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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

At the present day there is no particular device prescribed to be impressed upon the altar-breads. Every church is allowed to abound in its own choice in this respect. In some places a representation of our Lord crucified is the impression; in others the “Agnus Dei.” We have also seen breads upon which the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet were stamped, in allusion to our Lord’s saying in the Apocalypse, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” The most general device, however, is, as we believe, the ancient and sacred monogram “IHS,” or, as it was formerly written, “IHC.” As to the precise interpretation of this “IHS” there has been much dispute; some contending that it means (at least that its letters are the initials of) “Jesus Hominum Salvator”—Jesus, the Saviour of Men—others that they are the initials of “I Have Suffered.” Other interpretations are given of them which we do not deem necessary to state. The truth, however, is that they are the three first letters of our Lord’s sacred name in Greek, viz., ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, and that as such they were very commonly employed as a sacred device on the Christian tombs during the days of persecution. They are yet to be seen inscribed in many places in the Roman catacombs (see Justorum Semita; or, The Holydays of the English Church, p. 335; Holy Name of Jesus; also, Dublin Review, vol. xliv., 1858, art. “Primacy of St. Peter”).

The interpretation “Jesus, the Saviour of Men” first originated with St. Bernardine of Sienna, in 1443, and was brought about in this way: The saint, it seems, had occasion to reprove a certain man for selling cards with dangerous devices impressed upon them. The man tried to defend his cause by saying that he could not earn a living in any other manner, but that if Saint Bernardine offered a device instead of those he himself used, and assured him that he would not be a loser in adopting it, he would at once abandon those he had; whereupon the saint recommended the letters “IHS,” telling the man that they stood for “Jesus Hominum Salvator.” They were at once adopted, and their success was complete (see Gleanings for the Curious, by C. C. Bombaugh, A.M., pp. 98, 99).








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