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Scripture & Tradition: The Most Holy Name of Jesus

Epistle: Acts 4:8-12
Gospel: Luke 2:21

O God, Who didst appoint Thine only-begotten Son the Saviour of mankind, and didst bid that He should be called Jesus: mercifully grant that we may enjoy the vision of Him in Heaven, Whose holy Name we venerate on earth.
– From the Collect for the Most Holy Name of Jesus

The Most Holy Name of Jesus, which the Church celebrates liturgically on Sunday, is central to the Christian Faith: it contains great power and authority, it is the door of salvation, and it is the center of prayer.

St. Paul writes, “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” (Philippians 2:9-10). The very name Jesus is able now to make demons flee and to convert hearts to God. It is the name by which all men are saved. St. Peter proclaimed to all who would listen that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The name of the gate to heaven is Jesus, and only through that name has salvation come to the human race. This is the name that the Church preaches and the name in which it does everything.

The name “Jesus” was a common one in the time of Christ and throughout the Old Testament, but the angel’s words reflect that this was no common man. There is no other Jesus than Jesus of Nazareth. Even the greatest “Jesus” of the Old Testament – Joshua son of Nun – is but a shadow of the true Jesus. Joshua defeated the enemies of Israel and delivered the people of God into the promised land. Jesus defeated far greater enemies – Satan, sin and death – and delivers the new people of God – the Church – into the promised land of heaven. A beautiful icon of Holy Saturday depicts Christ’s descent into Hades. In this image Jesus stands on gates representing the crushed Gates of Hades: trampling death itself. His brilliance overwhelms the abyss. Christ is reaching down, grabbing the hands of Adam and Eve, pulling them from their imprisonment in the pit so that he can take them to their eternal home in heaven. Adam and Eve are the first among the many righteous men and women residing in the bosom of Abraham awaiting the salvation of Christ. One can just imagine Joshua son of Nun rejoicing at the arrival into the darkness of death of the true Salvation.

In the middle ages there arose a great devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, fostered by Saints such as St. John Capistran and St. Bernardine of Siena. But it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux who first cultivated this devotion in the Church in the eleventh century, recognizing the benefits that flow from this name:

The Name of Jesus is Light, and Food, and Medicine. It is Light, when it is preached to us; it is Food, when we think upon it; it is the Medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke it. (Fifteenth Sermon on the Canticle of Canticles)

In order to foster devotion to the holy name of Jesus, the monogram “IHS” (representing the Latinized first three letters of the Greek version of “Jesus”) was promoted as an emblem of the faith. It was placed over the gates of a city to call upon the protection of the Lord and placed on garments to remind the wearer of his Savior. The founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, made this monogram the emblem of his order. The promoters of this devotion understood the power of this name – not by virtue of some magical capacity belonging to the letters, but because the divine Savior had taken this name above all other names in his work of redemption.

Everything the Christian does is centered around the name of Jesus. Never will anyone be disappointed who trusts in this great name, because the one who bears it promised to hear and respond to any plea made in it. The name Jesus is in and of itself a perfect prayer, because in the fact that God became the man Jesus lies all our hope.

No name on earth is more exalted than the name of Jesus. He is the Son of God, the Christ, Lord, teacher, prophet and much else besides. But more than anything, he is Jesus, our Salvation.

Portions of this article were adapted from my book, Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew.

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