The Holy Name of JESUS
January is the month dedicated to the Holy Name of JESUS. The name JESUS means “God saves” or “Saviour.” He saves us by reconciling us with God whom we have offended. Without JESUS, there is no reconciliation! And we know that this is a name given by God Himself, because at the Annunciation the Angel Gabriel said to Our Lady, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS” (Luke 1:31). The letters IHS which you often see on a stained glass window or on the back of a vestment is an ancient way of writing the name JESUS Christ. In the early Church it was often used as a secret symbol and could be found on the tombs of Christians.
Our Lord Himself tells us the great power of His Name. “Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do” (John 14:13). “Whatever!” And then in Matthew’s Gospel, He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23). So that’s an order from Our Lord, that we must ask, beg and invoke in His name, and then He promises everything. If God doesn’t always give us what we ask, it’s probably because in His infinite wisdom, He knows that in the long run, it’s not going to be good for us, but that’s a topic for another occasion.
Then in the Acts of the Apostles (3:6), Peter tells the paralytic, “In the name of JESUS Christ, the Nazarene, walk!” So what Our Lord had promised worked, because the man got up and walked. If there is one main theme of the Apostolic Church it is the power of JESUS’ name – to work miracles, both physical and spiritual.
The second commandment instructs us to reverence the name of God, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” and since JESUS is the name of the incarnate God, we reverence His name. But as we know today, people use the Holy Name recklessly, in anger and even as a curse. We see this often on TV and in films. This is very displeasing to God and is a sin.
The early Christians had profound reverence for the Holy Name of JESUS. In one of the early Christian hymns, which we find in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:10-11) we hear: “that at the Name of JESUS every knee should bow; in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that JESUS Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Liturgically speaking, the bending of the knee has been replaced by the bow of the head. This is really for practical reasons. So when the priest celebrates Mass, when he says the name of JESUS he should bow his head. There was a time when many people did this, but like many of our Catholic traditions, it’s fallen by the wayside. But it is a good devotion for all of us to practice, because other people do notice and they may start to imitate you.
But in all dangers and temptations we should call upon the names of JESUS and Mary. And we should pray for the grace to do this especially at the hour of death. St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) said that to pronounce Our Lord’s name or Our Lady’s name at the hour of death is a special grace God gives only to those He intends to save. What a great sign this is of predestination and of salvation.
So let us pray that we will always use the Holy Name of JESUS with love, devotion and reverence. As St Peter himself preached, “And 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).
Fr Paul Gillham, IC