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the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

10th Day of Christmas in the West: 3 January


On the tenth day of Christmas, we gather at the creche and pray the Litany of the Holy Name, honoring the Name of Jesus.  We make IHS cookies or bread dough ornaments, read the story of St. Bernardine of Siena, and sing "What Child is This".

What does IHS mean?

The name “Jesus”, in Greek, is written ιησους which is transliterated as “ihsous” and pronounced iēsous. This is the Holy Name as it was written in the Gospels.

However, in Hebrew, the name “Jesus” is written ישוע which is transliterated as “yeshu‘a” and pronounced yeshūa.

Finally, in Latin, the Holy Name is written Iesus which gives us the English “Jesus”, since the “j” often replaces the “i” at the beginning of a word (as well as between vowels).


Chi (x) and Rho (p), CHRist

The insignia “IHS” comes from the Latinized version of the Greek ιησους, [UPDATE: In Greek capitals this would be ΙΗΣΟΥΣ or IHSOUS in Latin letters] taking the first three letters in capitals IHS(ous). Much as the popular “chi-rho” symbol (pictured right, X – P) comes from the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, χριστος (Christos) – XPistos.

This is the true meaning of IHS, it is the first three letters of the Greek spelling of the Holy Name of Jesus. The insignia is nothing more (and nothing less) than the symbol of the Holy Name.

Iesus Hominum Salvator – Jesus the Savior of men

It is popular legend that the IHS stands for the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator, “Jesus the Savior of (all) Men”. While this is a fine devotion, it is not historically accurate.

The IHS symbol was so popular that it is not uncommon to find the Latin Iesus misspelled as IHeSus (with the “H” added, though in Greek this “h” is equivalent to the Latin “e”).

In fact, the first known use of the IHS abbreviation comes in the 8th century: “DN IHS CHS REX REGNANTIUM”, the first three words being abbreviated from “DomiNus IHeSus CHristuS” – “The Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings”. For a further explanation of the history of the IHS, see the Catholic Encyclopedia article [here] and [here].

Still, although historically inaccurate, there is certainly nothing wrong with seeing in this insignia a testimony to the truth that there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Most certainly, Jesus alone is the Savior and without his grace we can neither attain nor even desire everlasting life.

In Hoc Signo vinces – In this sign, you will conquer


After three nails were added under the insignia (together with a cross above), some noticed that the inscription now contained a “V” below the IHS – so that we see IHSV. (see image on the side) In this form it was adopted by St. Ignatius as the symbol of the Jesuits.

IHSV was interpreted to mean In Hoc Signo Vinces, “In this sign, you shall conquer”. It was taken as a reference to the victory which Constantine won against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312. Before the battle, the future Emperor saw a sign in the sky (probably the Greek chi-rho X-P, the symbol of “Christ”) and heard the words εν τουτω νικα, which is Greek for “In this [sign], you shall conquer”. The phrase was translated into Latin and it was noticed that the first letters of each word added up to IHSV – thus was born the legend that IHS stood for Constantine’s vision and the Christianization of Rome.

Most certainly, in the Holy Name of Jesus we shall conquer every enemy – and the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself.

St. Bernardine of Siena

“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.

Bernardine of Siena was born on September 8, 1380, feast of the Nativity of Mary. He was a member of the Albizeschi family, one of the most renowned in the Republic of Siena. No one had any idea of the future glory of the child who, according to Saint Antoninus, was destined to become "a new star in the midst of the murky darkness of the earth; to shine with the brightness of Divine gifts; to beam far and wide the bright rays of his glorious life and teachings; to lead in the fear of God, by the holiness of his example, a people whose blindness had removed it from the straight path of the heavenly Homeland." He was Baptized on the very day of his birth. 
When it came time to choose a vocation, Bernardine directed his thoughts toward the religious life. But toward what Order was he to direct his feet? He went into retreat in a solitary house, redoubled his fervor and prayed without ceasing until Divine grace dissolved his incertitude. One day while he was kneeling at the foot of his crucifix as usual and beseeching God, he suddenly heard Jesus say to him: 

"My son Bernardine, you see Me hanging on the Cross, in a state of total denudation. If you love Me and want to walk in My footsteps, fasten yourself also to the cross, divested of everything." 

These words made such an impression on him that he decided to follow them to the letter. On September 8, 1402, at the age of twenty-two, he was clothed in the habit of Saint Francis and entered the novitiate in the convent of Colombaio, not far from Siena. The new novice distinguished himself above all by his spirit of obedience. Understanding that this virtue was the pivotal point of the religious life, Bernardine became the model of the community. He had the joy of making his vows on the evening of another September 8, and to celebrate his first Mass one year later on the same date. 

Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus


St. Bernardine of Siena 
popularized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus

Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy, Jesus, hear us. Jesus, graciously hear us.

God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.

God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on us (etc.)

Jesus, Splendor of the Father,

Jesus, Brightness of eternal Light,

Jesus, King of Glory,

Jesus, Sun of Justice,

Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary,

Jesus, most amiable,

Jesus, most admirable,

Jesus, the mighty God,

Jesus, Father of the world to come,

Jesus, angel of great counsel,

Jesus, most powerful,

Jesus, most patient,

Jesus, most obedient,

Jesus, meek and humble of heart,

Jesus, Lover of Chastity,

Jesus, our Lover,

Jesus, God of Peace,

Jesus, Author of Life,

Jesus, Model of Virtues,

Jesus, zealous for souls,

Jesus, our God,

Jesus, our Refuge,

Jesus, Father of the Poor,

Jesus, Treasure of the Faithful,

Jesus, good Shepherd,

Jesus, true Light,

Jesus, eternal Wisdom,

Jesus, infinite Goodness,

Jesus, our Way and our Life,

Jesus, joy of the Angels,

Jesus, King of the Patriarchs,

Jesus, Master of the Apostles,

Jesus, Teacher of the Evangelists,

Jesus, Strength of Martyrs,

Jesus, Light of Confessors,

Jesus, Purity of Virgins,

Jesus, Crown of all Saints,

Be merciful unto us, spare us, O Jesus!

Be merciful unto us, graciously hear us, O Jesus!

From all evil, deliver us, O Jesus!

From all sin, deliver us, O Jesus!

From Thy wrath, deliver us, O Jesus! (etc.)

From the snares of the devil,

From the spirit of fornication,

From everlasting death,

From the neglect of Thine inspirations,

Through the mystery of Thy holy Incarnation,

Through Thy Nativity,

Through Thine Infancy,

Through Thy most divine Life,

Through Thy Labors,

Through Thy Agony and Passion,

Through Thy Cross and Dereliction,

Through Thy Sufferings,

Through Thy Death and Burial,

Through Thy Resurrection,

Through Thine Ascension,

Through Thine Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist,

Through Thy Joys,

Through Thy Glory,

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, spare us, O Jesus!

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Jesus!

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, O Jesus!

Jesus, hear us, Jesus, graciously hear us

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, Who has said: Ask and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: grant, we beseech Thee, to us who ask the grace of Thy most divine love, that we may love Thee with all our hearts, words and works, and never cease to praise Thee. Make us, O Lord, to have a continual fear and love of Thy holy Name; for Thou never ceasest to rule and govern those whom Thou doest solidly establish in Thy love. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. (Amen.)

Bernardine's superiors commanded him to devote himself in the preaching ministry. His voice had a natural defect that prevented him from being heard by anything more than a very limited group: the intercession of the Blessed Virgin delivered him from this difficulty in doing good. The new apostle was thirty-eight years old when he began to be famous in the major cities of Italy. Until then he had divided his days into periods of prayer, study, and several brief meditations. Diligent in the reading of Holy Scripture, he had penetrated its various meanings and knew how to apply them on every occasion, according to the needs of his listeners. The Name of Jesus was the usual theme of the holy apostle's addresses. As a child he had been taught to venerate it in a special manner. Later, on reading the epistles of Saint Paul, he had found the Divine Name on almost every line. He had seen Saint Peter answer the leaders of the Synagogue that only in this Name could man be saved. So his decision was made, to adopt the Name of Jesus as his standard and his sole weapon. Milan, Genoa, Tortona, Castel Nuovo, Florence, Volterra . . . all of them, one after another, heard Bernardine preach. At the end of his sermons, he would take a tablet with the Divine Name painted on it and show it to his listeners; then, having them kneel, he would invite them to beg the Savior of the world for mercy, promise to live in peace with God and men, implore the Heavenly Father, in virtue of that same Name which He had given to His only-begotten Son to have compassion on all Christians for eternity. Then, raising the tablet, he would bless just men and sinners alike, sending them off with their souls filled with generous resolutions for the future. Ordinarily, no one could resist this imposing ceremony. Bernardine left the people of Volterra the little tablet on which he had personally painted the glorious Name of his beloved Savior, and which he had used during his sermons until then. It became a pledge of protection; in times of calamity it was carried in procession. If drought withered the earth, if rain threatened the harvest, if plague or war wreaked havoc, it was exposed for public veneration. And on many occasions, God was pleased to glorify the memory of His faithful servant. One year before his death, a church was erected in Volterra in honor of the Holy Name of Jesus and a pious association was established to guard the precious relic, which can still be venerated today. On learning that there was a man possessed by the devil in the city of Alessandria in the Piedmont, where he was passing through, the holy preacher gave a child a piece of paper on which the glorious Name of the Savior was written, with orders to put it on the possessed person. The child had hardly done so when the unclean spirit took flight. 

Reverence for the Holy Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, arose in the apostolic times.  St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians wrote, “So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:10-11).  Just as a name gives identity to a person and also reflects a person’s life, the name of Jesus reminds the hearer of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.  Keep in mind that the name Jesus means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.”

In invoking our Lord’s name with reverential faith, one is turning to Him and imploring His divine assistance.  An old spiritual manual cited four special rewards of invoking the Holy Name:  First, the name of Jesus brings help in bodily needs.  Jesus Himself promised at the Ascension, “…In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them, they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-19).  After Pentecost, St. Peter and St. John went to the Temple to preach and encountered a cripple begging; St. Peter commanded, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you!  In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, walk!” and the crippled began to walk (Acts 3:1-10).  Invoking Jesus’ name, St. Peter also cured Aeneas (Acts 9:32ff).

Second, the name of Jesus gives help in spiritual trials.  Jesus forgave sins, and through the invocation of His Holy Name, sins continue to be forgiven.  At Pentecost, St. Peter echoed the prophecy of Joel, “Then shall everyone be saved who calls on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21), a teaching echoed by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans (10:13).  As St. Stephen, the first martyr, was being stoned, he called upon the name of the Lord and prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).  St. Thomas More, the patron saint of our diocese, as he awaited execution wrote to his daughter Margaret, “I will not mistrust Him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear.  I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to Him for help.  And then I trust He shall place His holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.”

Third, the name of Jesus protects the person against Satan and his temptations.  Jesus on His own authority exorcized demons (e.g. the expulsion of the demons of Gadara (Matthew 8:28-34)).  Through the invocation of His Holy Name, Satan is still conquered.

Finally, we receive every grace and blessing through the Holy Name of Jesus.  Jesus said, “I give you my assurance, whatever you ask the Father, He will give you in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.  Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).  In summary, St. Paul said, “Whatever you do, in whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

Both St. Bernardine of Sienna (1380-1444) and his student St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456) promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.  In their preaching missions throughout Italy, they carried a monogram of the Holy Name surrounded by rays.  In its origin, the monogram IHS is an abbreviation of the name Jesus in Greek: I and H representing an Iota and Eta respectively, the first two letters of the name; to which later was added S, a Sigma, the final letter.  (A later tradition holds that IHS represents the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator, meaning “Jesus Savior of Mankind.”)  St. Bernardine and St. John blessed the faithful with this monogram, invoking the name of Jesus, and many miracles were reported.  They also encouraged people to have the monogram placed over the city gates and the doorways of their homes.  Dispelling the objections of some who considered this veneration superstitious, Pope Martin V in 1427 approved the proper veneration to the Holy Name and asked that the cross be included in the monogram IHS.  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 honor of the Holy Name, and Pope Innocent XIII extended this to the universal Church in 1721; the feast day was celebrated on the Sunday between January 1st  and 6th, or otherwise on January 2nd.  (Unfortunately, the feast day was dropped with the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.)   Pope Pius IX in 1862 approved a Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, which Pope Leo XIII later endorsed for the whole Church because he was “…desirous of seeing an increase in the devotion toward this glorious name of Jesus among the faithful, especially in a period when this august name is shamelessly scoffed at.”

Pope John Paul II has reinstituted the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus to be celebrated on January 3.   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.  Also, the Holy Name Society, first organized 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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