N THE CATHOLIC tradition of many centuries, the month of January has been dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. Today, in particular, the Church celebrates the great Name of salvation as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form.
This occasion is celebrated as a second class feast in the Extraordinary Form on the first Sunday of the year or on January 2. The celebration was removed from the calendar in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, although a votive Mass in honor of the Holy Name was retained. The feast was restored, as an optional memorial, by the 2002 revision of the Roman Missal.
I am struck each year by the beauty of the orations for today’s Mass in the Ordinary Form. Neither in the Collect nor the Prayer over the Offerings nor in the Prayer after Communion does the name “Jesus” appear. What a marvelous reservation of the Holy Name! Catholics of a certain age would remember the custom of preachers avoiding the overuse of the Divine Name, substituting instead equivalents such as “our Blessed Lord,” “Christ our Savior,” etc. By limiting their employment of that most sacred and powerful Name, the preachers of old and the prayers of the new Roman Missal intend to cultivate a practical reverence for the Son of God.
This is not, however, the only tradition. In fact, the three orations of the Mass formula in the Extraordinary Form do include mention of the Name. The man, moreover, who is most responsible for spreading the Holy Name devotion in the Church, St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444), was also responsible for the insertion of the Name, “Jesus,” into the prayer, Hail Mary. Therefore, the approach of St. Bernardine was to increase the frequency of the Name’s utterance. A similar example is found in the missionary work of the North American martyrs, who wrote the Name, “Jesus,” on trees throughout the forest as an aid to the conversion of the Iroquois people.
It would seem, then, that there are two legitimate traditions. This diversity, in itself, is a beauty of the Church. But perhaps what is most significant is not which of these traditions we choose to follow. Whether we withhold our expression of the Divine Name or speak it frequently, our purpose should be the same: to render honor unto Him Whose Name it is.
Laudetur Iesus Christus — Nunc et in aeternum!
Editor’s Note : I hope Fr. Friel will not mind the addition of an excerpt from the life of Saint Isaac Jogues, wherein this holy priest talks about his captivity by the Iroquois:
“How often, though in a strange land, have we sung the canticle of the Lord; and the woods and the mountains about resounded with the praises of their Creator, which never—since their creation—had they heard. How often on the stately trees of the forests did I carve the most SACRED NAME of JESUS, so that, seeing it, the demons might take to flight, and hearing it, they might tremble with fear?”