The Association of Priests in the Opus Angelorum is for those who feel called by God to pastorally assist the faithful of the OA in their region and/or for those who want to find some spiritual support in their priestly ministry through clerical reunions of prayer and retreats. The monthly Circular Letter with meditations on the angels in Scripture is intended as an (unofficial) instrument of common formation and as a help towards deeper communion with the holy angels and among ourselves. It is directed to all bishops, priests and deacons who are particularly interested in collaborating with the holy angels and to the members of the Association itself.

XXII, January/February 2016

"The name given him by the angel" (Lk 2,21)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

One may consider St. Luke as the Liturgist among the Evangelists, something one does not expect from a Physician. St. Luke starts and ends his entire narration of the life of Jesus in the temple (1:9 and 24:53).

He mentions the circumcision: "When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus." (Lk 2,22), and then notes that this was "the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb" (Lk 2:21). He also narrates the purification of the Blessed Mother and the presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple, accomplished by the sacrifice of the poor (Lk 2,21ff; cf. Lev 12,2ff). Luke's silence about the required 'redemption' of the first-born male child is also liturgically significant: "And every firstborn of men thou shalt redeem with a price" (Ex13,13). The sons of the tribe Levi were exempt from this 'redemption' because their life was dedicated to the service of the temple. This omission on the part of Luke may well be linked to the encounter with Simeon in the temple, who rejoiced to behold the Messiah, who would redeem all of Israel (cf. Lk 2,34). Thus, he was proclaimed the priest-victim, whence no other redemption for him was fitting. During the maturity of Jesus, Luke tells us that "Jesus was teaching in the temple area during the day" (Lk 21:37) at the end of his public life. Perhaps, Luke's "favourite theme" was "glorifying and praising God" (cf., note to 2:20 in the Jerusalem Bible; cf. 1:64; 2:28,38; 5:25-26; 7:16; 13:13; 17:15,18; 19:37; 23:47; 24:53), indeed, praising "at all times" (21:36; cf. 6:12; 18:1).

1. "The name given him by the angel"

The evangelist refers to the directive St. Gabriel gave to Mary at the annunciation.

a) Foretold by an angel

At the moment when Jesus received his name it is different. St. Luke mentioned at the annunciation that the Mother should name the child: "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus" (Lk 1:31). St. Matthew knows that the angel required the same act of St. Joseph: "Mary … will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). The task of naming the child not only befits the father in his authority as head of the family, but also legally identifies the child as his son. (Thus, Joseph's doubt and decision to separate Mary document that Jesus is not his physical child; and the angel's command documents that he is the Child's legal father through marriage.) Why, then, is this task also given to the mother? One might see in this a "hidden" or silent indication to the Divine nature and the virginal conception and birth of this Child, while St. Joseph's authority and duty might be seen as an indication of the child's membership of the human race. That the Virgin Mary name the Child may also proclaim her as the New Eve, even as the First Adam named the first woman.

This is suggested by the fact that when the moment came to give the child its name, no particular mention is made other than the general observation: "He was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel."

In this regard, we recall the commendation given to the holy angels in Scripture, namely that they are "obedient to every command" (Ps 103:20) of God. The silence about Mary and Joseph shows their perfection: Their obedience was without question. Their transparency to the will of God meets that of the angel; it is based on their vow of virginity which both made with common consent (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 28, a. 4 ad 3um) and on their sole interest to love God totally and do only his will.

2. "Jesus … the name given him

The name which this Child should receive was "Jesus"; to St. Joseph was given this reason: "For he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21).

a) The meaning of the name

When we speak of "name" we have to distinguish between a "name" given by God and one given by man. A name given by God refers to the personal identity and to the vocation. God referred to both when he said to Moses about the angel: "My name is in him," that is in the angel (Ex 23:21, RSV). The Holy Father and some religious receive a new name to point out to their new vocation. And when one reaches the degree of perfection at the end of life and is accepted into heaven, God promised: "I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it" (Ap 2:17). Names given by man serve first of all just for better communication.

b) The name "Jesus"

St. Andrew and St. John, the apostles, needed to stay with Jesus just "that day", few hours, in order to recognize him as the Messiah: "We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1:39-41). He was further recognized as the "Son of God" (Lk 22:70) and "The Lord" (Jn 21:7; cf. CCC 436-451). But the name the angel asked to give him was "Jesus". This, "His proper name … expresses both his identity and his mission" (CCC 430). Zechariah may have learned from Elisabeth who recognized in Our Lady "the Mother of my Lord" (Lk 1:43). He said: "The God of Israel has visited and brought redemption to his people", referring all the way back to what God "promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old", even to what "he swore to Abraham our father" (Lk 1:68,70,73). Herewith he, "filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied" (Lk 1:67) that Jesus is not just a Savior from political power or physical pain. "The name 'Jesus' signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son, made man for the universal and definitive redemption from sins." (CCC 432) It means in short "God saves" (CCC 452). It is "the name given him by the angel," the same which "the evil spirits fear…; in his name his disciples perform miracles, for the Father grants all they ask in this name" (CCC 434).

3. To give a name

"The name given him by the angel" reminds us that an angel acts really as messenger of God to man and thus too do those who are to choose names for others. We said already that names given by God or in the name of God have deep significance. Therefore the Church asks to choose names with responsibility: "Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment." (CIC 855; CCC 2156)

a) The angels help parents

Parents are asked at the baptism of their children "What name do you give your child?" As the angel gave the name of Jesus, so all holy angels want to help, the Guardian Angels of the parents and the one to be baptized as well as already the Guardian Angel of the patron saint, even if this is not yet known.

They want to help select the right name. For "the patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer" (CCC 2165; cf. 2156-59). The name of the saint opens the door for his influence. This, of course, does not mean that everyone who received the name "John" will become a great preacher or write, although we could give a long list of persons with the name "John" who had such qualities.

The angels want to transmit, principally, the call and the graces which God has in store for this child; they want to accompany it. Especially the Guardian Angel, being sent at the side of the child all life long wants to help the Baptized discover his or her vocation and then corresponds to and stays firm to it.

b) The angelic mission of Priests

Also the pastors should turn to the holy angels and ask for their guidance when they counsel and orientate parents like the angels seek to do.

It is an honorable duty to encourage parents to pray to the Guardian Angel of their child: first for a healthy pregnancy, second for the grace of baptism and third for the inspiration of the right name; and fourth that they love and guide the child in union and conformity with God's will for it. It is good to do this even generally in homilies and not to wait until they come for baptism with the name already chosen.

It is an important truth to announce in our time: Long before we are seen by human eyes God's omniscient and loving gaze rests upon us. So spoke God to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb (that is, before you were conceived) I knew you, before you were born (that is, already in your mother's womb) I dedicated you" (Jer 1:5). And how real the words of the Prophet Isaiah become for us, who wrote: "Thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. … Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you" (Is 43:1,4).

Finally, it is good to point out: When we call a brother or sister in Christ with the name of a saint, then we are reminded of his or her dignity as member of the Mystical Body of Christ and, calling them by such name, we invoke the Saint's help and assistance upon him or her! May our Guardian Angel remind us more frequently on this salutary truth.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Recently I heard the very sad story of a child in its mother's womb, which had already been diagnosed with two brain-tumors. This reminds us all how totally we are dependent upon God in all things, and how much we priests ought to teach and lead the faithful to the surrender to God confidently and trust in the holy angels as God's ministers in our behalf in all our needs up to the moment of our definitive salvation.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC


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