Cloistered Dominican Nuns Corpus Christi Monastery

What’s in a Name?


The day finally arrives. As the exhausted, yet blissful parents hold their new bundle of joy, their loved ones gather around. Inevitably, this question is one of the first asked: “What’s the baby’s name?”

To name something is to define it, to have authority over it. In the Christian tradition, this means the person has responsibility to care for the thing or person named. God gave to Adam the authority to name creation; that is, God gave to humans authority and stewardship of creation.

Names can also be given to indicate a person’s mission or to mark the giving of a new mission. God gave Abram the name Abraham when he made a covenant with him that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars. Jacob became Israel after he wrestled with God all night. Saul became Paul after his encounter with Christ. Following that tradition, many men and women entering religious life are given new religious names when they receive their religious habit.

So what is God’s name?

Search the Old Testament and we find many titles and attributes used to refer to God and describe God, but look back at the story of Moses and the burning bush. When God instructs Moses to return to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from slavery, Moses asks him, “Who shall I say sent me?” In other words, “what is your name?” God’s response: “I AM who AM.”  Ultimately, God cannot be defined, only described, and in part at best, and He is not subject to the authority or dominion of anyone. He simply was, is, and always shall be.

Fast forward several thousand years: an angel is sent to a young woman, then a young man. She is to have a baby. The second person of the Triune God is to take on human flesh and He will be given a name. They are to name Him “Jesus.”

The Holy Name of Jesus has been a favorite devotion of Dominicans since the beginning of the Order, for many reasons. But one primary reason is because His Holy Name points to the Incarnation. The prominent heresy at the time of St. Dominic was Albengensianism. It taught that the physical, created world was evil and the spiritual world was good. People were to shun the physical world because of its inherent evil. Consequently, marriage and child-bearing were to be avoided. Suicide was praised as a way to end suffering and free the soul from the evils of the physical body and world.

Yet, if creation itself is evil, then God, being holy, could not have taken on flesh. Jesus’ incarnation reaffirms to us that God’s creation is good, though in need of redemption. He took on human flesh not to abolish the world, but to redeem it, and in particular, us. We preach the Holy Name of Jesus for the redemption of the world.

And there is power in the Holy Name. Jesus instructs us to pray to our Heavenly Father in His Name. Miracles happen when His Name is invoked. Evil spirits flee from it. It is the Name above every other name.

There are many stories of miracles linking the Order to the Holy Name of Jesus, and early in its history, the Pope entrusted to the Order promotion of the Holy Name and gave the Dominicans the exclusive right to maintain the Confraternity of the Holy Name in their churches.  If you wish to learn more about the Confraternity, you may contact the Promoter of the Holy Name Society for the Western Dominican Province at: holyname@opwest.org

2015.01.03 Feast of Holy Name of Jesus (for web)

Lord Jesus, give us a lasting fear and love of your Holy Name. Your providence never abandons those who enjoy the permanence of your love. You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Blessed Mary, Mother of Jesus, pray for us.

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