Feast of the Holy Name

The designation of this day, Jan. 1 as Feast of the Holy Name is new to the 1979 revision of The Book of Common Prayer. Previous Anglican Prayer Books called it the Feast of the Circumcision. January 1 is the eighth day after Christmas Day, and Luke’s Gospel records that eight days after his birth the child was circumcised and given the name Jesus.

The liturgical commemoration of the circumcision probably originated in France. The Council of Tours in 567 enacted that the day was to be kept as a feast day to counteract pagan festivities connected with the beginning of the New Year.

The Feast of the Holy Name has been celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church (usually on January 1) since sometime in the 15th century. The Lutheran church also commemorates the Feast of the Holy Name on January 1.

The early preachers of the Gospel lay stress on the name as showing that Jesus was a man of flesh and blood, though also the son of God, who died a human death and was raised by God from death to be the Savior.

The name “Jesus” is from the Hebrew Joshua, or Yehoshuah, “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh will save.” Devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus is particularly derived from Phil 2:9-11, which states that God highly exalted Jesus “and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” This scriptural devotion is paraphrased by the hymn “At the name of Jesus” (Hymn 435) in The Hymnal 1982. Other hymns that express devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus include “To the name of our salvation” (Hymns 248-249) and “Jesus! Name of wondrous love!” (Hymn 252).

From a sermon on this day by The Rev. Canon Anna Sutterisch, Canon for Christian Formation in the Diocese of Ohio :

“We put a lot of weight on names. Think about the importance that is conveyed when we use our complete name, middles and hyphens and Jr.’s and all, in a vow or an oath. Or the exciting rush when a host at a restaurant calls your name—your table is ready! Or when you hear your name called in a meeting or classroom when you haven’t been paying attention. When someone you love yells your name in desperation or frustration. When you hear your name from a huddled group and can only think the worst. When one assumes a new name after a transformation, like living into their true gender identity. A nickname—one that reminds of an inside joke, a good memory, or one that only one person, or a few, is allowed to use. Names carry power, emotion, and story.

“Names are not identity itself, but rather they reflect identity. It’s the closest a limited language can get to describing a person, an object, or a feeling; a word is used as a vessel for the messy, complex, and contradictory. Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the founders of semiotics, used the terms “signifier” and “signified” to describe a sign – the plane of expression (signifier) which describes the plane of content (signified). It is interesting to think of a name as a sign, one with a signifier (or expression) of a signified (or content).

“Today we note not only the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar but the significance of the Holy Name of Christ. What happens when we apply the ideas of semiotics to this feast day, or to the Holy Name itself? Our collect of the day specifically identifies Jesus as a sign of our salvation. The signifier (Jesus) represents the signified (our salvation). The Holy Name we celebrate today isn’t the 5 letters that make up the English-translated word of the name which we call Christ on Earth: Jesus, a name that tells its own story as an heir to the name of Joshua, or Yeshua. Instead, we celebrate what the name represents, the implications of Christ’s birth and identity. And that’s beyond anything our language, or any sign indeed, can truly grasp.

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