The Mystery of Mercy


This is part of a series of posts on the invocations of the Jesus Psalter. There is a menu of these posts at the bottom. The invocations will be considered thematically.

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, help me
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, strengthen me
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, comfort me

THE OPENING Invocations on the Jesus Psalter each are begging God for Mercy. If we fail to understand the meaning of “mercy” the whole thing will be lost. When we hear “have mercy” me may imagine a victim being beaten and crying out for mercy. We may imagine a prisoner on death row begging for mercy. Or perhaps we imagine a heroine in a classic drama begging for mercy on behalf of her parents or village. This idea of mercy is rather late though. The idea that we would need God to stop beating us up is not what is implied in these invocations as we can see if we take them together.

In Latin, mercy is misericordiae. In Greek, ἐλέησόν, eleison. In Hebrew, חַסְדֶּ, chesed. The Latin carries the poetic resonance of “let your heart beat with mine”. The Hebrew is such a strong word that traditional English translations like the Authorized Version render it as its own word: lovingkindness. The Greek is even more poetic, for it comes from the word for olive oil. It implies soothing, healing, and luxurious touch. It’s a warm massage after a hard workout. When we pray at Mass, “Lord, have mercy” we should hear these overtones instead. When we pray for peace or healing, an end to violence or injustice, we are not asking God to stop whipping us with these scourges. Rather we are asking for the loving, soothing oil of God’s presence to heal us, struggling through a world of sin.

When we ask for Jesus to have mercy on us, we mean – literally – in his blood, the sacramental and real presence of his mercy in our lives.

When we ask Jesus to help us this is part of the same mystery, is it not? Jesus, soothe our wounded muscles and help us to heal, to get strong again. Strengthen us and comfort us! Do you see how all of these are just deeper unfoldings of the prayer for mercy?

Help me is the plaintive cry of a child, but we need help even in praying the prayer. Without Christ we can do nothing. When we know that, then any action, any prayer, any motion becomes for us either a participation in or a rejection of God’s mercy. Strengthen me is the next logical request! We are moving forward in our skills, we need not only help to do… but to get better at doing. We ask God to add more weight to the bar, to help us bend just a little further, to break us a little more so that we may heal in a better posture.

It’s possible to hear the prayer of “comfort me” as some sort of hand-holding, huggy-squeezy moment. But if you’ve ever had deep tissue massage, physical therapy, or even surgery you know that not all things comforting are comfortable. And, if you’ve ever sat on a soft sofa, lain on the wrong mattress, or had too much chocolate, you know that comfortable is not always the right thing.

But the comfort of God’s mercy may not be the comfort we’re looking for, for it comes in the unshielded openness of Confession, it arises in the middle of a hard day’s work in the vineyard. The comfort of God’s mercy is like the muscle memory where you make the motions because it is easy to do so – where you’ve schooled everything in your life to bend to God’s will. Only in doing God’s will, then, is there any sense of rightness, of comfort.

These four intercessions are not at all what they seem. As you meditate on each in turn, your prayer for mercy may go from “I’m a sinner, forgive me” to “I am lazy, draw me forward” to “I’m tired, kick my backside” to “I’m ready to go again, charge!” As you open to God’s mercy, you may discover that even the cross you bear is, itself, God’s mercy acting on you. And you will be crucified daily because of love.

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi, Jesu.

Jesus Psalter Menu
The Mystery of Mercy

The Jesus Psalter: Intro


ENGLAND’S PERSECUTION OF the Catholic Faith began with what is euphemistically called the Herician Reform. Henry VIII had no intention of “reforming the Church” but rather of creating a new Church with himself as the head. He wished to replace an infallible Pope with an omnipotent King. To this end, much like politicians today, he catered to certain parties in the Church without actually believing any of it. He sought, successfully, to rip the British Isles away from the bosom of their Mother, the Church. He did so by a combination of political, economic, legal, and corporal means, stripping away the Church’s position, lands, and temporal authority. What was left, though, was refined like gold in the fire. The Catholic faith, even when illegal within the Empire, spread like vines of morning glories, seemingly overnight popping up in places and opening to the sun’s light, bearing seeds and dying before night, only to sprout again in the next golden day.

The faith of this Church was fed by men who, on fire with zeal, left England to train as priests on the Continent, and then returned secretly to say illegal Masses in homes. The faith was whispered in the ear and passed by word of mouth. The prayers and devotions were hidden in pocket sized books, or pasted behind covers of other titles. And in the end, the blood of the martyrs watered the growing Church as monarch after monarch tried – and failed – to slay the Bride of Christ. This Church increased her strength using the Mass when she could get a priest, a devotion to the Blessed Mother – the Rosary, and a devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.

This last had been growing in the English Church for a while before the Reformation. In fact, the reverence for the Holy Name is common in Orthodoxy and Protestantism as well. Before the “reform” began, in the very early 16th Century, a Brigittine monk, Richard Whitford, began a pious practice called the Jesus Psalter. Consisting of a series of pious ejaculations to the Holy Name, it was a core devotion supporting the faithful in the troubled times of Henry, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Your host heard of this reading a book by Msgr Robert Hugh Benson called Come Rack Come Rope, a fictionalized account of the persecution under Queen Elizabeth. One character offhandedly says to another, “You must pay more attention to your Jesus Psalter.” Google quickly found a copy on a trusted website and a rabbit warren opened of comparative texts, and research.

Each prayer was on the same format: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, [something]. Said ten times, like the ten Aves of a Rosary, there was then a long oration (like the meditation on the Mysteries) and some concluding prayers. Then the next cycle began. There are 15 in total:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus have mercy on me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus help me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus strengthen me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus comfort me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus make me constant.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus enlighten me with spiritual wisdom.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to fear you.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to love you.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to remember my death.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus send me here my Purgatory.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to fly evil company.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to call for help to thee.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to persevere in virtue.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to fix my mind on thee.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus grant me grace to order my life to thee.

There are many copies online at various websites and historical scans. Some scans going back to the 1590s. While the petitions have remained the same, the orations or meditations have varied. I think they are intended to teach us general ideas, but with the devotion intended to spring up in the heart: so the orations will become personalized. The opening and closing verses have remained the same. The prayers after each “decade” have varied a little, but have always like this:

Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and sincere lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory. Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.

O Blessed Trinity, one very God, have mercy on me.

Then an Our Father and a Hail Mary.

This will serve as the introduction to a new series of posts on this devotion. Each post will focus on one or more petitions. Although the petitions will be covered in order, sometimes there are themes. For example, the first three petitions – have mercy on me, help me, and strengthen me – seem to go together. Then “strengthen me” and “comfort me” seem to be of a piece while “make me constant” seems to me its own thing. Although there is no set schedule, there will be a growing menu of linked posts.

The banner image that leads this post contains the prayer, Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu. Since “Jesus” means “Savior” or “one who saves” the prayer is, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me Jesus” that is be to me my savior. Let this be our prayer as we move forward.

Jesus Psalter Menu
The Mystery of Mercy

Something about the Name.

Holy Name Altar, St Dominic’s SF

The Readings for Tuesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Statimque Jesus locutus est eis, dicens : Habete fiduciam : ego sum, nolite timere.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Today, 7 August, is a feast no more among the Catholics of the Roman Rite as far as I know, but it holds a place in my heart. In England, today was at one time the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This was a popular feast and there were altars and fetes, and society and guild meetings, fairs and all. 

Then Came Henry.
And Cramner
To destroy and ruin all that had been built.

But they could not destroy this devotion and so the English Church, even in her Babylonian captivity, kept this feast beyond king Nebuchadnezzar’s death, beyond the fateful reigns of all his children and their children, this devotion held together with the memory of this feast. The 1662 BCP held this feast, the Anglo Catholics remembered in during that revival in the 19th Century, and held on to it. Nowadays, though, many folks just stick with 8 Days after Christmas.  Still this lovely feast in Early August…  It’s not in the Roman calendar, but when I was Western Rite Orthodox it was on our calendar. And my monastery kept this feast as well. It’s in our old OSB Breviary – copied from the C of E’s attempt at an OSB Revivial in the great house of Nashdom – although the texts are not special for this day: they are just copied over from January.

And so this feast… what is it about the Name of Jesus? The devotion is not just Catholic. The Orthodox have it. Protestants have it. And it’s nearly the same in all forms: just a meditation and mulling on the name, itself.

The heathens have this same sense as well, for not a one of them will ever curse in the name of Allah, nor any Sikh guru. No one will settle for a “God damn it” in a meeting when they can utter the all powerful name of Jesus in a blasphemy. Their piety is twisted, but they know. And they will say it even when they don’t know a Christian is in the room. They’re not doing it to offend or get a rise, they are making a powerful statement on purpose.

There’s something about that name.

If you are of the Eastern Rite, you have a long form of devotion to the name, the reciting of the Jesus Prayer whilst using the prayer rope. In the west, the Litany of the Holy Name is a very good, daily practice. But there is another western devotion, dating back to the Henrican Reformation. Published in 1520, the Jesus Psalter was a very popular devotion.  

Best said on a Rosary, in my opinion, it begins with a ten-fold recitation of the Holy Name and some invocation:

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me. (10x)
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, grant me grace to remember my death. (10x)
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, give me grace to order my life to thee. (10x)
Et cetera.

It is divided into three sets of five decades each, and so it pairs well with the Rosary of Our Lady for daily recitation or for use as one long prayer at a Holy Hour. I find it very useful at a Latin Mass where I suspect it was used most. A full text is here, although there are a number of variants available. Some are in print, arranged for group recitation. Some few are in other places online. Using these invocations and images to meditate on the name of Jesus gives not only a more-full sense of what the English were on about, but also will expand your sense of what the Name of Jesus (“God Saves”) is all about. Salvation does not mean “keep me out of hell” although that’s a part of it, nor does it mean “Take me to heaven when I die”. Salvation in the name of Jesus is an on-going, all-encompassing event.  It fills everything: filtering out fears, sorting through friends, navigating tough choices, making every knee bow, of things in Hell, things on Earth, and things in the Heavens.

This is why, in the end, the English Martyrs remembered this prayer as only one line:

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesu
Jesus, Jesus Jesus, be to me Jesus. (That is, Salvation.)

So a blessed feast that was. And may the Holy Name fill you with joy.


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