Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
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This Feast is associated with the Feast of the Circumcision, for it is when a child was circumcized that he received a name and was accepted as a son of Abraham and a full member of his family (the Feast of the Holy Family will come soon, after the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th). So honored is His Holy Name that devout Catholics bow their heads (men removing their hats) at the sound of “Jesus” (or “Iesus” in Latin), both inside and outside of the liturgy. To protect the sacredness and honor due the Holy Name, when hearing the Name of the Lord taken in vain, it is right to pray “Sit nomen Dómini benedíctum!” ( “Blessed be the Name of the Lord”), to which the reply, if overheard, is “Ex hoc nunc, et usque in sæculum!” (“from this time forth for evermore!”). .
While there are no special customs that I am aware of, it is so that if we utter His Name with devotion, we receive a partial indulgence. A plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions, may be received if we visit a church or chapel on this day. A good thing to do to fulfill these conditions is to recite the Litany of the Holy Name, especially in a church or chapel.
And here are the thoughts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (who wrote the hymn “Iesu Dulcis Memoria” which is sung today) on the most holy Name of Jesus:
The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts, fills the soul with noble sentiments, strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections. All spiritual food leaves the soul dry, if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus. When you take your pen, write the Name Jesus: if you write books, let the Name of Jesus be contained in them, else they will possess no charm or attraction for me; you may speak, or you may reply, but if the Name of Jesus sounds not from your lips, you are without unction and without charm. Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart. This name is the cure for all diseases of the soul. Are you troubled? think but of Jesus, speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse, and peace descends anew from heaven. Have you fallen into sin? so that you fear death? invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning. No obduracy of the soul, no weakness, no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name; there is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy name. Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger? invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish.
Never yet was human being in urgent need, and on the point of perishing, who invoked this help-giving Name, and was not powerfully sustained. It was given us for the cure of all our ills; to soften the impetuosity of anger, to quench the fire of concupiscence, to conquer pride, to mitigate the pain of our wounds, to overcome the thirst of avarice, to quiet sensual passions, and the desires of low pleasures. If we call to our minds the Name of Jesus, it brings before us His most meek and humble heart, and gives us a new knowledge of His most loving and tender compassion. The Name of Jesus is the purest, and holiest, the noblest and most indulgent of names, the Name of all blessings and of all virtues; it is the Name of the God-Man, of sanctity itself. To think of Jesus is to think of the great, infinite God Who, having given us His life as an example, has also bestowed the necessary understanding, energy and assistance to enable us to follow and imitate Him, in our thoughts, inclinations, words and actions. If the Name of Jesus reaches the depths of our heart, it leaves heavenly virtue there. We say, therefore, with our great master, St. Paul the Apostle: If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.
Read more about devotion to the Holy Name.
From Gueranger’s “Liturgical Year”
The second Sunday after the Epiphany, which recalls the Marriage feast of Cana, was at first chosen as the day on which to honour the most holy Name of Jesus. It is on the Wedding Day that the Bridegroom gives his Name to the Bride, and it is the sign that, from that day forward, she belongs to him alone. The Church, therefore, wishing to honour a name so precious to her with a special feast, could find no day more appropriate for it than that of the Marriage at Cana. But now she has chosen for the celebration of this august Name, a day closer to the Anniversary on which it was given, ‘after eight days were accomplished, his name was called Jesus’; she leaves, however, the commemoration of the Sacred Nuptials to the Sunday of which it has ever been the glory.
In the Old Covenant, the Name of God inspired fear and awe: nor was the honour of pronouncing it granted to all the children of Israel. We can understand this. God had not yet come down from heaven to live on earth, and converse with men; he had not yet taken upon himself our poor nature, and become Man like ourselves; the sweet Name expressive of love and tenderness, could not be applied to him.
But, when the fulness of time had come – when the mystery of love was about to be revealed – then did heaven send down the Name of ‘Jesus’ to our earth, as a pledge of the speedy coming of him who was to bear it. The archangel Gabriel said to Mary: Thou shalt call his Name JESUS. ‘Jesus’ means Saviour. How sweet will this Name not be to poor lost man! It seems to link earth to heaven! No name is so amiable, none is so powerful. Every knee in heaven, on earth, and in hell, bows in adoration at hearing this Name! and yet, who can pronounce it, and not feel love spring up within his heart? But we need such a saint as Bernard, to tell us of the power and sweetness of this blessed Name. He thus speaks of it in one of his Sermons.
‘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. Let us say a word on each of these. Tell me, whence came there, into the whole world, so bright and sudden a light, if not from the preaching of the Name of Jesus? Was it not by the light of this Name that God called us unto his admirable Light? Wherewith being enlightened, and in this light, seeing the Light, we take these words of Paul as truly addressed to ourselves: Heretofore, you were darkness; but now, light in the Lord [Eph. v. 8].
‘Nor is the Name of Jesus Light only; it is also Food. Art thou not strengthened, as often as thou thinkest of this Name? What is there that so feeds the mind of him that meditates upon this Name? What is there that so restores the wearied faculties, strengthens virtue, gives vigour to good and holy habits, and fosters chastity? Every food of the soul is dry, that is not steeped in this unction; it is insipid, if it be not seasoned with this salt. If thou write, I relish not thy writing, unless I read there the Name of Jesus. If thou teach me, or converse with me, I relish not thy words, unless I hear thee say the Name of Jesus. JESUS is honey to the mouth, and music to the ear, and gladness to the heart.
‘It is also Medicine. Is any one among you sad? Let but Jesus come into his heart, and the mouth echo him, saying Jesus! and lo! the light of that Name disperses every cloud, and brings sunshine back again. Have any of you committed sin? and is despair driving you into the snare of death? Invoke the Name of life, and life will come back to the soul. Was there ever a man, that, hearing this saving Name, could keep up that common fault of hardness of heart, or drowsiness of sluggishness, or rancour of soul, or languor of sloth? If any one, perchance, felt that the fountain of his tears was dry, did it not gush forth more plentifully than ever, and flow more sweetly than ever, as soon as he invoked the Name of Jesus? If any of us were ever in danger, and our heart beat with fear, did not this Name of power bring us confidence and courage the moment we pronounced it? When we were tossed to and fro by perplexing doubts, did not the evidence of what was right burst on us as we called upon the Name of light? When we were discouraged, and well nigh crushed, by adversity, did not our heart take courage, when our tongue uttered the Name of help ? All this is most true; for all these miseries are the sicknesses and faintings of our soul, and the Name of Jesus is our Medicine.
‘But, let us see how all this comes to pass. Call upon me in the day of trouble, says the Lord; I will deliver thee, and thou shall glorify me [Ps. xlix 15]. There is nothing which so restrains the impulse of anger, calms the swelling of pride, heals the wound of envy, represses the insatiability of luxury, smothers the flame of lust, quenches the thirst of avarice, and dispels the fever of uncleanliness – as the Name of Jesus. For when I pronounce this Name, I bring before my mind the Man, who, by excellence, is meek and humble of heart, benign, sober, chaste, merciful, and filled with everything that is good and holy, nay, who is the very God Almighty – whose example heals me, and whose assistance strengthens me. I say all this, when I say Jesus. Here have I my model, for he is Man; and my help, for he is God; the one provides me with precious drugs, the other gives them efficacy; and from the two I make a potion such as no physician knows how to make.
‘Here is the electuary, my soul, hid in the casket of this Name Jesus; believe me, it is wholesome, and good for every ailment thou canst possibly have. Ever have it with thee, in thy bosom and in thy hand; so that all thy affections and actions may be directed to JESUS.’ [Fifteenth Sermon on the canticle of Canticles.]
The feast of the Holy Name is of comparatively recent origin, its first promoter was St Bernardine of Siena, who lived in the fifteenth century. This holy man established the practice of representing the Holy Name of Jesus surrounded with rays, and formed into a monogram of its three first letters, IHS [The Name was, anciently, often written Ihesus; hence, in its contracted form alluded to, the letter H would be given: the E following was virtually included in the aspirate. Translator.]
The custom spread rapidly through Italy, and was zealously propagated by the great St John of Capestrano, who, like St Bernardine of Siena, was of the Order of Friars Minor. The Holy See gave its formal approbation to this manner of honouring the Name of our Saviour, and, in the early part of the sixteenth century, Pope Clement VI, after long entreaties, granted to the whole Franciscan Order the privilege of keeping a special Feast in honour of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Rome extended the same favour to various Churches; and, at length, the Feast was inserted in the universal Calendar. It was in the year 1721, at the request of Charles VI, Emperor of Germany, that Pope Innocent XII decreed that the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus should be kept throughout the whole Church; he also chose the Second Sunday after the Epiphany as the day, but as we have already explained, the feast is now fixed for the Sunday following the Circumcision.