Prayer for the week

by
01 August 2014

Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff keeps the feast of the Most Sweet Name of Jesus

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O nomen Jesu, nomen dulce, nomen Jesu, nomen delectabile, nomen Jesu, nomen confortans! Quid est enim Jesus nisi Salvator? Ergo Jesu, propter nomen sanctum tuum, esto mihi Jesus et salva me.

O Name of Jesus, sweet name, lovable name, comforting name! For what is the name Jesus, other than Saviour? Therefore, Jesus, according to your holy name, be Jesus for me, and save me.

 Anonymous

 

I CAME across this when, as a teenager, I was learning to pray. In the search for a short prayer that I could use with a rosary, I found it among the motets on a CD of early modern church music. I learnt the translation given there, and have returned to these words again and again over the years.

This motet was set to music by Peter Philips (1560/61-1628), who is often considered to be among the greatest composers of the Counter Reformation. He was an Englishman in exile.

While I cannot find the origin of this text, Philips's words often came from the antiphons and responsories of the Roman Breviary. "O nomen Jesu" was composed for the feast of the Circumcision, the naming of Jesus, kept in the modern lectionary on 1 January.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not, given the English Church's habit of choosing to be different, apparently for the sake of it), the Sarum Breviary kept a separate feast of the Most Sweet Name of Jesus on 7 August. I think the feast is worth resuscitating: there is something to be said for keeping a separate celebration of the name of Jesus, to reflect on his name outside the narrative of Epiphany.

God tells Moses that his name is

ה ו ה י, a name that became so holy that it could not be spoken. Just as Moses could not look on God's face and live, so the people of God could not speak the name of God and be allowed to live.

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This name, so holy, so unpronounceable, has its roots in the verb "to be" - or, perhaps I should say, the verb "to be" has its roots in the name of God: existence itself stemming from the First Cause, the great unknowable I AM.

So, when God enters creation, face to face with his people, the name he takes is of enormous significance. God closes the gap between us, allowing us to address him by name, to speak his nature. Just as existence flows from God, so does our return to him: our healing, deliverance, salvation. In the name of Jesus, God turns his face to us, unveils our hearts, and walks, once more, alongside us.

When we pray this prayer - especially as a piece of devotion to be said again and again - we rest in the grace of God, most holy, most sacred. When we speak these words, we taste the nature of God, as his name flows over our tongue and teeth. We pray in the very centre of our salvation, touching the heart of the Word of God.

God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, but that the world, through him, might be saved.

 

The Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff is a Prison Service chaplain.

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