[Fr. Augustine Hilander, OP entered the Dominican Order in the Western Dominican Province in 2000. He was ordained a priest in 2008. He is chaplain to the University Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. These past few years, he has served as parochial vicar at St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco. Fr. Augustine is also the Promoter of the Holy Name Society for the Western Dominican Province.]
“The center of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the Name of Jesus.” (Pope St. John Paul II from Rosarium Virginis Mariae Oct 16, 2002)
Jesus is the center of our life. This is most clearly reflected in the life and experience of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The prophecy of Jeremiah, “For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth – A woman shall encompass a man.” (31:22) surely refers to the new creation, the Blessed Virgin Mary encompassing the new Adam, Jesus Christ in her womb. Jesus enters our life through the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is central to her life, literally.
It is only right, then, that the Holy Name of Jesus be the center of our prayer directed to her. But it is worth looking again at the two parts of the Ave Maria to see the centrality of Jesus and Mary for us. The first part is from “Hail Mary” to “Jesus” and the second part is from “Holy Mary” to “Amen.”
Mary is the first one we welcome with “Hail” and the last one we want with us at our death. Her full titles are Scriptural: “full of grace” and “with the Lord,” and ecclesial: “Mother of God.” The Blessed Virgin has primacy of place among women as well as primacy of time for us “now.”
Our Mother is to give birth to Jesus, the fruit of her womb, and this will end in death when Jesus will open to us our heavenly homeland and our Mother will be waiting for us.
Another great prayer handed down to us by St. Luke is the Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name.” (Lk. 1:46-49) The Blessed Virgin has included in this praise of God, the Name of God and the praise of His Name. She calls Him, “God, my Savior.” The Hebrew Name Jesus means, “God is my Savior.” Her Son is named in this prayer. And this prayer is part of the fulfillment of prophecy given to the Blessed Virgin Mary when she was told about her relative Elizabeth at the Annunciation.
The Magnificat is always compared to the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. The first two verses mirror the first two of the Magnificat. “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God.”
Hannah does speak of God’s salvation, but she cannot pronounce the Name of the Savior. It has not been given. It is first in the Magnificat that Mary can put to voice for the first time the Name of the Savior and praise His Glorious Name.
The Holy Name of Jesus is central to the Ave Maria, begins the praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Magnificat, and is also the inheritance handed onto Mary at the Cross. Mary at the Cross stands sorrowful, yet full of hope in a future out of reach of anyone but God. Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, gives Himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a new way at the Cross. He gives Himself in the Church. “Behold your Son; Behold your Mother.” (Jn 19:26,27) She now has the responsibility of receiving all new Christians. And what is she going to say? “Do whatever He tells you.” (Jn 2:5) But instead of telling us as His servants, she tells us as His friends, who now know what the Master is doing (cf. Jn 15:15). Now she gives us His Name, not in the superstitious way of a servant, who can only mimic syllables, but in a possessive way as a friend, who cherishes the Name above every other name. Mary gives us her Son’s Name, Christian, and we have the dignity of living as sons and daughters of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And whenever we speak the Name of Jesus with affection, we do so also with confidence.
Mary and Jesus are intimately connected such that their Names go together. One of the most ancient and most revered prayers of the Church is the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (See Mk 10:47, Lk 18:38, Mt 9:27, Mt 20:30) But while saying it consecutively, it is important to ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to protect us and watch over us in praying. She will help us to make sure the prayer is held in our heart not only on our lips and she will protect us from the snares of this world. Before praying the Jesus Prayer it is important to pray the Ave Maria.
St. Anthony of Padua gives us a good reflection on the Holy Name of Jesus from the Song of Songs “Your Name is oil poured out.” (1:14) St. Anthony comments: “And take note that this Name Jesus is not only called ‘oil’, but ‘poured out’. Whence? And whither? From the Father’s heart into heaven, earth and hell. In heaven, to give joy to the angels, so that they cry out in exultation in the Apocalypse: Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, (Rev. 7:10) That is, to Jesus.
In earth, for the comforting of sinners, of which Isaiah says: Thy Name and Thy remembrance are the desire of the soul; my soul shall desire Thee in the night. (Is 26:8-9)
In hell, to free the captives, so that they are said to have cried on bended knee, “You have come, our Redeemer, etc.” (from the Breviary) (Translation by Paul Spilsbury)
The Catechism makes plain: “The second commandment forbids every improper use of God’s Name. Blasphemy is the use of the name of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Virgin Mary, and of the saints in an offensive way.” (CCC 2162) The Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us in the major apparitions of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries not to profane God or His Holy Name in blasphemy. Our Lady speaks to the children at La Salette saying that missing the Sunday obligation and using God’s Name to swear were two offenses which our Lady called for an end to. Our Lady of Fatima famously spoke about the five blasphemies committed against the Immaculate Heart:
- the blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception,
- against her virginity,
- against the Divine Maternity, refusing at the same time to accept her as the Mother of all mankind,
- those who try publicly to implant in the children’s hearts indifference, contempt, and even hatred against this Immaculate Mother, and
- those who insult her directly in her sacred images.
Speech is a distinctly human act and as such must be used to lift the soul to God. Words reflect the goodness and truth of creation. We can speak badly about anything. Nothing reflects God perfectly and no words perfectly describe our merciful Lord. But when we speak badly of God or use His Name or the names of the holy ones as a curse we will always be lying and misusing what is always good for us, His Name and the Names of his loved ones, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.
We strive against blasphemy by making more use of our act of contrition when we do blaspheme even if accidentally as when, for example, we speak it automatically without thinking. An act of contrition is still called for since the words were real things that we used in wrong ways. This venial sin of accidental blasphemy can be wiped clean by an act of contrition either said immediately or at Mass. The Jesus Prayer, which I spoke of earlier, can be used as an act of contrition if the act of contrition for Mass or Confession hasn’t been memorized.
We also do not realize the wrong done by blasphemy. But the saints do realize how wrong it is. “St. Gemma Galgani was also noted by her companions that because of her great love for God, she would literally faint when she would hear someone blaspheming, or cursing the Name of God.” St. Joan of Arc inspired her troops not to blaspheme and corrected them directly when they did.
Finally the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary are most useful for a happy death. Many saints ended their days and started eternity with the Names of Jesus and Mary on their lips. St. John de Brebeuf, one of the Jesuit North American Martyrs wrote this prayer: “May I die only for You, if You will grant me this grace, since You willingly died for me. Let me so live that You may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Savior, I will take from Your hand the cup of Your sufferings and call on Your Name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the first martyrs, called out, “Jesus, my love,” at the time of martyrdom. Bl. Karl of Austria died in exile in 1922 with his wife and children around him. He spoke the Name of Jesus and told his wife, “I love you so much.” No matter how we die, to die with the Name of Jesus and Mary on our lips indicates perseverance.
“Most holy Virgin, obtain for me the grace of invoking the Name of thy Son Jesus in all my necessities, together with thine own, my Mother Mary; but let me invoke them always with confidence and love, so that I may be able also to say to thee as did the devout Alphonsus Rodriguez: ‘Jesus and Mary, may I suffer for You; may I die for You; may I be wholly Yours, and in nothing my own!’” (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Discourse on the Name of Jesus, Affections and Prayers)