, by name. The promise of our heavenly birth is that we can know the name of the holy one, know the holiness of his name, hallow his name. “Our Father, who art in heaven” bears fruit in “hallowed be thy name.”
We can enter more deeply into this next line of the prayer by picturing a priest at the altar. He lifts up his hands in praise, he hallows God’s name. Indeed, Baptism is the door into the Church – so that we can attend the perfect praise of the Mass. We dip our fingers in baptismal water at the door, and go up to the altar; our Baptism gives us access to the place of the Priest; calling God our Father opens up the possibility of hallowing his name.
Now, in Catholic theology there are two kinds of priesthood. Baptism itself makes us priests: “Having been drawn to Him, a living Stone, indeed rejected by men, but elect, precious with God; you also as living stones are bulit up a spiritual house, a holy priesthod, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for possession, so that you might speak of the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:4-5, 9). We are all stones building up the Church, all priests, all people of praise.
And so the proper name for what we typically call the sacramental priesthood is really Holy Orders. Orders means hierarchy, leadership. It is not that the sacramental priests are the only priests – it is that they lead the priestly people in the priestly service of worship.
If we are a priestly people, why do we need priestly “orders”? Imagining the ordained priest when we pray “Hallowed be thy name” can help us understand.
Yes, my life is called to be praise. I am called to hallow God’s name. But I need an image of that hallowing. I can think of myself at Mass best by drawing to mind the one who leads me in worship.
The sacramental order is all about making things vivid – giving us, fleshly people, clear images of the truths of our faith. We are not left to understand vaguely that we have been born again to a new Father – we see it happen, in Baptism. We understand that all of life is praise when we have special moments of praise, with special leaders in praise.
The ordained priest is, first of all, a sacramental image of our praise. He manifests in his body this truth of our faith.
He is also a sacramental image that praise is a gift. I do not make myself a Son of God, I receive it – it is poured onto me in Baptism through the ministry of the Church, the Body of Christ. I do not rise up to God in praise by my own strength, but that too is a gift. The ordained priesthood is a gift to us, something that we cannot make ourselves. We cannot ordain priests except through the hand of the ordained, reaching back to Jesus and the Apostles. And we cannot offer perfect praise except through that sacramentally ordained ministry.
The point is not that priests are better Christians. The point is that the priesthood itself – all of our priestly service – is a gift from God. The sacramental priesthood is an icon showing that worship is a gift.
We further remind ourselves of that gift by invoking the word “name.” We only know God’s name because he has told us. Again, there is an icon of this truth in the Magisterium of the Church: God speaks to us from outside of us, through Scripture, interpreted by the Tradition, interpreted by the ordained leaders of the Church. To know God is all gift.
Finally, it is a gift that draws us together, not dispersed to our private rooms, but gathered around the altar of praise – gathered around the ordained priest, who leads us in procession.
When we pray “hallowed be thy name,” even in our private rooms, we call to mind the ordained priest and understand how all of life is drawn to the altar of praise.
How would it change your day if you saw it pointing to the altar?