The Lord's Prayer has been called Breviarium Evangelii the "summary of the Gospel." But it is itself summed up in the two words with which it begins. Indeed the words "Our Father" may be said to contain, as in the germ, all that we profess explicitly in the creed. For in order to make that dear address possible on human lips, each article of the faith must contribute its mystery to that chain of facts whose logical outcome is the glorious privilege of adoption "whereby we cry Abba,--Father" (Rom. viii. 15).
It is in accordance with the intimate relation of prayer to the great fundamental mystery of the Incarnation, that we are taught when we pray to say, "Our Father." As we open our lips, these two words, the first that we utter, remind us even as we begin to pray, that our very access to God is by virtue of a relationship to which we have no natural title, but which is ours through participation in that Sonship which belongs by nature to the Only Begotten.
He Whom we address as Father, is Father in the mystery of His eternal relationship .to a Son, begotten before all worlds. He is our Father only because of our sacramental union with that eternal Son, Who, for our sake, became also the Son of man, and was not ashamed to call ns brethren. We say our Father. It is the right only of Christ to say My Father. "I ascend unto My Father and your Father'' (S. John xx. 17). God is our Father only because we are made one with Christ. We are members of Christ by Baptism and therefore children of God. Again, He is our Father because our relation to Him as children is not one which we hold each by an independent title apart from our brethren, but by virtue of a joint title which we share with "the blessed company of all faithful people," who are incorporated by Baptism into the mystical Body of His Son.
We say the words, "Our Father" but once, at the beginning of the prayer; but we carry them in our hearts all the way through, and make them our confidence as each petition, in turn, is unfolded from this title which was our warrant as we began. Thus the whole prayer grows out of the words "Our Father," as the whole sacramental system of the Church grows out of the great sacrament of the Incarnation, wherein He, Who grew up "as a tender plant and as a root out of the dry ground," is the same Whose branches, spreading throughout the world in the sacramental ministry of His Church, afford healing for all nations, and for every generation of man.
The first petition of the Lord's Prayer might well be engraved as a suitable legend upon the Font, which as it stands at the door of the Church, reminds us that it is only by being born again in this Sacrament that we can enter into the Kingdom of God. The place of Holy Baptism as the first in the order of the sacraments, follows of necessity from the gift of life which it confers. It not only gives its own sacramental grace, but it is necessary to qualify us for any of the other sacraments, five of which were instituted for the augmenting of this "first grace," and one, Penance, to restore this grace where it has been lost through sin. But all other sacraments presuppose the sacrament of 'Baptism, and can only be conferred where it has been already received.
God reveals Himself by His Name in two ways:
First, as in Himself alone He stands apart from all creatures, in the eternal mystery of His uncreated essence in Three Divine Persons: the Father, Unbegotten; the Son, Begotten; the Holy Ghost, Proceeding.
Secondly, as He is in relation to His creatures, and especially as concerns those relations in which as our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sanctifier He is mindful of man.
Now, in saying the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Hallowed be Thy Name," it is evident that we cannot pray that God's Name, in the first and absolute sense in which it is used, should be made holy. In this sense we can neither add anything to it, nor take anything from it. With Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven we simply worship it, saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" (Rev. iv. 8).
"We say, 'Hallowed be Thy Name,'" says S. Cyprian, "not as wishing for God to be made holy by our prayer, but asking Him that His Name may be kept holy in us. By whom indeed, could God be sanctified, Who Himself sanctifies?" [Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, VII.]
Now in the Holy Scriptures the NAME of God frequently stands, both in the Old Testament and in the New, for His covenant relation to His people. The priestly blessing prescribed for ritual use in the Book of Numbers, and which in its threefold form aiad its thrice making mention of the most Holy Name had a mysterious significance which we now understand, is described as putting the Name of God upon His people.
"On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
"The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;
"The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;
"The Lord lift up His countenance unto thee, and give thee peace.
"And they shall put My Name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them" (Numbers vi. 23-27).
Again God says of that angel of His presence who should keep Israel in the way and bring the people to Canaan, "Beware of Him and obey His voice and provoke Him not, for My Name is in Him" (Ex. xxiii. 21).
The glory of Israel was this: that because the Lord had established them an holy people unto Himself, all the people of the earth should see "that they were called by the name of the Lord" (Deut. xxviii. 9-10).
So again and again the covenant of God with His people is referred to as the calling them by His name, or, as more literally translated in the marginal reading of our authorized version, the calling His Name upon them.
"Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by Thy name" (Jer. xiv. 9).
"He hath commanded His covenant forever, holy and reverend is His name" (Psalm cxi. 9).
This oft repeated phrase is significant. It is by reason of his fall that man stands in need of a covenant with God, that he needs in other words, to have God's Name put upon him. Before he fell God's Name was upon him. When God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness," the Holy Trinity was condescending to stoop down and write in the dust the Name of God. Man's body was formed of the dust of the earth, but into that body was breathed the breath of life, and man became a living soul. It was this spiritual part of his being which, while in itself simple and indivisible, contained in its threefold endowment of intellect, affections and will, a reflection of the Blessed Trinity
Then came the fall. The divine likeness was lost by sin, the image was marred, the divine signature was blurred. Man must be made anew, the image must be restored, the divine handwriting must be retraced. This is accomplished through the Incarnation. The likeness to God which in the first Adam was lost, is seen again in the face of Jesus Christ "Who is the image of the Invisible God, the First-born of every creature" (Col. i. 15). "The brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person (Heb. i. 3).
How then are we to be restored to the same likeness? The promise of the re-creating work seems to have been given, when, by the baptism of His well-beloved Son in the river Jordan, God sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin. Again, as in the first creation, the Holy Trinity is manifested. God the Son it is Who, in the nature of man, submits to baptism at the hand of one of His creatures. God the Father speaks from the opened heavens, "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased." God the Holy Ghost, in the likeness of a dove, descends and abides upon Him.
The promise was fulfilled when, just before His Ascension into heaven, the Son of God and the Son of man gave to His apostles His great commission. In that commission we are prepared for the emphasis laid upon the NAME of the adorable Trinity, here for the first time clearly proclaimed: "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (S. Matt, xxviii. 18).
At every Baptism we seem again to hear the Holy Trinity saving, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." Again God puts His Name upon us, writing it more clearly than in our first creation, for then we only reflected His image, but now we are incorporated into Him Who is the Image of God; then we were creatures, albeit perfect in our nature, but now we are children, and that by participation in the Sonship of Jesus Christ.
Does not the Sacrament of Baptism then, the first in the order of the sacraments, throw light upon the first petition of the Lord's Prayer? Nay, how, apart from that Sacrament, can we explain it at all? Was not the early Church indeed governed by a reverent regard to this, when she withheld from all but the baptized the prayer which begins, "Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name?"
As God stands apart from His creatures in the absolute perfection of His own infinite nature, it were indeed meaningless to say "hallowed be Thy Name." But in Baptism we have put on the New man which is renewed after the image of Him that created him. God's NAME, the NAME of the most Holy Trinity is put upon us. As children bear about the honour of their parents, whose name they inherit, so let us remember that we are charged with the honour of the blessed Trinity, Whose Name is on our foreheads, and are accountable if an unholy life shall dishonour Him, and cause men to "blaspheme that worthy name by which we are called" (S. James ii. 7).
In saying this first petition let us pray it in the sense explained by S. Cyprian, and seeing God "Himself has said, 'Be ye holy for I am holy,' let us ask and request that we, who have been sanctified by Baptism may persevere such as we have begun."