Light from the Altar – Feast of the Holy Name, 3 January

detail of the painting Adoration of the Name of Jesus, c.1604, University Chapel, Seville, SpainJosue the son of Nun was a great man – after Moses, the greatest leader of the Jewish people. His name was Osee, but Moses changed it to Josue or Jesus, which means Savior. Of him wonderful things are said in Holy Scripture. He was “a young man who departed not from the tabernacle”; a “man in whom is the Spirit”; to whom Moses was commanded to give a “part of his glory.” To Josue himself splendid promises were made and kept, because of his faithful correspondence to his call from God. He was promised that the whole land of Canaan should be given up to him! that no man should resist him; that he should be exalted above his fellows; that he should have rest: “My face shall go before thee and thou shalt have rest.” And so it came to pass that Josue led his people in amongst the warlike tribes of the West and subdued the mighty men of old. At the touch of his soldiers’ feet like the waters of the Jordan “that came from above stood in one place, swelling up like a mountain…those that were beneath ran down into the sea until they wholly failed.” The fall of Jericho followed; its walls crumbled at the blast of his silver trumpets; Hai was taken; turbulent idolaters and stiff-necked Israelites submitted with astonishing docility to his rule. Finally there came the crowning blessing of a great ruler’s life – peace. “The land rested from wars,” and that glorious promise was fulfilled: “I will give thee rest.”

A thousand years or so rolled on, and many men were called Josue or Jesus, for it was a common Jewish name. But when the fullness of time came there was born a Child in Bethlehem Who was by the command of an angel called Jesus, Savior. The world was a prey of the devil and needed a Redeemer. Juda had departed from the ways of God, and the glory of the house had passed from it. It still clung with despairing grasp to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but these “living” fathers of the true Jewish Church did not recognize their degenerate children. The idolaters of East and West knew no God. Still it was out of their midst that worthy successors to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were to be raised. The Jewish Church was to fall from its destiny of children of God, but the world was to be saved by a Jewish Savior, another Josue.

“I will make all things new.” This was Our Lord’s task – to make all things new. And the newest and best of all renewing was the change in meaning of the name Josue. For one thousand years Josue had stood amongst the people as the ideal savior, the conqueror. Now he was to be succeeded by another Josue surpassingly great in mission, in deed, and in victory, God-man with the healing name of Jesus. His mission was to redeem the whole human race from eternal perdition; to show mankind the way to the eternal blessed land; to give them supernatural victories over their enemies; to overcome Satan and to establish the Kingdom of His Father over all the earth to sustain it in the midst of trials and persecutions to the end of time. He conquered men in the Jewish cities; death on Calvary; corruption in the tomb; Heaven in His ascension. He conquers every day in the hearts of His faithful children.

But the name of Jesus is not only a conquering power; it is sweetness, soothing balm. We all have to conquer, and sometimes it is a weary business. We want soothing and healing, and the healing is in the Holy Name. Why have the saints lived with that Name in their hearts, sung it in their raptures, died with it on their lips, but because it sums up everything beautiful and hopeful, in Heaven and upon earth, in time and in eternity.

We Catholics have a privilege. We bow the head, thereby paying external homage to the Holy Name. We need not be aggressive about it, nor ostentatious. A slight inclination, the raising of the hat, carries homage with it. Outsiders have been struck to the heart at the sight of a whole congregation bowing at the elevation. So should they be struck by the inclination of the head when the name of Jesus is uttered. Like the corn in the field when swept by the summer gentle breeze should our heads bow at the sound of Jesus.

MLA Citation

  • Father James J McGovern. “Feast of the Holy Name, 3 January”. Light from the Altar, 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 October 2019. Web. 8 May 2021. <>