Iesu, praeceptor, miserere nostri.

FullSizeRenderThirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Holy Mass in Context Every Sunday in the Divine Office, the Church gives us two brief texts carefully chosen to prepare us for a fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: these are the Benedictus Antiphon, sung at Lauds early in the morning, and the Magnificat Antiphon, sung at Vespers towards the close of the day.

Words to be Held in the Heart As a rule, one can find in these two brief texts — clothed in the graceful vesture of melodies composed to fit them, to prolong them, and to make them memorable — the essential elements of the Sunday Gospel or, at least, those phrases from the Sunday Gospel that Mother Church would have us hold in our hearts.

Benedictus Antiphon At the Benedictus this morning we sang:

As Jesus was entering a certain village, there met him ten lepers, who stood a far off and lifted up their voice, crying: Jesus, Master, have pity on us.

The Holy Name of Jesus The first thing that strikes one in this antiphon is that the Holy Name of Jesus occurs in it twice. The first time, it is in the context of Saint Luke’s narrative, «As Jesus was entering a certain village . . . .» The second time the Holy Name appears, it is in the cry of the ten lepers, «Jesus, Master, have pity on us». The melody that carries the Holy Name of Jesus is a great upward cry, having at its summit a note of urgent appeal. This is no mere musical detail: it is a sacramental treatment of the text. Each neum is charged with grace. The Church, in giving us these notes for this word — for the Holy Name of Jesus — is, in effect, teaching us how to pray the Holy Name of Jesus from the heart.

chiaravalle_0056Saint Bernard of Clairvaux There is no more effective prayer than the Name of Jesus. «There is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved» (Acts 4:12) For the card that Dom Benedict designed to commemorate his monastic consecration, he chose a most beautiful text of Saint Bernard:

The name of Jesus is more than light, it is also food. Do you not feel increase of strength as often as you remember it? What other name can so enrich the man who meditates? What can equal its power to refresh the harassed senses, to buttress the virtues, to add vigor to good and upright habits, to foster chaste affections? Every food of the mind is dry if it is not dipped in that oil; it is tasteless if not seasoned by that salt. Write what you will, I shall not relish it unless it tells of Jesus. Talk or argue about what you will, I shall not relish it if you exclude the name of Jesus. Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart. Again, it is a medicine. Does one of us feel sad? Let the name of Jesus come into his heart, from there let it spring to his mouth, so that shining like the dawn it may dispel all darkness and make a cloudless sky. (Saint Bernard, Sermon XV on the Song of Songs)

The Man Who Went Back to Jesus Why did only one of the ten lepers, a Samaritan, return to Jesus to give Him thanks? I am inclined to think that it was because he alone, of the ten men made clean, continued to hold the Name of Jesus in his heart. Having called upon the Name of Jesus once, and experienced its power, the Samaritan could not stop repeating the Holy Name, and this with every breath and with every heartbeat. This ceaseless repetition of the Name of Jesus brought him back to Jesus. Saint Luke says:

And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before his feet, giving thanks. (Luke 17:15–16)

Praying the Holy Name The repetition of the Holy Name of Jesus causes three things to happen:

  1. One who repeats the Name of Jesus will always return to Jesus, to Jesus in the Sacraments, to Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist where one is always certain of finding Him.
  2. One who repeats the Name of Jesus will give primacy to the prayer of praise, to the glorification of God. The Name of Jesus draws one out of oneself, out of one’s petty preoccupations and self–absorption, into the praise of God, making liturgical prayer wonderfully fruitful.
  3. One who who repeats the Name of Jesus will grow in faith, and, believing in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, will adore Him, falling face to the ground at His feet, to give Him thanks.

From Self to God Much of what passes today for «spirituality» or even for «Catholic piety» is strangely self–centred, confining, and subjective. How easy it is to become absorbed in what one is feeling or not feeling, thinking or not thinking, needing or not needing.  The Holy Name of Jesus, ceaselessly repeated in faith, bypasses the tortuous and narrow paths of self–analysis to bring one quickly and securely to the contemplation of the Face of Jesus, and to the surrender of all that one is and has to the love of His Heart.

In the School of the Saints What is the rosary, if not a repetition of the Name of Jesus? What is the Jesus Prayer dear to monks of the Eastern Church? «Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner»? What is the invocation of Saint Faustina, «Jezu ufam Tobie»? What is the little prayer of Mother Yvonne–Aimée, «O Jesus, King of Love, I trust in Thy merciful goodness»? What was the prayer of the Irish and English martyrs in the hour of their death, «Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus»? In all of these ways of calling upon the Holy Name of Jesus, one finds a spiritual instinct that is profoundly Catholic and Orthodox:

f_svyatitel-ignatiy-bryanchaninov_gayduk_irina_1347041154In East and West Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, a voice from the East, being of one mind with Saint Bernard, that great voice from the medieval West, teaches this:

The use of the all-holy, divine name Jesus in prayer, and prayer in His name, was appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

And he adds:

During the church services it is useful to practise the Jesus prayer. It prevents distraction and helps the mind to attend to the church singing and reading. Try to train yourself to the Jesus prayer to such an extent that it becomes your unceasing prayer, for which it is very convenient on account of its brevity and for which long prayers are unsuitable. The Fathers have said: «A monk, whether he is eating or drinking, whether he is in his cell or engaged on an obedience, whether he is travelling or doing anything else, must unceasingly cry Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner».

The Offertory Antiphon As so often happens in the Masses of the Sundays after Pentecost, the Offertory Antiphon is directly related to to the last phrase of the Gospel and, in some way, completes the Gospel. Such is the genius of the Roman Rite. So it is today. Jesus speaks to the Samaritan cleansed of  leprosy who has returned to him: «And he said to him: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole» (Luke 17:19). What does the man reply? His words are given us in the Offertory Antiphon:

In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped: I said, Thou art my God, my times are in Thy hands. (Psalm 30:15–16)

My Times in Thy Hands This Offertory Antiphon gives us an open window into the soul of the one man who, being cleansed, returned to Jesus. It allows us to live what he lived in that moment, to feel what he felt, to express what he expressed.  At the same time it provides us with words for our return to Jesus, and with Jesus, to the Father, in the Holy Ghost:

In Thee, O Jesus, I have hoped: I said, Thou, Jesus, art my God, my times — my past, my present, and my future — are in Thy hands. Tu es Deus meus, in manibus tuis tempora mea. (Psalm 30:15–16)