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Celebrating His Name

Jesus was our Savior long before He was born into our fallen world, and His name revealed that to others long before they knew what that meant.

Detail from "Christ the Redeemer" (c 1410) by Andrei Rublev [WikiArt.org]

How did you get your name?

You may have earned a title, such as Doctor, through your own hard work and perseverance. You may have legally changed your name if you’re a married woman. You may be known to family and friends by a nickname as a result of a charming childhood story. But none of those things change the fact that you were originally given a name.

When your father and mother discussed what name to give you, they probably considered names of other family members, current popular names, and how potential first names sounded with your last name. Your parents had probably decided on your full name long before they set eyes on you, but they certainly made it official long before they knew you very well. Hospitals are fussy about babies having names.

All of the above points to one of the reasons that the Church celebrates an odd-sounding optional memorial on January 3: The Most Holy Name of Jesus.1

How did our Lord receive the name of Jesus? It wasn’t because the Blessed Virgin thought the word “Jesus” sounded nice or because Saint Joseph had a relative with the same name. God the Father sent an angel to Saint Joseph in a dream to tell him what to name the child that his wife was carrying.2 This is similar to the moment that had occurred thousands of years before, when a man named Moses left his flock to investigate a burning bush.3

Neither man was expecting a supernatural event. Either man could have come up with any number of reasonable names on his own. After being reassured by the angel about Mary and her unborn child, Joseph could have given the child any of the names in his family genealogy, a list we hear at Mass often during Advent.

Similarly, Moses didn’t have to ask God to tell him His name. Moses could have come up with his own name for God based on the fire, bush, or mountain that were present at the time of that miraculous event. But both Joseph and Moses were humble, and humble men know to listen, not talk, when God speaks. More importantly, both men knew how to humbly accept a mysterious name as a gift from God.

What does the name “Jesus” mean? The Gospel of Matthew tells us the answer outright: “[Y]ou shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”4

Your name may have been chosen because someone wanted to honor an ancestor, friend, or famous person. The Church desires that each Catholic have at least one name related to our faith, but just because you were, say, named after Saint Catherine of Siena, that doesn’t automatically make you a papal advisor or stigmatist.

On the other hand, our Lord wasn’t given a name that means “God saves” because it was hoped that He might live up to that high-sounding goal. Instead, He was named Jesus because saving people from their sins was exactly what He was going to do. He was our Savior long before He was born into our fallen world, and His name revealed that to others long before they knew what that meant. The current gods of our culture—science, money, violence, physical appearance, sensual pleasure—may distract us from our pains, but they will not save us from our sins.

Some names connote power. High school students think about the prestige associated with potential colleges before they make their final decisions. Those looking for jobs weigh the reputation of potential employers. However, the reputation of any company or school may change from glorious to notorious overnight due to financial setbacks, poor policies, or even bad Yelp ratings.

But Jesus’ name has power that does not change. Instead, as Saint Paul wrote:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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.5

This is not merely a lyrical passage of the New Testament. The late Fr. Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist of Rome, wrote6 that when he spoke the words “so that all beings in the heavens, on earth, and in the underworld should bend the knee at the name of Jesus”7 to a possessed person during an exorcism, even the possessed person was compelled to kneel when our Lord’s name was spoken aloud. Human beings may forget that Jesus’ name has power; devils don’t.

Saint Bernardine of Siena, the Franciscan priest who preached widely in the early fifteenth century, brought an end to deadly violence and improved the moral practices of the faithful throughout the Italian countryside. How did he stop people from killing one another in bitter feuds and committing mortal sins? His favorite topic was devotion to the name of Jesus. Bernardine simply preached about the power of our Lord’s name for hours on end, and he used a monogram formed by the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek—IHS—to convey the message to his barely-literate audiences. One wonders what he would have done if he’d had the power of a TED talk and PowerPoint graphics to make his point.

We don’t need to wonder. He would tell us to spend at least one day a year pondering God’s goodness to us in sending a Savior. The One who redeemed us from slavery to sin and death has a name, and His name is Jesus.

Endnotes:

1 Note that there is also an optional memorial in honor of the Most Holy Name of Mary on September 12.

2 Matthew 1:18-21.

3 Exodus 3:2-14.

4 Matthew 1:21.

5 Ephesians 2:9-11.

6 Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 23.

7 See Philippians 2:6-11.


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About Dawn Beutner 48 Articles
Dawn Beutner is the author of Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year from Ignatius Press and blogs at dawnbeutner.com.

4 Comments

  1. Dawn Beutner addresses a fascinating subject, the name Jesus. During this morning’s Latin Mass Jesu. Ut nobis Corpus et + Sanguis fiant Domini nostri Iesu Christi. Other places throughout scripture, similarities, Joshua [English] is one. In Hebrew Yehoshua. Joshua, born Egypt, appointed by Moses as his assistant. Notably, God excluded Moses from entering, Yehoshua was the man who crossed the Jordan, led Israel into the Holy Land. “Hoshea is the name used in the Torah before Moses added the divine name. The modern linguistic analysis of the name, however, is Yahweh is lordly” (Wikipedia).
    +With the improved etymological understanding of the name Jesus we find a richness of meaning in the historical account. What significance did the name Jesus in its originally used form have with the gentiles, specifically here the Romans. Yeshua was that Aramaic usage. Of special interest is the response to this Jewish prophet and worker of miracles, Yeshua, of three Roman centurions. First in order of chronology the centurion whose servant was ill and begged that Yeshua heal him. Jews were sent as emissaries to convince Yeshua he was a friend of the Jews deserving this miracle. The rest is known, Lord, I am unworthy that you should enter under my roof, suggesting, Only say the word and he will be healed. These the only words of someone outside the fold entered forever in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The next virtually as significant is the centurion who oversaw the Crucifixion. Surely, this was the son of God. The first person to recognize the divinity of Yeshua after the crucifixion.
    +Centurions were the officer class of the Roman Army. Battled hardened men of required courage, also members of the more educated, distinguished Roman patrician families. Likely the centurions named, including the third post Resurrection Cornelius, who knew Greek, and very likely having constant contact with Jewish authorities Aramaic.
    +God, as gentle as He is, revealing himself to fiery Elijah as a tiny whisper had no disdain for men of courage [King David the Lion of Judah was a great warrior the precursor of the true Lion of Judah Jesus], men who also understood justice. Christ’s spoken word, the Father’s Word incarnate, was the seed implanted among Roman military who would import this belief in Yeshua to Rome.

  2. The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is not optional according to the 1962 Roman Missal. Kept on the first Sunday in the year (with few exceptions), it is traced to the sixteenth century when the Franciscan Order began its celebration.

    The readings of the TLM for the Feast include:
    1) Philippians 2:10,11
    2) Psalm 8:2
    3) Acts 4:8-12
    4) Psalm 105:47
    5) Isaiah 63:167
    6) Psalm 144:21
    7) Luke 2:21
    8) Psalm 85:12, 5
    9) Psalm 85:9,10

    Vespers:
    Romans 10:13
    Psalm 110:9, 10
    Habakkuk 3:18
    Psalm 112:2, 3
    Psalm 115:17
    Philippians 2:8-10
    Luke 1:49
    Matthew 1:21

    All these verses speak of the Holy Name.

    The homily at yesterday’s Mass addressed the Circumcision of Jesus which happened at the same time as the giving of the name (after birth–the name of Jesus had earlier been revealed to Mary upon the conception of the Lord). Circumcision in the OT prefigured the NT covenantal sacrifice of Baptism. A non-circumcised Jew was excluded from full membership in the Jewish community, as a non-Baptized person is today excluded from membership in the Mystical Body of Christ.

    A name signified mission in those favored by God in both Old and New Testaments: Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Simon became Peter. It is fitting that God gave a name synonymous with mission to His Son Jesus, He Who Saves.

    Fitting, too, is the gesture of the priest at TLM. It he is seated and wearing his cap (forget the name), when the Holy Name is mentioned in prayer by choir or server, he doffs it and bows his head at the mention. He also bows if he mentions the Holy Name as he preaches. This is not an empty or mere meaningless gesture; instead, it represents prayerful, mindful, and reverent respect, glory, and honor, reminding us to invoke and assent in piety to the name of the Person who holds the name above all other names.

  3. St Bernard said: “The name of Jesus places before thee all that God has done for the salvation of the human race.” What a powerful statement, made more profound by the word “all”. And so apt, as well.
    For nine weeks (Nov – Dec) we had special prayers (novena, if you like) to, and in the name of, Jesus. Then on the feast day, we had a meaningful Mass, a procession and benediction. It was our Parish feast our Church being the Church of the Holy Name.

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