3 January – Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
Today the Church celebrates the optional memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. The Church reveals to us the wonders of the Incarnate Word by singing the glories of His name. The name of Jesus means Saviour; it had been shown in a dream to Joseph together with its meaning and to Our Lady at the annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel.
Devotion to the Holy Name is deeply rooted in the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the Acts of the Apostles. It was promoted in a special manner by St Bernard, St Bernardine of Siena, St John Capistrano and by the Franciscan Order. It was extended to the whole Church in 1727 during the pontificate of Innocent XIII. The month of January has traditionally been dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus.
This feast marks no progress in the development of the Church year. It merely embellishes the occasion just observed when the Child received the Name Jesus as had been foretold by the angel. The feast is meant to impress on us Christians the dignity of the Holy Name. It is a relatively new feast, stemming out of devotional piety. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to find in it some liturgical or ancient Christian dogma. What did a name signify originally? The name should express the nature of a thing. Thus Adam in paradise gave the animals names in accordance with their being. Among the Jews God’s name expressed His essence, Yahweh, i.e., I (alone) am who am (and cause all else to be). The Jews had the highest respect for the name of God, a reverence that finds continuation in the Our Father: “Hallowed be Thy Name.”
Persons who played prominent roles in the history of salvation often received their names from God Himself. Adam — man of the earth; Eve — mother of all the living; Abraham — father of many nations; Peter — the rock. The Saviour’s precursor was given the name God assigned him. According to divine precedent, then, the name of the Redeemer should not be accidental, of human choosing but given by God Himself. For His name should express His mission. We read in Sacred Scripture how the angel Gabriel revealed that name to Mary: “You shall call His name Jesus.” And to St Joseph the angel not merely revealed the name but explained its meaning: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” The Messiah should not only be the saviour, but should be called Saviour. With Jesus, therefore, the name actually tells the purpose of His existence. This is why we must esteem His name as sacred. Whenever we pronounce it, we ought to bow our heads; for the very name reminds us of the greatest favor we have ever received, salvation.
Excerpted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Pius Parsch