Every Knee Shall Bend at the Holy Name of Jesus

‘Preaching and catechizing should be permeated with adoration and respect for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (CCC 2145)

‘IHS’ (photo: Anneka / Shutterstock)

“And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) 

I recall in my more childish days, sneaking up to a friend of mine and scaring him. At that, he jumped up and yelled the name of Our Lord. I chided him about his blasphemous interjection to which he responded, “Actually … no. Just when I thought my life was in peril and at an end, I yelled out to my Savior to assist me.” I laughed at first but, on further consideration, I think he made an excellent point.

The veneration of the Holy Name is as old as Christianity itself but it was popularized in the Middle Ages by such mystics as Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernardino of Siena and John Capistrano. It was very common to find Christ’s monogram IHS over the doors of Christian homes and the gates of walled cities. The Society of Jesus (i.e., Jesuits) includes this monogram in the emblem for their order. We still see a vestige of this reverence in our currency and in our country’s courtrooms where the admonition, “In God we trust,” still remains.

Again, like the Jesus Prayer, this is not a Christian mantra. Instead, as the Catholic Encyclopedia points out, we respect the name of Jesus because it “reminds us of all the blessings we receive through our Holy Redeemer. To give thanks for these blessings we revere the Holy Name, as we honor the Passion of Christ by honoring his Cross.” The article lists four effects of uttering Jesus’ name:

  • Requesting assistance for our physical and ministerial needs according to the promise of Christ of asking in his name (Mark 16:17-18, Acts 3:6, 9:34, 9:40).
  • Jesus’ name reminds us of his commitment to us in terms of his love, mercy and forgiveness. He willingly and freely offers us every spiritual consolation.
  • The Devil fears the name of Jesus, who has conquered him on the Cross. The use of Jesus’ name protects us against Satan and other evil, including the near occasion of sin.
  • Christ assures us that “the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name” (John 16:23). Because of his promise, the Church concludes all its prayers with the words: “Through Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Many popes, including Urban IV and John XXII, have offered indulgences for Christians who genuflect or bow at Jesus’ name (Philippians 2:10-11). On July 2, 1587, Pope Sixtus V granted an indulgence for all who reverentially exclaim the phrase: “Praise be to Jesus Christ!” to which the proper response would be “For evermore,” or “Amen.” This led to the creation of divine greeting and leave-taking formulas throughout Europe.

For example, the people of Austria, Switzerland and southern Germany will greet each other with the phrase “Grüß Gott” (pronounced: “gross got”) which is derived from the more formal expression meaning “May God bless you.” In modern German, the phrase literally means “May God greet you,” but this isn’t the original meaning of the word — the verb grüßen originally meant segnen (i.e., “to bless.”)

Gaelic-speaking Irish will greet each with Dia dhuit (“God with you”), similar to the English goodbye which is a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye.”

The French adieu, Spanish adiós, Italian addio and Portuguese adeus all refer to the speaker’s wishes that God care for the listener.

“Godspeed” is an English leave-taking formula we normally use to wish an individual who is leaving a safe and prosperous journey and general good fortune. It is ultimately derived from Middle English and means “May God prosper you.”

In addition to the above indulgence, Popes Sixtus V and Benedict XIII both granted an additional indulgence to all Christians who spoke Jesus’ name reverently. They also created a plenary indulgence at the hour of death. These two indulgences were later confirmed by Pope Clement XIII on Sept. 5, 1759.