On Devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus
William A. Thomas
“Blessed be the name of Jesus”
January is the Month during which the Church places great emphasis on the Holy Name of Jesus. There are several reasons for this, but first and foremost it is because the second Commandment tells us that “One should not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain”
The catechism tells us that one shows respect for the Holy Name of God by blessing it, praising it, and glorifying it. “it is forbidden therefore, to call on the Name of God to justify a crime, to use the Holy Name in any improper way as in blasphemy which by its nature is a grave sin, by cursing, swearing, and being unfaithful to promises made in the name of God.
The second reason is that the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated by the Universal Church on January 3rd each year and thus this particular Feast sets the tone of the month of January. Devotion to the Holy Name is deeply rooted in the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the Acts of the Apostles. It was promoted in a special manner by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bernardino of Siena, St. John Capistrano and by the Franciscan Order. The Feast was extended to the whole Church in 1727 during the pontificate of Pope Innocent XIII.
One finds that in reading the Bible, that throughout the history of Man, God makes interventions and in fact has given names to those who have played a role in Man’s salvation. God names Adam (which means Man from earth, or clay) He also gives a new name to Abram and calls him Abraham (which means Father of many Nations). God also changes the name of Abraham’s wife from Sarai to Sarah (which means Princess) and He foretells her that she would be the spiritual mother of kings. (See Genesis 5 and 17) Saint Peter was called Simon before he met Jesus but once he was called to follow he was given a new name, Peter, meaning Rock (solid foundation) Likewise the Holy Name of Jesus means that “God Saves” (Emmanuel) and likewise too His Holy Name was foretold especially by the prophet Isaiah in 7:14-15 “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good.”
In the Gospel of Luke (1:26-33) the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth to a Virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David, and the Virgin’s name was Mary- and he said to her “Behold (a revelation) you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you will Name Him Jesus.” And again in Luke 2:21- “When eight days were completed for his circumcision He was named Jesus, the name given Him by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” In Matthew 2:20 “Behold-the angel of the Lord appeared to him (Joseph) in a dream (apparition) and said “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this Child has been conceived in Her. She will bear a Son and you are to name Him Jesus.”
Whilst the devout always had a great devotion to the Holy Name if only became popular in modern times through the efforts of the great three Saints mentioned already. Saint Bernadine of Siena and Saint John Capistrano carried with them on their missions to the various cities of Italy a copy of the monogram of the Holy Name, surrounded by rays, painted on a wooden tablet, wherewith they blessed the sick and wrought great miracles of healing the incurable. At the close of their sermons they exhibited this emblem to the faithful and asked them to prostrate themselves, to adore the Redeemer of Mankind. The practice of showing the monogram of Jesus over gates and above doors largely begins with their exhortations. In many of the houses in Ireland that were built in the Holy Year of 1950 one can see above the doors the same monogram IHS. The actual tablet used by St. Bernadine is venerated at the basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli at Rome.
Father Paul O Sullivan O.P reminds us in his book entitled “The Wonders of the Holy Name” that each time we say the name Jesus, it is an act of perfect love, for we offer to God the infinite love of Jesus and that this same Holy Name saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us from the power of the devil. In chapter 3 of the same book we are told that in 1274, great evils had threatened the Church which was being assailed by fierce enemies from within and outside. Pope Gregory X (1271-1276) convened a Council of Bishops in Lyons in France in order to determine the best means of saving society from ruin. Among the many means proposed and the easiest and most efficacious of all was the frequent repetition of the Holy Name of Jesus. The Pope entrusted the Dominican Fathers with the task of preaching the Holy Name in every country, but it was the Franciscans Saint Bernadine of Siena and Saint Leonard of Porta Mauricio, and Saint John Capistrano who became known as the “ardent apostles of the Holy Name of Jesus.” The dangers that threatened society disappeared and peace was granted to the Church and to Europe.
The name of Jesus brings us more than his presence. Jesus is present in His Name as a Saviour, for the word ‘Jesus means just this, Saviour.’ Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we are saved (Acts 4:12) The invocation of the Holy Name brings deliverance to us in all our necessities.
Down through the ages there have been many Saints who were devoted to the Holy Name of Jesus from Saint Augustine to the present. Pope Paul VI, for example used to kneel down every time he left the papal apartments and looking at the Crucifix prayed, Jesu Salva Me! (Jesus save me). There are also many miracles on record for those who have invoked with reverence the Holy Name when they have been in trouble or in danger. It is recorded that when the bubonic plague or Black Death broke out in Portugal in 1432 it almost devastated Lisbon. Archbishop Andre Dias seeing that the epidemic was growing every day urged people to call on the Holy Name of Jesus. He asked them to write it on cards and to keep it on their persons and at night to place them under their pillows and on their doors and to invoke the name of Jesus because “this Holy Name has the power to save.” The sick became well, the dying rose up in good health and the plague ceased. All of Portugal was saved and the devotion spread to Spain and to France and from there worldwide.