It’s safe to say that God didn’t just pick his Son’s name out of a hat.

When the Magi arrived to worship the newborn King on that first Epiphany, surely one of the first things they asked about was the baby’s name.

And the husband and wife at the baby’s side were ready with their answer.

Nine months prior, an angel had appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home,” the angel said. “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, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

In first-century Judaism, the Hebrew name Joshua (Greek Iesous) means “Yahweh saves.”

The connection is one reason the Church celebrates the Epiphany on Jan. 7, just four days after the Jan. 3 feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Another reason: Pope John Paul II restored the Holy Name feast to a fixed date in 2002.

As the Catechism puts it, the holy name of Jesus “contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation” (No. 2666).

Today it’s all too apparent that our culture has lost its respect for the name God took at the Incarnation. In movies, music and other mass media, his name is profaned, bandied about and taken in vain far more often than it’s uttered with the reverence it deserves.

The times call for Christians to do their part to bring back the common courtesy that the name of Jesus once enjoyed even from non-Christians. Where to start?

Where else? With the children.

At St. James the Greater Church in St. Louis, students of the K-8 parish school are given pamphlets explaining that they should “respect Jesus and bow their heads at the name of Jesus,” says St. James parishioner Mark Kennebeck. He’s president of the National Association of the Holy Name Society (

“We pass them out before kids leave for their Christmas vacation, in conjunction with the Holy Name of Jesus feast,” explains Kennebeck. “We also staple it to our church bulletin to remind parents to respect the name of Jesus.”

Kenneback points out the pamphlet came from the society’s Cleveland branch — an indication that the society’s thrust is not local but universal. Meanwhile branches promote respect for Jesus’ name in their own unique ways.

For example, the St. Louis group has an active prison ministry. Some members “go around the country doing retreats in prisons and helping local branches start their own prison ministry,” Kennebeck explains.

The goal is to bring the convicts back to Jesus, starting with not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Proof the outreach is effective? The heartfelt letters of thanks the society receives from the incarcerated people it changes.

Some people misuse the name of the Lord simply because they don’t know who he is, notes Dominican Father Thomas Hayes of Menlo Park, Calif., spiritual moderator of the National Association of the Holy Name Society.

How to “open the eyes of the blind”?

“Pray,” the priest advises. “Go to the Old Testament, the book of Psalms, and find out how many times it says praise the Lord, and the name of the Lord. Then go to the New Testament.”

Then point out your findings and suggest that they try praying to Jesus by name. Let them know that, even if they feel uncomfortable with this at first, the results will speak for themselves.

Even if they have no experience praying, they can sit quietly and just say his name. Over and over, if they like. As long as their attitude is respectful and not scornful, graces will come to them by this simple act of faith.

As the Catechism points out: “The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always” (No. 2668).

In his booklet The Wonders of the Holy Name (Tan, 1993), Dominican Father Paul O’Sullivan promotes this most basic of Christian prayers as a way to sure spiritual growth for all — from the barely catechized to the most accomplished theologian.

“Say this all-powerful Name constantly,” he writes, “and the devil can do you no harm. Say it in all dangers, in all temptations.”

Father O’Sullivan concludes that, each time we say our Lord’s name with love, we give God the Father infinite joy and glory because we offer him all the infinite merits of the passion and death of his son.

We also obtain a partial indulgence every time we pray Jesus’ name.

At the name of Jesus, Margot McGinn of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in New Orleans bows her head — every time. That means during Mass and whenever any prayer calls upon Jesus by name, including when she prays the monthly Rosary with the Holy Name Society for a local radio broadcast.

Her lifelong dedication to this small but transforming gesture began at her first Communion. “I feel that the name ‘Jesus’ inspires us,” she says, “to contemplate the great sacrifice he made for us by dying on the cross.”

Packing Power

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

A longer variation on the simple utterance of the Lord’s name alone, this quick plea is often called “the Jesus Prayer.” The Catechism points out that this prayer “combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light” (see Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:13).

Repeat it throughout the day and, say enthusiasts of the holy name, you can’t help but grow in holiness. Suggested pace: every hour at the top of the hour.

The Jesus Prayer originated in the Eastern monasteries in the earliest centuries after Christ. 

“It’s designed to keep the name of Jesus on a person’s mind, soul, heart, lips and, in fact, their very breast,” says Father Thomas Loya, pastor of Annunciation of the Mother of God Byzantine Church in Homer Glen, Ill. “It’s very good for warding off the passions and temptations, especially lust and anger.”

Father Loya says this prayer has the power to draw people into deeper intimacy with the Lord. Its frequent repetition makes the prayer become a part of you, he adds. “The goal is not just to say a prayer,” he says, “but to help us become prayer.”

All in a name’s work.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.