Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - English
Mass Text - Latin
“[T]here is no
other name under heaven given to men … other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth …
whereby we must be saved.”
Throughout time, the Jewish people have been justly
concerned about names, and particularly the holy name of God. On some level,
knowing someone’s name gives us “power” over him. If you hear your name called
out, it is very likely that you will turn toward the caller, to see what they
want of you, while others with different names remain oblivious. Even the lower
animals will respond—call your dog and his ears perk up—call again and he will
come to you. (This doesn’t work with cats—cats are not all deaf, but they
consider themselves higher animals, and rarely condescend
to being called by mere humans.) For a human to have “power” over God would be
a miraculous thing.
Some of the Jewish names for God were of human origin. “Elohim”
(the powers) and “Adonai” (my Lords) are two of the frequently used names
of God in the Old Testament. Notice that they are Hebrew plurals.
This cannot be polytheism, for the Jews believed strictly in one God. Perhaps
it is the same idea as the royal “We” used by Popes and potentates. Or,
perhaps, it is one of those very subtle Old Testament hints that God exists in
From Elohim they formed the shorter name El,
which comes to us in the names of the angels. The word “angel” and all of the
angels’ names we know end in the letters “e-l” for all of them relate to God:
“Who is like God?” and “medicine of God” give us the names of Michael and
Raphael—Micha-el and Rapha-el.
But the Jews were also privileged to know God’s name for
Himself. When He commanded Moses to lead the Jews out of bondage in Egypt,
Moses asked and was told the divine name: “God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He
said: ‘Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to
The idea that God is “HE WHO IS” is extremely important to
our understanding of the Divinity. Modern philosophers would say that “God’s
essence is existence”—He is the single necessary being, who exists from all
eternity, and who is the cause of all contingent existence.
The Jews quickly figured that this name, coming from God
Himself, was worthy of the utmost respect, and shouldn’t even be pronounced
under normal circumstances. The exceptions being certain blessings of the
people (cf. Numbers 6: 22-27),
and in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
And even these exceptions ceased around the time of the Crucifixion.
The four letters JHVH or YHVH—consonants without
vowels—often pronounced artificially as “Jehovah” or “Yaweh,” seem to refer to
the God WHO IS, the One whose essence is identical with His existence. For
centuries, Jews have refused to supply the missing vowels and pronounce the name
of God. In modern Jewish writing in English, God is often printed as G-d. If
it is vocalized, it is “the Name.”
To the people of the Old Testament, the name of a person
was supposed to describe his being or his function in life. “Omar” was expected
to “live long,” “Aaron” was to be a “keeper of God,” “Abraham” was to be a
“father of many.” But most importantly “Jeshua,” “Joshua,” and in Latin,
“Jesus” was to be a “savior” or “deliverer of his people.”
In the case of Jesus Christ, his name was more than just
parental wishful thinking of a proud Jewish couple—His Name was commanded by God
and conveyed to Joseph by an angel: “she shall bring forth a son: and thou
shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins.”
Likewise the Holy Name was revealed to Mary: “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy
womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”
In modern terms we might call this joint knowledge of the Holy Name an
“authenticator”—a sort of password given exclusively to both Mary and Joseph, to
authenticate the validity of each other’s message from the Angel. (Particularly
to Joseph who had to wonder about the source of his wife’s pregnancy.)
Joseph was additionally assured that this Virgin birth had
been prophesied by Isaias the Prophet: “Behold a virgin shall be with child,
and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being
interpreted is, God with us.”
Notice that the name used by Isaias and the Angel has that familiar short name
of God, “El” at the end.
We often refer to “Jesus Christ,” but everyone should know
that “Christ” was not the family sur-name. Referring to
Jesus as “the carpenter’s son,” or as “Jesus of Nazareth” would be much closer
in designating His family origins.
“Christ” designates Jesus as the “anointed one.” Kings,
priests, and some sacrificial offerings of the Old Covenant were anointed with
oil. Catholics refer to the oil as “chrism,” from Greek khrîsma
(χρῖσμα), which means anointing (or medicating with salve). Particularly after
the Resurrection, Jesus is often referred to as “the Christ, the Greek
equivalent of the Hebrew Messias. The Psalmist seems to address our Lord
in saying “Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God,
hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
We are enjoined in the Commandments not to “take the name
of the Lord, thy God, in vain.”
It should never be a curse or a swear word. If Christians must get angry or cry
out in pain or surprise, they need to have different words in their vocabulary.
It is infinitely worse to wrongly utter the name of God then it is to use the
most vulgar curse words!
It should be obvious from what we have said above that
knowing the Name of God is a divine gift. Knowing that that God is “HE WHO IS”
answers one of the oldest questions of the human race: “Why are we here and
where did we come from?” We have His Name only because God loves us and has
taken us as His adopted sons and daughters. Confidently, we can call on Him by
name, knowing that He will turn and listen to our prayers.
That lovely hymn, by Willian Henry O’Connell, the Cardinal
Archbishop of Boston, was written at a time when modernism and secularism were
beginning to permeate society. The words should have even more meaning in our
O Holy Name of
Majesty and Power,
O sacred Name of God's own Son.
In ev'ry joy and
ev'ry weary hour,
be Thou our strength until life's war is won.
Fierce is the
fight for God and the Right;
Sweet Name of Jesus, in Thee is our might.