Vivat Jesus – a Timeless Call to Faith
Tony Slagle, Texas State Council Historian
Vivat Jesus. This phrase is the Latin motto of our Order and our Order’s official greeting.
While many of us have heard those words spoken, or have seen them written, how many of us have given thought to what the phase actually means? How many of us have ever used the phrase? In English, Vivat Jesus translates to “Jesus Lives.” The phase, just two words long, articulates something profoundly powerful, and which has special significance during the Easter Season. This is the time when the entire Church prepares for the greatest feast in the Liturgical calendar, when we, as Christians celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over dead itself. We celebrate that Jesus lives!
It terms of the long and storied history of the Knights, the use of Vivat Jesus is a recent practice. Originally used by St Bernadine of Siena, who lived over 6 centuries ago, it was introduced to the Knights by Bishop Charles P. Greco, the Order’s Supreme Chaplain from 1960 to 1987 and a member of the Order since 1918.
Bishop Greco had encountered the phrase while reading about St. Bernadine during his studies at the seminary. The story of St. Bernadine deeply touched the young seminarian. Born to a noble family, St. Bernadine became an orphan at a young age. He later became a Franciscan priest and toured all over of Italy to bring the gospel to the masses, often preaching for days on end. He was widely thought of as the greatest preacher of his age and Pope Pius II even called St. Bernadine the second Paul. It was this man, and his special devotion was to the Holy Name of Jesus, that inspired Bishop Greco to adopt St. Bernadine’s favorite prayer, Vivat Jesus, as the motto for his life and priestly vocation. He chose this prayer because he “hoped to direct all my efforts… to make Jesus live in the hearts of His people, especially those committed to my care.” When he was ordained as Bishop of Alexandria, LA in 1946, Bishop Greco chose the same phrase as his Episcopal motto.
When Virgil Dechant, became the Supreme Knight in 1977, he began his term by emphasizing the religious character of the Order. This emphasis was incorporated into the theme of the 96th Supreme Convention in 1978, which was Vivat Jesus. This was the first official use of the phrase by the Knights of Columbus. Inspired by the reasons Bishop Greco had cited for choosing the phrase as his motto, and believing that its use would help members of the Knights remain mindful of the religious foundation of the Order, Dechant announced that the Knights would adopt the Vivat Jesus as a method of greeting.
By committing to use Vivat Jesus regularly, we as Knights embrace what Pope Benedict XVI preached during his first Papal homily: that only when we embrace that Jesus lives can we truly experience the joy that Christ promised. Pope Benedict explains: “[The Church] holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers. The Church is alive – she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen.”
What better time than the Easter season to promise to commit ourselves to those ideals underlying why our former Supreme Chaplain chose Vivat Jesus as his motto: to make Jesus live in the hearts of His people. At a time in our nation’s history when tenets of our Holy religion are under attack by nearly every aspect of secular society, when spirituality and religion are thought of a passé and unnecessary, let us greet each other with confidence with a hearty Vivat Jesus! Two simple words, profoundly powerful, Jesus Lives!