Here is a wonderful prayer to sing! It is stark and lavish and carefully balanced and quintessentially Roman.
This week’s Collect, in 1962 Missale Romanum for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, was in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary for the Sunday after the Ascension (Thursday). It is also prayed after the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Sancti nominis tui, Domine, timorem pariter et amorem fac nos habere perpetuum, quia numquam tua gubernatione destituis, quos in soliditate tuae dilectionis instituis.
Gubernatio means “a steering, piloting of a ship” or “direction, management”, which is where we get the word “government”. A gubernator is the pilot of a ship. Perpetuus, -a, -um is the adjective for “continuing throughout, continuous, unbroken, uninterrupted; constant,…” etc.
Make us to have, O Lord, constant fear and in equal degree love of Your Holy Name, for You never abandon with Your steering those whom You establish in the firmness of Your love.
Note the balancing of ideas: timor/amor (fear/love) and instituo/destituo (establish/abandon). In instituo I hear a “setting down” in the sense of how God made us and by that making He takes us upon Himself. He has our care and our governance. God sets us down next to Himself, under His watchful eye, so that we don’t go wrong. In destituo I hear a “setting down” in the sense of a setting to one side away from Himself, an abandonment of interest. In gubernatio God is, our pilot, our steersman, keeping his hand on the wheel of our lives. We are solid because His loving hand is firm. Were He to abandon us, our ship would wreck and we would be “destitute”. Amidst the vicissitudes of this world we depend in fear and love on His Holy Name. We stand in the proper place before God’s fearful glance and under His guiding hand of love only through both love and fear His Name which points to His Person.
A name, in biblical and liturgical terms, refers to the essence of the one named. The Divine Name made Moses put off his shoes. Moses learned God’s Name to tell the captive Jews that the one who is Being Itself – “I AM” – would set them free (cf Exodus 2). Once destitute, they were instituted as His People. So sacred was the terrible Name of God for the Jews that they would not pronounce the four Hebrew letters used to indicate it in Scripture, substituting instead “Adonai”, “Lord”.
What does Our Lord says about His own Name? In John 16:23 Jesus – Hebrew/Aramaic Yeshua from Yehoshua, “Yahweh saves” – reveals His unity with the Father and the power of His Name saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name.” In Mark 9:38-39 there is an exchange between the beloved disciple and the Lord about people casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus said, ‘No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.’” The Name “Jesus” can change hearts. John 20:31 says, “these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name”.
His Name – His Person – is our path to everlasting life.
The Name of God, of God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit, is worthy of our fear and our love. Many today want to stress only the love of the Name of Jesus without the holy fear which is its due. We must not exclude reverential awe and fear of that which God’s Name implies. In Scripture forms of words for “fear” occur hundreds and hundreds of times. Scripture is imbued with loving fear of God, indeed, a fear leading to love and wisdom.
God’s Holy Name is sacred. How we use or react to the Holy Name indicates our interior disposition. Do we use it with reverential love? Do we speak it with respect? Is His Name, uttered by another during the day or by ourselves in the recesses of the night, a source of dread because we are destitute in our sins, terrified of the Judge? Rather than deal with His Name, do we fill our lives with noise and clamor so that we need never hear a deep “GOD”, with all that God implies? “God fearing” men and women need not have terror of the Lord. His Name is a consolation.
Today’s prayer reveals a way out of the terror for God. Through reverential fear of His Name and of who He is and what He has done, we move to the love that knows no fear (cf 1 John 4:16-18).