Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com.
On January 3, we celebrate the optional memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus, a feast which gained its place on the Roman Calendar in 1721 by the order of Pope Innocent XIII. The feast had been celebrated by various orders (Franciscans, Oratorians, Augustinians, etc.) on various dates. The feast was removed from the Roman Calendar after the Second Vatican Council—although sources note that a Votive Mass remained— and Pope St. John Paul II restored it in 2002, assigning the date of January 3. On the calendar for the Extraordinary Form, it is celebrated on the First Sunday of the new year, unless that Sunday falls on January 1, 6, or 7—then it is celebrated on January 2, as it is this year.
The Name of Jesus
In the twelfth century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (attributed) composed a poem, “Jesu Dulcis Memoria”, about the sweetness of Jesus’ Name which Father Edward Caswall, one of Blessed John Henry Newman’s Oratorian followers, translated in the nineteenth:
Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy Presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than Jesus' Name,
The Saviour of mankind.
O hope of every contrite heart!
O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah! this
Nor tongue nor pen can show
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
Jesus! our only hope be Thou,
As Thou our prize shalt be;
In Thee be all our glory now,
And through eternity. Amen.
In the twentieth century, Gloria and Bill Gaither, Protestant Gospel singers, agreed with St. Bernard that the name of Jesus is special:
Jesus Jesus Jesus
There's something about that name
Master Savior Jesus
It's like the fragrance after rain
Jesus Jesus Jesus
Let Heaven and Earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away
There is something about that name
Both St. Bernard and the Gaithers knew Philippians 2:5-11:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that 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.
Since the Name of Jesus was part of the Angel Gabriel’s message to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Annunciation (Luke 1:31), its Feast comes after the naming of Jesus during His circumcision, as described in the Gospel of St. Luke in chapter two: “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.” (The Gospel of January, the Solemnity of the Mother of God.)
Richard Whitford’s Jesus Psalter
Richard Whitford was a friend of St. Thomas More and a priest of the famed Briggitine House of Syon Abbey. Both Whitford and Richard Reynolds opposed Henry VIII’s Supremacy: Reynolds was one of the protomartyrs of the English Reformation on May 4, 1535, but Whitford was granted a pension and protection by Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy when Syon Abbey was suppressed in 1539 and survived on a pension in Mountjoy’s household until he died in 1542.
Whitford translated The Imitation of Christ and wrote many devotional works. One of the most popular was the Jesus Psalter, a series of 15 petitions to Jesus, praying for mercy, wisdom, fear of the Lord, and other graces. It emphasizes, with the words of Acts 4:12, that “There is no other Name under heaven given to men whereby we may be saved” and was very popular during the Recusant era. Whitford was continuing a tradition of other English spiritual writers to pray with the name of Jesus. Richard Rolle, the fourteenth century hermit, wrote “If you think on the name Jesus continually and hold it stably, it purges your sin and kindles your heart” and Walter Hilton, author of The Scale of Perfection, also encouraged meditation on the Name of Jesus, which is “full of comfort and delight.”
More Practical Piety
The name of Jesus is not just taken in vain; it is used without concern for how holy and consecrated It is. As one website notes, we should be ready to make reparation for the abuse of the Holy Name of Jesus:
the Catholic in the room will (or at least should) make reparation by crossing himself and praying "Sit nomen Dómini benedíctum!" ("Blessed be the Name of the Lord!"), to which another Catholic who might be in the room replies, "Ex hoc nunc, et usque in sæculum!" ("from this time forth for evermore!") or "per ómnia saecula saeculórum" ("unto ages of ages").
As Father Pius Parsch wrote in his five volume book, The Church’s Year of Grace:
The Name stands as a complete summary and description of our Lord's character and office, and it is under this aspect that it has been regarded by thousands of saints, whose hearts have melted at its mere sound. To them Jesus is their God, Jesus is their King, Jesus is their Redeemer, Jesus is their Mediator, Jesus is their Saviour, Jesus is their great Priest, Jesus is their Intercessor, Jesus is the Captain under Whom they fight, Jesus is the Leader Whom they follow, Jesus is their Teacher, Jesus is the Giver of their law, Jesus is the Spouse and Shepherd of their souls, Jesus is their Light, Jesus is their Life, Jesus is the Judge before Whom they rejoice to think that they must one day stand, Jesus is their final and eternal Reward, for which alone they live.
The Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus unpacks in a way, each of those aspects of that “complete summary of Our Lord’s character and office”, and concludes with the prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, You have said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you." Grant, we beg of You, to us who ask it, the gift of Your most divine love, that we may ever love You with our whole heart, in word and deed, and never cease praising You. Give us, O Lord, as much a lasting fear as a lasting love of Your Holy Name, for You, who live and are King forever and ever, never fail to govern those whom You have solidly established in Your love. Amen.
No wonder another famous hymn, by Caroline M. Noel, proclaims:
At the Name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
'tis the Father's pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.