Holy Name of Jesus

January 3rd is the liturgical feast day of the Holy Name of Jesus, an important devotion that comes to us from Pope Gregory X at the Council of Lyon in 1274 as a weapon against the heresy of the Cathars (Albigensians).   The devotion countered the heretics’ dualist assertion that the physical world was corrupt and evil and only the spiritual realm was truly good.   They believed that the physical realm was created by Satan to oppose the spiritual which was the creation of God.   The Pope entrusted the Dominicans with the spread of this devotion, it was later championed by the Franciscan St. Bernadine of Siena so as to reassert the Church’s orthodox teaching of the inherent good of both physical and spiritual worlds since both were created by God.   In denying this truth the Albigensians were denying the Incarnation itself.  If the physical world is evil, it means that the human flesh is also evil.   This error would logically conclude that God could not have become a man, he would not have been tainted by evil flesh.   The devotion of the Holy Name emphasizes the Christological fact of the Incarnation by assigning power to the Lord’s name, the name given when he took flesh, by the Angel Gabriel.  

The long standing Catholic attitude and reverence for the name of the Lord is born from Sacred Scripture, an evolution of the sacred respect that the Law of Moses demanded from Jews for the holy name of God.   A violation against the name of God was considered an assault against His dignity and honor, and therefore the violator would be guilty of blasphemy, an offense punishable by death.   It was to Moses that God answers the question “what is his name, what should I tell them” (Ex. 3:13) by calling himself “I am that I am”.   In St. Paul’s famous Christological hymn to the Christians at Philippi he transfers the reverence due to name revealed to Moses with the name of Jesus Christ.   “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.”  (Phil. 2:8-10).      For Christians consider a violation against the name of Jesus to be a violation of the 2nd Commandment of the Law of Moses to not “use the name of the Lord in vain.”

Throughout the ages the Church has always believed in the power in the Lord’s name to consecrate and make holy the work of the Church (cf. Col 3:17).   The Acts of the Apostles reveals that the Apostles “baptized, healed, cast out demons, preached and anointed” in the Lord’s name.   The Lord himself instructed us “if you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it you.” (Jn. 16: 23).    The Dominicans were entrusted to spread the devotion of the Holy Name through the establishment of the Holy Name Society, a confraternity recommended to spread reverence and love for the Lord, a devotion that the Church recommends to all her sons and daughters especially today.    Christians live in a culture that has lost its respect and reverence for God and has disrespected the Lord.  We all too often tolerate the Lord’s name being used in curse language or misused in profane speech.   For it we must beg the Lord forgiveness and make reparation for the times his name has been abused.  

As we continue to celebrate the feast of Christmas, we ought to make it our mission to spread love for the Lord’s name.   We must always invoke his name in prayer and when seeking his mercy.   So that as St. Paul exhorted the Philippians, we would bend our knees and bow our heads at the very mention of the name of the Savior, a name that saves, Jesus Christ our Lord.   We Christians know that power in the Lord’s name because it is the power that generates the joy of being a Christian.   Pope Benedict  XVI reminded us: “the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth.” 

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