Friday, January 2, 2015

The Holy Name of Jesus: What's In a Name?

At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend,
of those 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.
Philippians 2:10-11

Buried deep within the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the fourth part—“Christian Prayer”—are three brief paragraphs that teach us something fundamental about prayer:
2664: There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray "in the name" of Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father.
2665: The prayer of the Church, nourished by the Word of God and the celebration of the liturgy, teaches us to pray to the Lord Jesus. Even though her prayer is addressed above all to the Father, it includes in all the liturgical traditions forms of prayer addressed to Christ. Certain psalms, given their use in the Prayer of the Church, and the New Testament place on our lips and engrave in our hearts prayer to Christ in the form of invocations: Son of God, Word of God, Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, King, Beloved Son, Son of the Virgin, Good Shepherd, our Life, our Light, our Hope, our Resurrection, Friend of mankind. . . .
2666: But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity The Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: "Jesus," "YHWH saves" (cf. Exodus 3:14; 33:19-23; Matthew 1:21). The name "Jesus" contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray "Jesus" is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him (cf. Romans 10:13).
The Commemoration of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which Catholics celebrate on January 3 and which many Protestant Christians commemorate on January 1, is a relatively late addition to the Church’s calendar. This celebration, which was seen as a duplicate celebration of the Octave Day of Christmas, was even removed from the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for more than thirty years following the reforms of Vatican II; Saint John Paul II restored the commemorations of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and the Most Holy Name of Mary (September 12) in the new edition of the Roman Missal in 2002 

Although it is appropriately called a “devotional feast,” this commemoration of the Most Holy Name of Jesus is also very much a Christmas celebration (after all, we are still in the Christmas Season.)
As the bold text quoted above points out, in the name of Jesus, we are empowered to call upon God (YHWH—whose name it was forbidden for the People of Israel to speak) in a new and intimate way. This reminds us that in the Incarnation, God became fully human and, as Saint Leo the Great Observed, allowed human beings to become like God (from De Incarnatione 54:3). In the birth of Jesus, Heaven touched earth and humanity was forever transformed. Saint John Paul II celebrated this when he reflected: “It is his name above all that unites us in one household of faith, hope, and love. It is the name of Jesus that transcends every division and heals every antagonism within the human family” (from the visit to the Cathedral of St. Vibiana in Los Angeles, California, September 15, 1987).  

The monogram of the Name of Jesus was created by Saint Bernardine of Siena,
a saint remembered for his devotion to the Holy Name:
Iesus Hominum Salvator - Jesus, Savor of Humankind.
Image from the Church of the Gesù,
the mother church of the Society of Jesus.

As we continue our journey through the Christmas Season, take some time to reflect on the gift that we have been given in the Incarnation of Christ symbolized by the name of Jesus:
The name of Jesus, like the Word of God that he is, is a two-edged sword (cf. Hebrews 4:12). It is a name that means salvation and life; it is a name that means a struggle and a cross, just as it did for him. But it is also the name in which we find strength to proclaim and live the truth of the Gospel: not with arrogance, but with confident joy; not with self-righteousness, but with humble repentance before God; never with enmity, and always with charity… the name of Jesus is your life and your salvation. It is your pride and joy, and the pride and joy of your families and your parishes. In this name you find strength for your weaknesses and energy for daily Christian living. In your struggle against evil and the Evil One, and in your striving for holiness, the name of Jesus is the source of your hope, because in the name of Jesus you are invincible!—St. John Paul II

Prayer for the Commemoration of the Most Holy Name of Jesus +
Lord God,
you gave the name of Jesus to your eternal Word,
born of your handmaid, the Virgin Mary.
Open our minds and hearts to receive in our own day
the word you speak to us in your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Supplement to the Divine Office for the Society of Jesus)



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