Question Time with Fr John Flader
When I was growing up I was taught to bow my head whenever I said or heard the name “Jesus”. I have noticed that some priests still bow their heads in Mass but no one else seems to do it anymore except for some of us oldies. How has this come about?
I TOO belong to the generation that learned to bow our heads at the name of Jesus, but, as you say, the custom seems to be falling into disuse.
So important is respect for the divine name that God chose to give us a separate commandment regarding it: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Deuteronomy 5:11).
Elsewhere in the Old Testament there are numerous passages that speak of the holiness of God’s name, among them: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. (Psalm 8:1; cf. Zechariah 2:13; Psalm 29:2; 96:2; 113:1-2).
In the New Testament St James denounces those “who blaspheme that honourable name by which you are called” (James 2:7).
And St Paul, referring to Jesus emptying himself to take the form of a servant and then becoming obedient unto death, writes: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
By way of concretising respect for the name of Jesus in a formal way the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 decreed that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious name is recalled, especially during the sacred mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head”.
As regards what is to be done in Mass today, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: “A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saint in whose honour Mass is being celebrated” (GIRM 275).
The importance of honouring the holy name of Jesus is seen too in the feast of that name, which has been celebrated, at least at the local level, since the end of the 15th century.
The feast was inserted into the universal calendar by Pope Innocent XIII in 1721.
Although it was removed when the calendar was revised in 1969 it was restored under Pope John Paul II in 2002 and is now celebrated on January 3.
The Divine Praises we say in Benediction are another manifestation of respect for the divine name, with the words “Blessed be his Holy Name”.
The Divine Praises were originally written in 1797 to make reparation for blasphemy and profanity against God.
Another testimony to the importance of honouring the name of Jesus is the existence of the Holy Name Society in many countries.
The society has its origins in the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, which prescribed that the faithful should have special devotion to the holy name of Jesus and that reparation should be made for the insults against that name by the Albigenses and other heretics of the time.
Pope Gregory X, in 1274, entrusted to the newly-founded Dominicans the task of preaching the devotion.
The Holy Name Society today has as its aim to promote respect for the name of God and Jesus and to make reparation for the many blasphemies and other sins against that name.
Given the widespread misuse of the names of God and Jesus today in ordinary life, as well as on television, in films and in other forms of entertainment, it is especially important to do all we can to restore respect for the name of God.
Bowing our head when we pronounce or hear the name of Jesus is a good way to do this.
Also important is to make an internal act of reparation whenever we hear the name of God or Jesus blasphemed.
It should hurt us that the object of our love is mistreated in this way.
It may very well be that the custom of bowing the head at the name of Jesus will pass out of general use, as have other laudable customs in recent times, but that does not prevent us personally from continuing to live it and passing on to our children this ancient custom.