Friday, January 3, 2014

What's in a name?

The ancient monogram for the Holy Name of Jesus uses the first three
letters of the Greek version of the name: IHS(OYS). A cross is often
added to the top of the monogram and, sometimes, three nails are below.

Names are powerful. In the traditional understanding, the name of a person signifies and expresses the nature of that person.

Scripture is rife with examples of this. For example, our first father, the first of the human species was named "Adam," which means "man" in Hebrew, while "Eve" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "source of life," which is appropriate as Eve is the mother of all humans. Abraham, our "father in faith," was given his special name by God because it means "father of many." The tradition continued in the New Testament as well when Jesus changed the name of his disciple Simon bar Jonah to Cephas, or Peter (meaning "rock"), and promised to build his Church upon him.

Among the Jewish people, God's name YHWH (which, out of respect, was never to be pronounced), expressed his very essence as the singular and uncreated One. The name means "I am who am," and it implies oneness and the cause/origin of all. The Old Testament respect for the name of God finds continuation in the words of the Our Father when we pray "hallowed be thy name."

Considering the tradition of honoring the name of God, then, it should come as no surprise that we Catholics have a special reverence for the name of Jesus. The name Jesus was given to our Lord by his parents at the direction of an angel and it means (in the original Aramaic form) "God saves,"signifying the very essence and nature of our Lord who was sent to save us from our sins.

This is why we mark the name of Jesus with special devotion (such as this feast day) and reverence: because in that holy name, the divine plan of salvation is pronounced and the mission and purpose of both Christ and of his Church (i.e. his Body) is revealed.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Church asks us to literally bow our heads in reverence whenever we pronounce or hear the name of Jesus? In fact, bowing our heads at the holy name of Jesus is supposed to be as much a part of the Mass as making the sign of the cross or singing the responses. In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the document which governs celebrations of Mass) goes beyond that. Read it for yourself:

A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated. (GIRM, No. 275)

So, if you don't already bow your head during Mass at the name of Jesus, consider adding this to your Mass devotions. Over time, it will become second nature and you will be amazed at how it keeps you constantly prayerfully aware of our Lord, helping you to internalize a deeper reverence for the Most Holy Name of Jesus.