Lecturer's Refelction for January
The Most Holy Name of Jesus
By Ken Fodor
The Church devotes January to the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the actual feast day being the third of the month.
By declaring this devotion, the Church hearkens back to the passage from St. Paul’s letter the Philippians: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord.” (2:9-11).
The words of the apostle proclaim that the name of Jesus is one of great authority and power. It causes demons to scatter and souls to be converted to God. Indeed, Jesus’s name is the gateway to salvation; his name means, “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” St. Peter affirms that fact when he said, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
Old spiritual manuals spelled out four specific rewards of invoking the Holy Name of Jesus:
- The name of Jesus brings help in bodily needs, that is the healing of the sick.
- The name of Jesus gives help in spiritual trials, and through his name, sins are forgiven.
- The name of Jesus protects the person against Satan and his temptations. Jesus on His own authority exorcized demons.
- Finally, we receive every grace and blessing through the Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus said, “I give you my assurance, whatever you ask the Father, He will give you in my name.” (John 16).
Formal devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus began in the 11th century, through the efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The devotion grew in popularity in the 12 century, fostered by Cistercian monks and nuns, and in the following centuries through the teaching of St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistran. Finally, in 1721, Pope Innocent XIII created the feast for the entire church.
One development that came out of this devotion was the use of the three letter monogram IHS, representing the latinized version of the first three letters of the Greek spelling of Jesus, as an emblem of the faith. No doubt you’ve seen this on vestments and in churches and on prayer books. St. Ignatius of Loyola made this monogram the emblem of the Society of Jesus, the order he founded.
In 1862, Pope Pius IX approved a Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. His successor Pope Leo XIII endorsed the litany for the whole Church because he was “…desirous of seeing an increase in the devotion toward this glorious name of Jesus among the faithful, especially in a period when this august name is shamelessly scoffed at.”
Founded in 1274 by Blessed John of Vercellli and granted confraternity status in 1564. The Holy Name Society remains active today to promote at the parish and diocesan levels an increased reverence for the name of Jesus, reparation for the sins of profanity and blasphemy against the Holy Name, and the personal sanctification of its members.
Given this long history of devotion, how sad it is that so many today–even Catholics–invoke the name of Jesus in a profane and disrespectful way.
Brothers, take some time this month to meditate on the significance of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. If you don’t already, consider the pious practice for making a slight bow of the head at the name of Jesus and perhaps pray the Litany of His Holy Name over the next few weeks.
In the words of St. Bernard in his Fifteenth Sermon on the Canticle of Canticles: “The Name of Jesus is Light, and Food, and Medicine. It is Light, when it is preached to us; it is Food, when we think upon it; it is the Medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke it.”
I’ll close with the collect for the Feast of Holy Name of Jesus from the traditional latin Mass:
O God, Who didst appoint Thine only-begotten Son the Saviour of mankind, and didst bid that He should be called Jesus: mercifully grant that we may enjoy the vision of Him in Heaven, Whose holy Name we venerate on earth. Amen. (Collect for MHNJ, Ventus ordo).