The Most Holy Name
Three parishes in Dorset are named after our local St Edward, each being distinguished by a further part of their title. In our case we are fortunate to be blessed with the designation ‘The Most Holy Name’, referring to the name of ‘Jesus’.
In 2002 the Church restored the Memoria of ‘The Most Holy Name of Jesus’, to be celebrated on January the 3rd.
The devotion to the ‘name’ of Jesus is one long honoured in the Church, but it can well be argued that it is particularly relevant in our modern secular context: When we use someone’s name we indicate that we know them. However, many people today mistakenly claim that it is not possible to know God. In contrast, we claim, as Catholics, that it is possible to know God because He has revealed Himself to us, and a pivotal sign of this is the fact that He has revealed His name: Jesus.
Another way of thinking of this is to contrast the way that a philosopher might know God and the way that we can know Him by name. A philosopher can know that God exists, know God as the Creator, as ‘first cause’ of all that exists. But a philosopher cannot know God as He is in Himself –this is something beyond reason alone. We can only know this by Revelation, by the fact that God has come down from Heaven and told us of Himself. In particular, God has come by assuming a human nature and revealing Himself in the flesh, revealing Himself in Jesus Christ. Thus we can address God by name.
In the Old Testament the ineffable name of God was revealed as YHWH [Yahweh], “I am who am” (Ex 3:14). Out of reverence to the holy name it was never pronounced. Instead of pronouncing this name, the Jews said, “Adonai”, i.e. “The Lord”. Today, still, in the Catholic liturgy we never say the word YHWH but our Bible translations instead say ‘The Lord’. This unpronounceable aspect of the Divine Name indicates something about the Divine: He was beyond our ability to grasp, He could only be known at all because He revealed Himself to us.
In the New Testament God has fully revealed Himself by speaking His Word in the Incarnation. There is now nothing more that can be said of God. As the Catechism puts it, “In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word –and He has nothing more to say” (CCC 65) (though we still need to grow in our understanding of what He said).
The New Testament name by which God chose to reveal Himself is ‘Jesus’, a name that means ‘YHWH is salvation’. This meaning of ‘Saviour’ is indicated in Mt 1:21 and Lk 2:21 and indicates what Jesus is to us: the one who can save us from all that troubles us, from evil, from suffering, from sin. The name also signifies that there is no-one else who can save us, only Him, because only He is God. “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). “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).
In summary, is a name important? Shakespeare famously claimed that it was not: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet - Act II Sc 2). The significance that Jews and Christians have attached to the name of God indicates that we would beg to differ with Shakespeare. If you did not know the name of a ‘rose’ you might know that a rose smells sweetly, but the fact that you didn’t know its name would indicate that you didn’t really know what a rose is. If Romeo did not know the name of Juliet it would indicate that he did not really know her, and he could not love her without knowing her. It would be meaningless to speak of loving someone we did not know well enough to know their name. We, however, do know the name of God, because He has told us His name when He told us about Himself. And knowing Him we can love Him, love Him who first loved us.
Some further links to information on the Most Holy Name of Jesus:
On the title 'Christ' and name 'Jesus' see:
A short appendix on the term ‘Jehovah’:
The Jews of old used to write the vowels of Adonai over the word YHWH so that they would remember to say ‘Adonai’ rather than attempt to pronounce YHWH. When all these letters were seen together they appeared as the hybrid ‘Jehovah’, a transliteration used seven times by the King James translation of the Bible, and it was via the King James version the term entered the English language and English hymns. This term “Jehovah” only appears in (some) English translations of the Bible, and does not appear in any other language’s translation of the Bible. This term has been mistakenly used by those today who call themselves the “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, a name created by a mis-used transliteration. The letters “Jehovah” were never intended to be pronounced as such!
The IHS Christogram above is a monogram of the Holy Name, derived from the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, which is often also taken as an abbreviation of: Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Saviour of Humanity