Summary: We must have respect for the symbols of our faith, especially the Holy Name of Jesus. We must also develop a respect for the traditions of our faith, like praying in the direction of the "orient," which is a symbol of the coming of Jesus

The Holy Name of Jesus

January 3, 2011

Spirit of the Liturgy

“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven, on earth and under the earth.” The name, Jesus, or Yah-shuah, means “the Lord saves.” It is one of the principal symbols of the love of God for us, and is a real and early profession of the Church’s faith. That’s why we take symbolic action around this name. During our prayers, we make–or ought to make–a small bow whenever the name of Jesus is sung or spoken. At our profession of faith on Sundays and solemnities, we are asked to make a profound bow at the words of Incarnation. In the extraordinary form, priest and people still genuflect at that time. And, of course, we should take special care never to profane the name by our words or actions. Lamentably, the words “Jesus Christ” are probably used more in exclamations than in prayer in our culture. Respect for the name of Jesus should be an important facet of our sharing of the faith.

Among these vital symbols of our faith, we have been considering with the Holy Father the notion of sacred spaces. As the synagogue evolved into the Christian basilica, design changes were vital. A place “set aside for baptism” is necessary. Places of reconciliation had to be added. “The question of sacred images had to be resolved. Church music had to be fitted into the spacial structure.” Hence we have niches for the saints and wall spaces for icons, choir lofts and pipeorgan chambers, and adequate acoustics so the music can be heard and sung and experienced as looking toward the liturgy of heaven.

“Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second mellennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history. . .going out to meet the Lord who is to come again.” (75)

This “orientation”–literally turning toward the east–is foreign to our modern sensibilities, to us who are so “progressive” that we have lost our sense of direction, and have to be reminded by weathermen and solar panel salesmen of where the sun is in the various seasons of the year. We object “God is spiritual, and God is everywhere: Does that not mean that prayer is not tied to a particular place or direction? Now, we can indeed pray everywhere, and God is accessible to us everywhere. The idea of the universality of God is a consequence of Christian universality, of the Christian’s looking up to God above all gods, . . .more intimate to us than we are to ourselves.” But we did not discover this reality by ourselves. God “revealed himself to us. Just as God assumed a body and entered the time and space of this world, so it is appropriate to prayer–at least to communal liturgical prayer–that our speaking to God should be ‘incarnational,’. . .turned through the incarnate Word to the triune God. The cosmic symbol of the rising sun expresses the universality of God above all particular places and yet maintains the concreteness of divine revelation. Our praying is thus inserted into the procession of the nations to God.” (76)

This is so important a reality that in the Benedictine tradition, a community that is praying the night office had to immediately break off and begin morning prayer when the first rays of dawn struck the windows of the church, even in mid-psalm.

What all this means is that we can reach a new understanding of why, in the words of some seventies innovators, in the Mass we celebrated up until that time, the priest “prayed with his back to the people.” In fact, the priest and people were all, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, praying in the same direction, to the east. They were “oriented” toward Christ, with the great icon of our salvation, the crucifix, placed above the altar. Prayers by everyone were directed toward the east, and when the priest communicated with the praying congregation, he turned to face them, usually giving them a blessing using the words “Dominus vobiscum,” or “may the Lord be with you.”

What all this should mean for our celebration using the Missal of Pope Paul VI will be clarified next week. In the meantime, do what you can to promote respect and honor for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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