Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus – St. Bernadine of Siena

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Colossians 3:17)

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“Glorious name, gracious name, name of love and of power! Through you sins are forgiven, through you enemies are vanquished, through you the sick are freed from their illness, through you those suffering in trials are made strong and cheerful. You bring honour to those who believe, you teach those who preach, you give strength to the toiler, you sustain the weary” – St. Bernardine of Siena.

IHS This monogram of the Holy Name, common among Western Christians, comes from the first three letters in the Greek spelling of Jesus’ name. Those letters are iota (“I”), eta (“H”) and sigma (here rendered as its Roman equivalent: “S”).

Variations: Sometimes the iota is rendered as a “J” (hence, “JHS”), or one will see the monogram in all Greek letters, or with the final sigma in a “C” shape (hence “IHC”), an alternate way of rendering the letter sigma. They all mean the same thing.

IC XC This monogram is more common among Eastern Christians. It is composed of the first and last letters of Jesus’ Name in Greek (iota and sigma) with the first and last letters of Christos, the Greek word for Christ (chi and sigma, respectively). The sigmas are both rendered in “C” form, resulting in “IC XC”.

This monogram is commonly written on icons of Christ near His halo to identify Him, and in the phrase “IC XC NIKA”, meaning “Jesus Christ Conquers”.

The greatest promoters of the monogram were St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistran. They carried with them on their missions in the turbulent cities of Italy a copy of the monogram of the Holy Name, surrounded by rays, painted on a wooden tablet, wherewith they blessed the sick and wrought great miracles. At the close of their sermons they exhibited this emblem to the faithful and asked them to prostrate themselves, to adore the Redeemer of mankind. They recommended their hearers to have the monogram of Jesus placed over the gates of their cities and above the doors of their dwelling. It became even more popularised after St. Bernardine encouraged a playing card maker in Bologna – a man whose business had been ruined because of the Saint’s preaching against gambling – to make holy cards depicting it instead of making his usual fare. Because the manner in which St. Bernardine preached this devotion was new, he was accused by his enemies, and brought before the tribunal of Pope Martin V. But St. John Capistran defended his master so successfully that the pope not only permitted the worship of the Holy Name, but also assisted at a procession in which the holy monogram was carried. The tablet used by St. Bernardine is venerated at Santa Maria in Ara Coeli at Rome.

Formalised devotion to the Holy Name is the fruit of the work of St. Bernardine of Siena, A.D. 1380-1444, the Franciscan who reformed his Order and preached fiery sermons all over Italy. Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons:

When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul’s voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.

By word of mouth, by letters, by miracles, and by the example of his own life, Saint Paul bore the Name of Jesus wherever he went. He praised the Name of Jesus “at all times,” but never more than when “bearing witness to his faith.”

Moreover, the Apostle did indeed carry this Name “before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” as a light to enlighten all nations. And this was his cry wherever he journeyed: “The night is passing away, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us conduct ourselves honourably as in the day.” Paul himself showed forth the burning and shining-light set upon a candlestick, everywhere proclaiming “Jesus, and Him crucified.”

And so the Church, the Bride of Christ strengthened by his testimony, rejoices with the psalmist, singing: “O God from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.” The psalmist exhorts her to do this, as he says: “Sing to the Lord, and bless His Name, proclaim His salvation day after day.” And this salvation is Jesus, Her Saviour.”

Short History of this devotion

Devotion to the Holy Name falls loosely into three periods. The first phase is the very early Church and was encouraged by the Apostles and the early disciples. In this period devotion is to the Name of Christ, to the Name of Christ Jesus, to the Name of the Lord, and to the Name of Jesus.

The second phase is found in the early middle ages. Here devotion to the Holy Name was fixed specifically to the Name of Jesus. Pope Gregory X (1271 – 1276) and the Council of Lyons in 1274 initiated a call of the Universal Church to this special devotion. Through the works of Blessed John of Vercelli, the fifth Master General of the Order of St. Dominic, the Dominicans began preaching on the virtues of the Holy Name and built special altars where the lay faithful could venerate the Holy Name of Jesus.

The third phase was brought to life by St. Bernardine of Siena (1380 – 1444). St. Bernardine painted a special wooden tablet with the Monogram of the Name of Jesus surrounded by rays of the sun. During these very popular sermons, he would hold up for veneration the monogram of Christ’s Name.
Because of the influence of St. Bernardine’s work, the Name “Jesus” was added to the Hail Mary prayer, and the Feast of the Holy Name was later added to the calendar. The office of this Mass was written by Bernardine dei Busti, and it makes use of the beautiful 12th century hymn, Iesu Dulcis Memoria which speaks of His Name and was written by another who had devotion to it, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (A.D. 1090-1153). St. Bernardine’s apostleship of the Holy Name was carried on by St. John Capistran, A.D. 1385-1456, and to them both is attributed the Litany of the Holy Name. St. Bernardine and his contemporary St. John Capistran popularised this devotion and made it so widespread that the monogram of the name of Jesus, even today, stands at the side of the cross as a symbol of Christianity.

Later in 1455, Pope Callistus III asked St. John to preach a crusade invoking the Holy Name of Jesus against the vicious Turkish Moslems who were ravaging Eastern Europe; victory came in their defeat at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456.

In 1597, Pope Sixtus V granted an indulgence to anyone reverently saying, “Praised be Jesus Christ!” Pope Cement VII in 1530 allowed the Franciscans to celebrate a feast day in honour of the Holy Name, and Pope Innocent XIII extended this to the universal Church in 1721;

In the liturgical revisions of Vatican II, the feast was deleted, though a votive Mass to the Holy Name of Jesus had been retained for devotional use. With the release of the revised Roman Missal in March 2002, the feast was restored as an optional memorial on 3rd January.

Pope John Paul II reinstituted the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus to be celebrated on 3rd Jan. Moreover, the reverential invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus as part of prayer or work, and the recitation of the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, still convey a partial indulgence for the reparation of sin. The Holy Name Society, first organised in 1274 and granted the status of a confraternity in 1564, continues to promote at the parish and diocesan levels an increased reverence for the name of Jesus, reparation for the sins of profanity and blasphemy against the Holy Name, and the personal sanctification of its members.

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