In the 1950s, the Holy Name Society was one of many thriving sodalities that were a major part of Catholic parishes in Australia.
With its disappearance from parish life, Catholics have forgotten a small, but important practice, according to an Australian Dominican priest.
Father Jordan Perry OP says the Society’s decline resulted in the practice of bowing at the name of Jesus during Mass almost being completely forgotten.
Fr Perry, who is based in Canberra, told The Record the practice is one that was established by the Church in the 13th century.
“At the Church Council at that time, [Pope Gregory X] deputed our master general, Blessed John of Vercelli, to get people to all bow the head at the name of Jesus,” he explained.
“There had been a lot of blasphemy and a lot of disrespect for the Holy Name, so he decided that the way to fix that was to put the Dominicans in charge of spreading devotion to the Holy Name.”
Constitution 25 of the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 stated: “Whenever that glorious name is recalled, especially during the sacred mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head”.
The practice is also prescribed in each edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), including the 2007 Australian edition, under the section of “General norms for all forms of Mass”.
The GIRM is essentially the Church’s liturgical handbook, which provides instructions such as the correct way of celebrating Mass with a deacon and the duties of lectors.
It states that: “A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together, and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honour Mass is being celebrated”.
But the practice seems to have been forgotten by most Catholics, Fr Perry said.
“When we were kids, whenever you heard the name of Jesus every head in the church would bow, but now… it’s not only forgotten, it’s almost deliberately ignored, which is terribly sad,” he said.
“There’s a general malaise that we’ve allowed things to go this way for a long time. If you went into one of the schools now and mentioned this, they wouldn’t know what you are talking about.”
Perth liturgy officer Karen Hart told The Record that although the GIRM does prescribe a bow of the head at the recitation of the name of Jesus during Mass, she believed most people are unaware of the instruction.
“All acolytes have the prerequisite to read the GIRM within their Archdiocesan training,” she said.
“However, I’m not sure whether Catholics in general even know the GIRM exists.
“We need to keep in mind that the passing on of faith practice is primarily the responsibility of parents, which then calls into question their faith education.”
Retired NSW priest Fr James Tierney has written about the days where sodalities, including the Holy Name Society, the Sacred Heart Sodality, and the Children of Mary, were the backbone of a parish.
“Sodalities were parish organisations which gave the support of social solidarity to the faithful for Sunday Mass and the sacramental life of monthly Confession and often weekly devout Holy Communion,” he explained.
Each group had a monthly Mass that all members were required to attend, and on that Sunday they would later return to the church for evening devotions.
“[By] 1967, the liturgical changes and the multiplicity of Masses and the pace of life were working against the sodalities,” he said.
“The monthly Holy Name Mass was only kept going by the zeal of a local lay apostle.”
Fr Perry said the rapid decline of the Holy Name Society, as well as other sodalities, also meant the practice of bowing at the name of Jesus disappeared.
“It was fairly quick, because constantly with the Holy Name Society every month the men were reminded of this, and then suddenly that was taken away, and people just got very slack, very quickly,” he said.
“It wasn’t a Church move, it just happened. The Holy Name Society was in every Catholic parish in the whole of Australia, in New Zealand and most of the United States. Now it’s almost gone completely.”
Church historian Katherine Massam’s book Sacred Threads: Catholic Spirituality in Australia 1922-1962 explains the objects of the Holy Name Society when it began in Australia.
“Devotion to the Holy Name was a commitment to reverence for the name of Jesus, and so to speech free of blasphemy and obscenity,” she writes.
“The four rules of the Society were careful speech, monthly communion and attendance at the society’s meeting, and wearing the Holy Name badge.”
The first appearance of the Holy Name Society in Australia was in the Dominican church in North Adelaide in 1921.
Four years later, at a meeting of the Church leaders in Australia, it was decided to spread the Society throughout the dioceses of the nation.
In the Society’s handbook, published in 1932, it was stated that the aim of the Society was to “counteract all that is foul and to teach our Catholic men to love and reverence the sacred personality of Jesus Christ and his holy name”.
In 1999, Victorian Barry O’Brien set up a modified version of the Holy Name Society that had members from around Australia called the Confraternity of the Holy Name of Jesus, which he ran for almost a decade.
It has since moved to Sydney, but it is unclear whether it continues.
In July this year, one of the last branches of the Holy Name Society gathered for the final time in Ballarat, almost 70 years after it was formed.
The Church tried to foster reverence for the name of Jesus to counteract the blasphemy that was rampant in the 13th century, and Fr Perry said today’s world needed a similar way of discouraging blasphemy.
“It’s a dreadful state we’re in now,” he said.
“There isn’t a movie or scene without blasphemy in it, and because of the lack of devotion to the Holy Name and respect for the Holy Name, people just accept it. The kids in the playground in the Catholic schools are all using blasphemy. Even Catholic actors like Mel Gibson are thinking nothing of using the Holy Name as a swear word.”
Fr Tierney said the disappearance of the sodalities has been unfortunate, because a group like the Holy Name Society was “brilliant in its simplicity and effectiveness”.
“It encouraged men to persevere in practising their religion,” he said.
“The Holy Name Society made boys feel that religion was a man’s business, and not sissy, not something to drop once they went to high school or left school. They saw other boys’ fathers believing in God, honouring him. Such example was a powerful reinforcement of the witness of their own fathers.”