Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. (Matthew 6,9)
Dr Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism: “What is this? Answer: It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us. How does this come about? Answer: Whenever the Word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as God’s children, also live holy lives according to it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven! However, whoever teaches and lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches profanes the name of God among us. Preserve us from this, heavenly Father!”
In the Large Catechism Luther continues: “This is rather obscure and not in idiomatic German. In our mother tongue we would say, “Heavenly Father, grant that your name alone may be holy.” But what is it to pray that his name may become holy? Is it not already holy? Answer: Yes, in its essence it is always holy, but our use of it is not holy. God’s name was given to us when we became Christians and were baptized, and so we are called children of God and have the sacraments, through which he incorporates us into himself with the result that everything that is God’s must serve for our use.
Thus it is a matter of grave necessity, about which we should be most concerned that God’s name receive due honor and be kept holy and sacred as the greatest treasure and most sacred thing that we have, and that, as good children, we pray that his name, which is in any case holy in heaven, may also be holy and be kept holy on earth in our midst and in all the world.
How does it become holy among us? The plainest answer that can be given is: when both our teaching and our life are godly and Christian. Because in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty in every way to behave as good children so that he may receive from us not shame but honor and praise.
Now, the name of God is profaned by us either in words or deeds. (For everything we do on earth may be classified as word or deed, speech or act.) In the first place, then, it is profaned when people preach, teach, and speak in the name of God anything that is false and deceptive, using his name to dress up their lies and make them acceptable; this is the worst desecration and dishonor of the divine name. Likewise, when people grossly misuse the divine name as a cover for their shame, by swearing, cursing, conjuring, etc. In the next place, it is also profaned by an openly evil life and wicked works, when those who are called Christians and God’s people are adulterers, drunkards, gluttons, jealous persons, and slanderers. Here again God’s name is necessarily being profaned and blasphemed because of us.
Just as it is a shame and a disgrace to an earthly father to have a bad, unruly child who antagonizes him in word and deed, with the result that on his account the father ends up suffering scorn and reproach, so God is dishonored if we who are called by his name and enjoy his manifold blessings fail to teach, speak, and live as upright and heavenly children, with the result that he must hear us called not children of God but children of the devil.
So you see that in this petition we pray for exactly the same thing that God demands in the Second Commandment: that his name should not be taken in vain by swearing, cursing, deceiving, etc., but used rightly to the praise and glory of God. Whoever uses God’s name for any sort of wrong profanes and desecrates this holy name, as in the past a church was said to be desecrated when a murder or other crime had been committed in it, or when a monstrance170 or relic was profaned, thus rendering unholy by misuse that which is holy in itself. This petition, then, is simple and clear if we only understand the language, namely, that to “hallow” means the same as in our idiom “to praise, extol, and honor” both in word and deed.
See, then, what a great need there is for this kind of prayer! Because we see that the world is full of sects and false teachers, all of whom wear the holy name as a cloak and warrant for their devilish doctrine, we ought constantly to shout and cry out against all who preach and believe falsely and against those who want to attack, persecute, and suppress our gospel and pure doctrine, as the bishops, tyrants, fanatics, and others do. Likewise, this petition is for ourselves who have the Word of God but are ungrateful for it and fail to live according to it as we ought. If you ask for such things from your heart, you can be sure that God is pleased. For there is nothing that he would rather hear than to have his glory and praise exalted above everything else and his Word taught in its purity, cherished and treasured.” (Quoted from Kolb & Wengert (2000). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Pg. 445).
Thy name be hallowed. Help us, Lord,
In purity to keep Thy Word,
That to the glory of thy name
We walk before Thee free from blame.
Let no false doctrine us pervert;
All poor, deluded souls convert.
Hymn 458 The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Matt. 6:9 ff.
Author: Martin Luther titled: “Vater unser im Himmelreich”