Friday, January 01, 2021

The Postcommunion of the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

Juan de Roelas, Adoration of the Name of Jesus, ca. 1604
Lost in Translation #32

In a sense, today, January 1, is the original Feast of the Holy Name, for this is the day, eight days after He was born, that Jesus was formally given His name by Saint Joseph on the occasion of His Circumcision. It is for this reason that the Society of Jesus continues to keep this day as their titular feast.

A celebration devoted exclusively to the Most Holy Name of Jesus was begun by the Franciscan order in the sixteenth century, and extended to the universal calendar in 1721; its final date in the usus antiquior was fixed by Pope St Pius X to the Sunday between January 1 and January 6, or otherwise on January 2 (in this Year of Our Lord 2021, the feast falls on this Sunday, January 3). In 1969, it was dropped from the calendar, but was later restored by Pope St John Paul II and assigned to January 3. This year, because January 3 occurs on a Sunday, the feast will be replaced in the United States and in a number of other countries by the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

The quality of the propers composed during the Counter Reformation has been the subject of some controversy. The great English liturgist Fr. Adrian Fortescue was not impressed: 
And merely from an aesthetic point of view there can be no doubt that the old propers are more beautiful than modern compositions. It is these old propers that show the austere dignity of our liturgy, that agree in feeling with the Ordinary and Canon, happily still unaltered. It is the old collects that really are collects and not long florid prayers. A tendency to pile up explanatory allusions, classical forms that savour of Cicero and not at all of the rude simplicity that is real liturgical style, florid rhetoric that would suit the Byzantine rite in Greek rather than our reticent Roman tradition, these things have left too many traces in the later propers. It is astonishing that the people should have so little sense of congruity, apparently never think of following the old tradition, or of harmony with the old ordinary. [1] 
Fortescue does not mention the Feast of the Holy Name, but I suspect that its propers are among those that drew his ire. The Postcommunion, for example, is one of the longest in the 1962 Missal:
Omnípotens aeterne Deus, qui creasti et redemisti nos, réspice propitius vota nostra: et sacrificium salutáris hostiae, quod in honórem nóminis Filii tui, Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, majestáti tuae obtúlimus, plácido et benigno vultu suscípere dignéris; ut gratia tua nobis infúsa, sub glorióso nómine Jesu, aeternae praedestinatiónis título gaudeámus nómina nostra scripta esse in caelis. Per eundem Dóminum...
Which I translate as:
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast created and redeemed us, graciously look upon our prayers and deign to accept with a kind and benign countenance the Sacrifice of the Saving Victim, which  we have offered to Thy majesty in honour of the Name of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: that, being infused with Thy grace in us, we may rejoice to have our names written in heaven as an inscription of eternal predestination under the glorious Name of Jesus. Through the same our Lord.
The Postcommunion certainly seems guilty of “florid rhetoric”, but perhaps we can forgive the people that produced it and even learn to accept it as part of the glorious flea market that is our liturgical patrimony. After all, the Offertory Prayers of the traditional Roman Rite are arguably florid imports from the Gallican liturgy, and yet they are now part of the family. (Whether new prayers should be composed in this style is a different conversation.)
At the very least, we can appreciate the Postcommunion’s theological themes. We do indeed want God the Father, who created and redeemed us, to look upon us and our participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass with a kindly countenance. There is wisdom in connecting the Father’s kind face to His Son’s Holy Name. We learn a person’s basic identity from his name, and we associate his name with his face more than with any other part of his body: both the name and the face provide a ready means of recognition. The face, in turn, often reveals what is in a person’s heart (his emotions, character, etc.). The Holy Name of Jesus draws us to His Holy Face, and His Holy, suffering Face reveals the love of His most Sacred Heart. And Jesus’ Holy Face also reveals the kind Face of the Father, for whoever sees the Son sees the Father. (John 14, 9)
The second half of the Postcommunion prays that, “being infused with Thy grace, we may rejoice to have our names written in heaven under the glorious name of Jesus.” The petition hearkens to the last verse of the Epistle reading: “For there is no other name under Heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4, 12) But it also brings out an eschatological element with the plea to have our names “written in heaven as an inscription of eternal predestination.” Jesus’ name, too, was once written as an inscription and placed over His Head as He writhed on the Cross. By placing our names under His, we join Him on the Cross as part of His mystical Body, and God willing, we will join Him in glory in Heaven. The association of predestination with writing can be found in the Secret for the Votive Mass for the Living and the Dead. Commenting on that Secret, Sr. Mary Ellebracht writes:
The notion of a liber predestinationis is a combination of the Hebrew “Book of Works” and “Book of Life”. Thus being inscribed in the beatae predestinationis liber is a metaphorical expression for salvation by grace and good works. [2]
Finally, we pray not only to have our names written in the Book of Life, but to rejoice at having our names written. The Feast of the Holy Name is a great feast of joy. We rejoice now at the name of our Messiah, a name that means “YHWH saves,” and we hope to rejoice at our eternal salvation in Heaven. Blessed be the name of Jesus, the name of our dear Savior.
[1] The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (Longmans, Green, and Company: 1912), 212.
[2] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V.), 152. For more on predestination, see Peter Kwasniewski's article here.

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