The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus has been celebrated on various dates in January, however, the current General Roman Calendar has set the celebration on January 3 (since 2002). The feast is celebrated close to the day on which Jesus received his name formally, on the eighth day following his birth when he was circumcised according to Jewish custom. The feast has been celebrated for centuries, popularized originally by Cistercian monks in the 12th century and later by Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits.
In our day, it is not a widely remembered feast. As a child, reverence for Jesus’ name was an important part of our Catholic education. I was taught by Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. We were taught to put the initials, JM (for Jesus and Mary) or JMJ (for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) at the top of each page we wrote at school. We were reminded to bow our heads slightly when the name of Jesus was spoken. We were not allowed to swear at all and particularly not to use Jesus’ name in swearing. At least some of these practices remain part of the behavior of many of the children taught by the sisters, I suspect. Since the Holy Names Sisters teach all levels of students, from kindergarten through higher education, there are many opportunities for instilling reverence along the way.
The men in our parish were encouraged to become members of the Holy Name Society. As part of membership in this group, they helped and encouraged each other to keep their language clean. They worked together to support the parish and the parish school. It was a way for men to help each other, become friends, and grow in faith. Some amazing things were accomplished by the men who worked together in the Holy Name Society.
I think about this when I hear conversations today in which “OMG” is casually used as an expression of amazement or just excitement, with or without actually saying all the words for which the initials stand. Only rarely are “goodness” or “gosh” substituted for “God” in the expression. Jesus’ name is used freely in ways the Sisters would never have approved.
I find myself wondering if those who speak this way are really aware of what they are doing. Names are powerful and using them creates a connection between the speaker and the one named. Perhaps it’s time to celebrate this feast more publicly, with reminders in church bulletins and special family meals. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to be more mindful of how we use Jesus’ name and how we call on God. At the very least, we could return to the custom of changing what we hear into a prayer, asking a blessing or giving thanks for the many blessings we receive each day.
Then again, maybe many of us already do.
Image is a contemporary example of a traditional monogram.
The letters are the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek.
Image in the public domain.