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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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