There is a tendency that any group has to use words that make sense to some of its members, but are often unintelligible to outsiders. I have sometimes had to coach recent converts in “Church speak”.

For example I may proudly announce that “RCIA classes will begin next week….so if you know anyone who is interested in attending, please fill out an information card on the table just outside the sacristy door.” Thinking I have been perfectly clear, a new member approachs me after Mass to ask what “RCIA classes are….and also what is a sacristy?”

I have had the same reaction when announcing “CCD classes.” One angry parent called me to protest that she was told by the DRE (more Church speak) that her daughter could not make First Holy Communion unless she started attending “CCD.” The mother, a non-Catholic spouse of a less than faithful Catholic husband, had no idea that the parish even offered or required religious education for children, since she had never connected the term “CCD” with “Sunday School” or any form of religious instruction.

As a priest I have come to discover that I use terms, ordinary terms of traditional Catholicism, but given the poor catechesis (another Church word, meaning “religious training,” by the way), the meaning of what I am saying is lost on many. For example, I have come to discover that many Catholics think “Mortal Sin” means “killing somebody.” Even the expression “grave sin” escapes many, who know it isn’t good, but are not sure beyond that, what it means. And then mention “venial sin” and the conversation approaches stand-still.

Still other words, such as fornication, covenant, matrimony, incarnation, transubstantiation, liturgy, oration, epistle, gospel, sanctus, chalice, paten, alb, Holy Orders, theological, missal, monsignor, Eucharistic, etc., while being meaningful to many in the Church are often only vaguely understood by many others in the Church, not to mention the unchurched (is that another Church word?).

Once at daily Mass I was preaching out of the First Letter of John, and I was attempting to make the point that our faith is “incarnational.” I began to notice the blank stares, and vacant looks. And so I asked the small group that day if any of them knew what “incarnational” meant, no one did. I went on to explain that it meant that the Word of God had to become flesh in us, it had to become real in the way we live our lives. To me “incarnational” captured it perfectly, but most of them did not even really know for sure what “incarnation” meant, let alone “incarnational.”

Ah Church-speak.

The seminary years took the art of Church-speak to new levels. I remember how many of my professors, while railing against the use of Latin in the liturgy, seemed to have a strange fascination with Greek-based terminology. Mass was out, Eucharist was in. “Going to mass” was out, “confecting the synaxis” was in. Canon was out “anamnesis” was in. Communion was out koinonia was in. Mystagogia, catechumentate, mysterion, epikaia, protoevangelion, hapax legomenon, epiklesis, etc, etc. Necessary words, I suppose, but surely opaque to parishioners we were training to lead and teach. Church speak indeed, or should I say ekklesia-legomenon.

Ah, Church-speak…. or in this case seminary silliness.

At any rate, I have learned to be a little more careful when speaking today to avoid too much Church-speak, too many “insider” terms, too many older terms, without carefully explaining them.I think we can and should learn many of them, but we should not assume that most know them.

The great, and Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that he discovered, early on, that he often got credit for being learned, when in fact, he was merely being obscure. And, for any who knew him in his later years, especially on television, he was always very careful to explain and set forth Church teaching in a very accessible way. Good advice for all of us, a little less of the CCD and RCIA stuff, and little more of the clearer “Religious Instruction” can help decode our Church-speak.

Please enjoy this brief and very funny video from the Protestant side of the aisle. Tim Hawkins is a Christian Comedian. I’d also love to hear some of the words that make your “church-speak” list.

Tim Hawkins Hedge of Protection from crownentertainment on GodTube.

58 Responses

  1. Vijaya says:

    Well I had no clue about RCIA or CCD … because when I decided it was time to join the church, I simply walked in with my family and cried all the way through liturgy because I was home. I decided to find the person responsible for Sunday school, and she started asking me lots of questions about when the children were baptized and when I told her they hadn’t been, she said, “oh, you want to talk to the deacon about RCIA.” Huh? Thankfully, he explained what this process was … and I thought about how I’d seen advertisements in the newspaper about RCIA in the religious section, but how would I have known where to go because the words “religious instruction” were never in the ad.

    By the way, this back and forth took a couple of weeks and I am thankful that God gave me the patience to not give up because I was confused about the whole thing, why I couldn’t just become a Catholic. I thought, they sure make it hard. I can laugh about it now, but three years ago, I was in tears.

    I am guilty of telling my children to “offer it up” and to “repent” but they understand what it means.

    I have learned so much from your writings and audio files, so keep up the good work. You are a natural-born teacher.
    God bless you.

    • Tina says:

      You forgot to mention regional church speak as well. Here in St. Louis, we don’t have CCD. We have PSR.

      • Paul Stokell says:

        It’s “PSR” here in Columbus, OH too. And try explaining to “transplant” families from other parts of the country (or world) what that means, or why we give Confirmation to 8th Graders and not older/younger kids, or why there are these “Eastern” churches nearby that have nothing to do with New York or Washington, etc., etc.

        All earth’s cramm’d with heaven – and “teachable moments!”

  2. Sarah says:

    By the time I knew I wanted to convert, I had a pretty good handle on many of the terms Catholics use and how they compared to the terms I used as a Protestant. In general, the ones that I didn’t get well had more to do with pastoral life or Catholic devotion than with theology. It took a while for me to realise that “prayer intentions” we’re just the things we were asking God for in our prayers. The Catholic’s “apostolate” is the Protestant’s “ministry”. And it was only after hearing the rosary prayed out loud several times before I understood what it meant to “announce the next mystery” before saying the Our Father and launching into another decade of Hail Mary’s. Trying to learn devotions from a book can leave you confused.

    • Tom K. says:

      ‘The Catholic’s “apostolate” is the Protestant’s “ministry”.’

      A particularly tricky example, since the Catholic’s “apostolate” is *not* the Catholic’s “ministry.” (Roughly speaking, the former is directed ad extra and the latter ad intra.) (What?) (Oh, for goodness sake, it’s perfectly clear Latin.)

  3. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    How “consubstantial with,” made “one in being with,” more understandable and meaningful is beyond me.

    • I think there, one in being is simply not all that accurate and is, at best vague for one can conceive how many things are one in being with God.

      • Jack says:

        Consubstantialm/homoousios are words accepted as definitive by an Ecumenical Council–the first, to be precise.

        FWIW, the Melkite version of renders the term “one in esssence.”

        \\Canon was out “anamnesis” was in.\\ BTW, Father, I think the words you’re looking for is “anaphora”.

      • RichardC says:

        God is essential being, the being whose essence is its existence. All other being is participated being, being whose essence is distinct from its existence. When we say that we are being and God is being it isn’t an univocal statement, nor is it an equivocal statement, but it is an analogous statement. When we say that the Trinity is one in Being that is an univocal statement. That is my best understanding.

      • Stephen from New Orleans says:

        In the Spanish Mass, the term is “De la misma naturaleza”. And I don’t know if it translates into “one in being” or “consubstantial with”….I think it literally means “of the same nature”, but it implies the same mystery.

      • Ed says:

        I own a Catholic Prayer book published in 1916 and their translation of “consubstantilem” is “being of one substance with the Father”. I’m not sure if this translation makes consubstantial any easier to understand.

    • Lance Eccles says:

      I’m not sure that people understood “one in being with” either. They parroted it Sunday after Sunday, but I’m sure most had no idea what it meant. At least the strange word “consubstantial” may make them pause to wonder.

      • Bender says:

        We do well to remember that God is, ultimately, a mystery. Whether we say the Son is “one in being with” the Father, or “consubstantial with” Him, or “of the same substance,” or “homoousios,” or “one in essence,” or “essentially one,” or something else entirely, they are all incomplete and imprecise, given our limited understanding combined with the limitations of language. Even to use the word “person” in reference to the Triune God is imprecise and, in that sense, somewhat misleading.

        We must respect the mystery.

        We can never come up with the perfect and full and complete words for Him. We can only make crude approximations and analogies.

  4. Bender says:

    Some good points here. In some circles, people do use big technical words to make themselves seem smarter, or to make the work seem more important, when actually all they have written is gobblety-gook. Along those lines, here then is a word for you — sesquipedalia. And let’s not get started on that oh-so-pretentious word, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the sound of which is something quite atrosicous.

    If effective communication is the goal, jargon and insular technical language are often to be avoided. But not always. And some of the most common words — or words that should be common, like CCD — can nevertheless be totally obscure to some people. So the problem really never can be eliminated, only limited.

    Rather than dumbing down the words used — as in fact was done in the 70s, which is why many of these words are unknown today — I am very appreciative that they are used, but when used to explain their meaning. Etymology can be a very good teaching tool, and it is one that Pope Benedict uses often.

    For example, “catechesis,” which if you break down into syllables is cat-eche-sis, and if that middle syllable sounds like “echo” that is because the word means “to sound again like an echo,” which is what is done in religious training, we repeat what has been echoed down through the centuries. Or, as another example, a word used in the beginning of the Gospel of John to describe Jesus Christ — “Logos,” which is related to the word “logic,” meaning “reason.”

    It is not always easy, learning these words. For a long time, I would read the word “hermeneutics” and each time I would have to go look it up in the dictionary (or simply keep reading oblivious to its meaning). That went on for a couple of years before the definition sank in.

    To be sure, we should be careful using church-speak, cognizant of the fact that some might not understand it at all, but by all means, use such words as teaching opportunities. We can’t learn if they are never used.

    And if someone complains, “What does X mean? That is such an obscure word, why not use more common words?” then ask them what “Hosanna” means or “Amen” or “Alleluia” or “Apostle” or “Christ.” (If we eliminate the church-speak altogether, there is not much left to describe the Faith.)

  5. Bender says:

    The “New Evangelization” is a church-speak term that we will be hearing more and more in the coming months. Or, at least, we should be hearing about it, since it is a major initiative of the Church, together with the Year of Faith, rather than simply avoiding the term because people might not know what it means. It certainly will be heard in our parish.

    And what does the New Evangelization mean? (For that matter, what does just regular plain old term “evangelization” mean?) I’ve learned recently that the origin of the term “New Evangelization” can be traced to a homily given by Blessed Pope John Paul II on June 9, 1979, during his first apostolic journey to Poland. The idea of the New Evangelization, though, is older, going back to the Second Vatican Council, and even then the idea goes back 2000 years to the birth of the Church, in that He makes all things new, the Faith itself is always new, even if we poor humans get rather old and dusty and tired in how we present it.

    John Paul’s homily was given at a Mass outside Nowa Huta, a factory town planned and built by the Communists without a church because workers have no need for “God.” But the Polish people nevertheless, in defiance of the Communists, erected a cross there and celebrated Mass with Bishop Karol Wojtyla. It was near there that the Pope said –
    “Where the Cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man’s salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun. Once our fathers raised the Cross in various places in the land of Poland as a sign that the Gospel had arrived there, that there had been a beginning of the evangelization that was to continue without break until today. . . .

    “The new wooden Cross was raised not far from here at the very time we were celebrating the Millennium. With it we were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever. The Cross stands high over the revolving world. . . .

    “From the Cross of Nowa Huta began the new evangelization, the evangelization of the second Millennium. This church is a witness and confirmation of it. It arose from a living awareness and responsible faith and must continue to serve that faith. The evangelization of the new millennium must refer to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It must be, as that Council taught, a work shared by bishops, priests, religious and laity, by parents and young people. The parish is not only a place where catechesis is given, it is also the living environment that must actualize it.”

    And before Pope John Paul, there was Blessed Pope John in his opening address to the Council, October 11, 1962, speaking of the great need to spread the faith more effectively –
    “The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be guarded and taught more effectively. . . . Its intention is to give to the world the whole of that doctrine which, notwithstanding every difficulty and contradiction, has become the common heritage of mankind—to transmit it in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted. It is a treasure of incalculable worth, not indeed coveted by all, but available to all men of good will.

    “And our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators, but earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries. . . .

    “What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.”

    • Bender says:

      Of course, part of that effort of the Council and the New Evangelization to find ways of teaching the Faith more effectively, with greater understanding for people, includes taking some of those church-speak terms and finding ways of explaining them, or by using more contemporary explanations when centuries-old meanings have changed or no longer mean what they once might have meant, such that their continued use only adds to confusion, rather than understanding.

      For example, “accidents.” To speak of “accidents” with respect to the Eucharist in the sense used by St. Thomas is to merely confound and mislead the modern world when other ways of explaining it are more effective and better communicate the idea to the people of today.

  6. Nick says:

    I’m just glad we don’t belong to the Church of Acronyms and Abbrevations :P

  7. Stephen from New Orleans says:

    If the Mass were still in Latin, your list would be much, much longer.

    I miss those days. As a youngster, I was very comforted by the fact that the liturgy had remained unchanged in over 1,000 years. When I was a young altar boy, I think my faith was stronger back then despite the fact that I didn’t study Latin until high school and began to really understand more deeply the prayers on an intellectual level. I was more innocent as a child and not as involved with sin and the separation it brings. My faith was almost inversely proportional to my understanding of it. In that sense, Faith really is a gift…one that comes with Baptism. If I had only cooperated a lot more as a teenager and young adult.

    As an adult though, I actually appreciate obscure ecclesial terms, oops…sorry…church words, because learning what they mean increases my knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

    • Howard says:

      Trent was more recent than a thousand years ago.

      • Stephen from New Orleans says:

        I understand that the council of Trent formalized what had already been going on for a lot longer. The Latin Mass didn’t first appear de novo at the council of Trent…but I’m no scholar of liturgy. Maybe Monsignor Pope could clarify. I just remember Father Champagne telling us altar boys that thousand year figure.

        Any way, I really do think I had a strong faith as a young child. Too bad I fell away from it for so long as an older person.

  8. AnneG says:

    Thank you, again, Msgr Pope. I came into the Church in Latin America, where proper terms are used, but not so much jargon. There were classes for the sacraments, not CCD, for example.
    Back in the States at my kids’ Catholic school, they had Liturgy. I asked what kind of Liturgy and was told that when Catholics say Liturgy they mean Mass. I thought, well, there are a lot of liturgies.
    My least favorite is mystagogia. Isn’t there a mor descriptive term?

    • Bender says:

      Well, CCD is an English term, so certainly it would be something else in Spanish-speaking countries. What is the Spanish for whatever the Latin is for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,” established in 1562?

      As for changing Mass to Liturgy, perhaps that was part of the trend of some to try to remain hip and trendy, like changing Confession to Penance or Reconciliation. I can remember always hearing about Confession, and then one day, all of a sudden it was Penance this, Penance that, and we were like “what is Penance?” Of course, the Church is not the only one to go through that, there are other examples out in society, such as in employment changing Personnel to Human Resources.

      • AnneG says:

        Should be Cofradía de Doctrina Cristiana, but I’ve never heard that. In the LA Church they had other, more pressing concerns.

    • LoriH says:

      i think CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) kinda catches the meaning a lot more than “classes for sacraments”
      and mystagogia means “education in the mysteries,” in other words, learn more about your faith. what would you suggest to replace it?

      • AnneG says:

        I meant that we did not use that terminology in Latin America and Spanish loves acronyms. I know the meaning of mystagogia, I just find it strange and stuffy, too jargony. That’s my opinion only, attempting to answer Msgr Pope’s question.

  9. Jamie the less says:

    Hehehe! Ekklesia-legomenon! Love it! I’ll use that (mind you, it does have a limited audience as you rightly point out – still funny!).

  10. Jason says:

    I totally agree with you here – it seems that everything wants a faith that is dumbed-down a bit, if you’ll pardon the expression. It is a huge problem in any faith though – many do not actually know or care about what it is they believe in.

  11. Deo volente says:

    Monsignor,

    I first learned of your blog by way of an email in which someone told me that you were doing the “Mass in Slow Motion.” I loved that series!

    Might I suggest that you might consider a series based on translating to the modern world (which now uses the internet extensively) some of those key “Church-Speak” things? An example might be “consubstantial.”

    I have often found in apologetic discussions that there is a huge chasm regarding the Trinity for some Protestants. Frank Sheed made it more clear to all who would study his superb book, “Theology and Sanity.” The idea of “consubstantial” is not trivial. “One in being” is not at all accurate and if one does not understand more fully the Trinity in which God is three Divine Persons of Divine Nature, the issue of “incarnation” makes no sense. Jesus, the Logos, in obedience to the Father, condescended through His love to take on a “human nature” through His “incarnation” or taking on flesh. Thus, Jesus is a Divine Person with both Divine and human natures. The issue of tranSUBSTANTION” then hinges on that point. We receive Christ in SUBSTANCE in the Eucharist and not as a mere token or symbol. He promised this at the Last Supper with His words, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.”

    I pray you consider this suggestion. You are remarkable at making the difficult easier to comprehend for those in the pew!

    Ad maiorem Dei gloriam+
    D.v.

  12. Dismas says:

    This article brings to mind the tower of Babel and language. How I’m constantly tempted to seek, define and understand God on my own terms and with my own notions. I enjoy Church-Speak, church-speak helps me to avoid these temptations. When I hear something that holds no meaning or I don’t understand I’m challenged to investigate and study it in the light of what our Church teaches and not what I may assume or want it to mean.

    Studying it (being catechized) has only brought me so far however. I realize that the ‘way I pray’ and the importance of always seeking a greater understanding of the prayers I’m saying, especially those of the Mass, is really important and never ends. I don’t know this to be true, but sometimes I think, properly understood, everything I need to know or be catechized by, can be found in the Nicene Creed and the Confiteor. The Holy Trinity, consubstantiality, incarnation, the four marks of the Church, the three pillars of truth, sacraments, repentance.

    No, I like church-speak, this is how God reveals Himself to me, through His Church found in it’s worship and prayer.

  13. Deo volente says:

    tranSUBSTANTION” = transubstantiation

  14. Jack says:

    \\ As a youngster, I was very comforted by the fact that the liturgy had remained unchanged in over 1,000 years. \\

    This is not true. We should find comfort in truth, not in myth. While the Tridentine mass was more or less fixed since it was promulgated (Church speak) by Pius V, it was still tinkered with over the centuries.

    But this is unusual in the history of liturgy. The usual rule is that all the historical liturgies have been fluid. This applies to the Western rites before Trent.

    As one Orthodox bishop said, “There has never been a century when the liturgy was ‘pure’ in the sense of being celebrated exactly the same way in one century as it was in the previous century.

    • Stephen from New Orleans says:

      It is absolutely true that I was comforted by the Latin mass as a youth.

      For the record, I’m a staunch Roman Catholic and attend Mass in both English and Spanish (Novus Ordo). Rarely is a Mass in Latin available to me. I have a problem with SSPX because they have not stopped at combating liberalism, they have gone further and combated the authority of the Pope.

      I don’t care if the Mass is in Latin, Spanish or English. I’m more focused on thanking God for the free and undeserved gift of Faith and Salvation through His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ…and renewing my participation in the New Covenant today at Mass. I’m less focused on thinking that an unchanged Latin Mass is a myth through a strict interpretation of the word unchanged. In a less strict sense, the Latin Mass was unchanged.

      I guess I’m always focused on the bigger picture of what’s actually happening when the priest says “This is My Body….This is My Blood….”.

  15. Cathy says:

    In November 2009, after four years of study, I staggered to the finish line for the MA degree in Theology at Catholic Distance University (www.cdu.edu). I practically lived united with Fr. Hardon’s Catholic dictionary! So many new terms! Each course had a listing of hundreds of key words and phrases. Here are just a few from one of the undergraduate-level prerequisite courses, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Evangelization for the Third Millennium”: acedia, aggiornamento, anagogical, apology, charism, concupiscence, decalogue, doxology, economy of salvation, epiclesis, eschatological, exegesis, fecundity, fiat, filioque, hypostatic union, kenosis, kerygma, logos, magisterium, mortification, mystery, natural law, parousia, sacrament, sacramental, Septuagint, synoptic, theophany, theotokos, viaticum.

  16. hannajo says:

    This reminds me of my grandfather’s funeral. My 8 male cousins were the pall-bearers so the funeral directors were giving them instructions minutes before beginning. He said something like, “walk up to the front in your two lines. Then genuflect and go to your pew.” My non-Catholic cousin said, “what in the what where?” It was a bit of comic relief on a sad day.

  17. stefanie says:

    Well said, Monsignor (no pun intended!)

    Many times the people in RCIA get frustrated at all the exclusive terminology we Catholics use. Rare, however, is the ‘seeker’ who isn’t drawn to the mystery. They want to know more and more — and the ‘odd’ words and language arouses their curiosity to learn.

    When I am at Mass with the catechumens and candidates, it often surprises me how often the priests (or deacons) do not explain ‘church speak’ when they use it. There is a big (maybe abit arrogant) assumption of the priests that ‘we all know what is being said here with these Mass prayers…but I DO have to explain the lectionary readings to you.’ This was abit addressed last year when we were all preparing for the new Roman Missal translation — but since then, nada.

    The Mass and its prayers largely go undiscussed. The doctrine they teach is not often understood by the Faithful. Yet, these very words at the Mass provoke interesting discussion in RCIA sessions.

    Mass is meant to instruct us on the Church’s teachings and to evangelize us …as is stated at the words of dismissal. The Church has taken the time to create a Mass that is divinely-designed to teach us everything we need to know about the Trinity, the need to be forgiven of our sins and that salvation comes only through Jesus, the communion of saints, heaven, and most of our Catholic beliefs. (and not just via the recited Creed.

    At our parish, the priests often use the Mass attended by the RCIA group in order to point out these things. (They know several weeks ahead of time whether we are having an RCIA dismissal group at the Mass to which they are assigned as presider.)

  18. RichardC says:

    Excellent and funny post. Phrases like ad orientem and SSPX are newer ones for me.

    • JohnR says:

      I know that Ad Orientem is straight out Latin, meaning To the East but perhaps we should regret the loss of understanding and familiarity with what was classical literature. There is a whole series of books written by Agatha Christie and they fine murder mysteries. One such book is “Murder on The Orient Express”. The Orient Express is the name given to a particular train which runs….still…across Europe, heading East! People used to know where the Orient is although they may be less familiar with where the Occident is. Perhaps, seeing the juxtaposition, the meaning of the Occident can now be worked out by those reading this.
      SSPX is surely well known, Societas Sancte Pater (Pio)X. The Society of the Holy Father Pius Tenth.

  19. Nathan says:

    Allow me to make a very brief defense of “Church Speak.” Compare our attitude with jargon in religion and in sports. When our culture speaks of football we use a lot of “Football Speak” and no one seems to mind. Words like “blitz”, “west coast offensive”, “sack”, “running the option”, etc ad infinitum are used and no one cries out for “sack” to be changed to “a play where a defender knocks over the guy throwing the ball on the other team” and for obvious reasons, despite my wife’s incomprehension of most of what is said while watching the game. When our culture loves the liturgy as much as football “incarnational” will roll off the tongue as easily as “button hook”. As long as we are more interested in our hobbies, we will demand simple and imprecise language in worship while drinking in ever more complex and technical words for sports. The same analogy, I’m certain, could be made with other hobbies than I am less familiar with. When you really are engaged with something you demand the ability to speak precisely on that subject, this demand can only be met by words that those who are only mildly interested in the subject will not be familiar with. At least that’s my take.

  20. Taylor Marshall says:

    Great post. I liked the part about hip Greek terms.

  21. Jack says:

    One thing to remember, everyone:

    Theology, like medicine and law, has always had its own technical vocabulary, with words that simply cannot be replaced without doing violence to what is trying to be said.

    Furthermore, even ordinary words will have special meanings in a theological–or legal or medical–context.

  22. Bethanie Ryan says:

    Mind if I steal your list of words. I’m starting a website of “religious training” and I love this post. I never thought of giving definitions for all these words on the site.

  23. Peter Wolczuk says:

    An excellent post in the way it inspires. As I imperfectly perceive it there seems to be many things that could be applied to any area where one could progress through successive levels of learning. The point in that is, when I don’t “get it” do I jump to a conclusion on a meaning, dismiss it as too intellectual for me or seek understanding from a reliable source? The first could mislead me, the second would probably be best prioritized to what fields of knowledge are most important and the third should probably be done carefully.
    For instance; Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s discovery, “he discovered, early on, that he often got credit for being learned, when in fact, he was merely being obscure.” taken with Bender’s, “In some circles, people do use big technical words to make themselves seem smarter, or to make the work seem more
    important, when actually all they have written is gobblety-gook.” show how a person can inadvertantly be obscure with what they know because they use lingo (a foreign language or local dialect, the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people, probably via Portuguese lingoa from Latin lingua ‘tongue’) suited to more advanced committees when talking to those who are not familiar. But, it can also be about people who wish to appear more knowledgeable than they are or, even to be deliberately deceitful about the truth to those who are unfamiliar with the terms. Highly likely to be other motivations involved in other cases.
    Each would appear random but, I begin to wonder if randomness is more an illusion caused by lack of knowledge, either as yet unlearned or as yet undiscovered. The first, by Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, seems to display as a natural randomness (could any of us perfectly adjust dialects as we shift from group to group?) and the second as an artificial randomness created with a negative motivation. This seemingly negative motivation could be well fulfilled when we observers perceive the two sorts of randomness as the same – probably the natural one.
    To assume that the deceiver is talking sense about what we don’t understand. I often have a window open to a dictionary and/or http://www.biblegateway.com/ when composing here because of John 8:32 and because I am wary of all deceit, even inadvertent, because I only see one deceiver as being at the source of all deceit.
    I departed from one group based on the Twelve Steps from a Christian viewpoint for many reasons but, primarily because the facilitator often quoted (more paraphrased) the bible without ever giving a reference, as best as I can recall. Once I called out the reference (happened to be one I knew) and pointed out his blatant flaw. He acknowledged but, after that I was always surrounded by people who shouted Hallelujah, before I could say anything, whenever I tried to speak up.
    Then there’s my use of “and/or” A few years ago I read an article on modern English which stated that the use of this, and other good old stuff, was now excluded from English since it was so old fashioned a concept that it was rarely used. The article went on to say that the concept could still be used by forming a phrase which expressed it but, it seemed to me, that such phrases would tend to be ponderous and that the entire concept would die out. Is English becoming more and more efficient until it eventually becomes a smoothly flowing, highly efficient and meaningless noise?
    Of course, one could always try to understand unfamiliar terms from the context, as a child does when first learning the language, but that works good for children but; as we adapt to an imperfect set of standards of this world; we lose the child’s abilities to do that so effectively. Hmm, a thought came to me as the last sentence was being composed. Isaiah 11:6 “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” NIV
    I’ve seen flaws in that; once in a mine where many Portugese and Quebecois worked. Occasionally some would try to understand each other because of the common Latin root but, that never went far because of divergences in language caused by such things as geographical barriers in Western Europe.
    When growing up in an ethnic enclave I have seen some effective, but ponderous, communication between speakers of different Slavonic languages since Eastern Europe tended to have less geographical barriers separating the different peoples. The rivers were at times but, not in mid winter.
    Yet there were problems. Once I observed a misunderstanding between two brothers, on the one hand, and their mother, on the other hand. They spoke a Canadian dialect of Ukrainian which was mainly derived from the west of Ukrainia and she spoke the central Ukrainian dialect since she was from there.

  24. Cynthia BC says:

    After my daughter came along I discovered that being a mom can reduce one’s vocabulary. My child’s description of certain items has made it difficult to remember the actual term:

    Gold Castle Behind the Altar where Jesus is Locked Up

    Smokey Tea Kettle Thing

    Sparkly Cross with Jesus in the Middle

    Long Black Dress with Lots of Buttons

  25. Janet says:

    My favorite is “Novus Ordo” referring to the Mass in English and “Extraordinary Form” or EF to refer to the Latin Mass!

  26. Tom K. says:

    “Consubstantial” is indeed a tough word to get out while reciting the Nicene Creed (to end a sentence with two words of Church-speak).

    But it took me a much longer time to figure out what “believe” means — largely because it took me years to notice that I didn’t already know.

    Same goes for that obscure Church-word “grace,” which I maybe understand.

    Still working on “love.”

  27. Jane says:

    Jargon is a sword with two edges but on balance, if one doesn’t go crazy with it, because it identifies something particular and special with no real correlate in the rest of the world, it ought to serve the purpose of stimulating people to ask questions and hence, learn something new about the faith. Hearing an unusual word also reminds us we are NOT in the usual state of affairs–one reason I love the terms consubstantial and chalice and on the whole the new translation because it does lift me out of the ordinary. What surprises me–and continues to do so–is the utter lack of curiosity by so many “cradle” Catholics who have not gone beyond their 8th grade catechesis nor seem to have any desire to do so. And Cynthia–I LOVE your daughter’s terms–they carry a wonder and also understanding that lots of us–me included–often miss. I might just start using “the Gold Castle behind the Altar where Jesus Lives” myself….

  28. Sophie says:

    As a young woman, absent from Mass after several years, I returned to the Church, eager to be faithful and seeking fellowship. There was an ad in the bulletin advertising a Crusilo at the Portiuncula. No location, just a first name and a phone number. What in earth was that? I was too shy to call and left that particular church for one more welcoming that spoke English.

  29. Clare says:

    I actually have a problem with RCIA and CCD. They don’t describe what the speakers intend. Really, do we attend the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults every class? Really is the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine the class the kids take? I am a cradle Catholic and went to Catholic school so never had to use these terms until later as an adult. But they are catechism classes, both of them, am I wrong? It would be catechims intended for adults and catechism intended for youth and children. Please, correct me if I am wrong. Another set of terms would be warranted and not just for the non-Catholics, but for the exactness for which we are currently striving.

  30. Elaine T says:

    i should send my husband over – he often complains about ‘religious speak’. For him it can be something as simple as what someone asked him once “when did you leave church?” He replied, ‘oh, about 10:00 last Sunday..” when what the person thought was that he’d not be involved/attending services for years. He didn’t realize that till I translated for him although he could tell he’d missed something. He’s also been known to wonder what it means to ‘bless’, which I tried to explain, but bogged down on ‘blessing’ God. (you know, like: bless the Lord with sound of trumpets..”)

    There are all sorts of assumptions when believers get together and talk, but a little more awareness for newcomers, or just those who aren’t part of the ‘in group’ would be welcome to a lot of people, I think.

  31. Sharron says:

    Other christian traditions have their own “linguistic shorthand” too. So
    “have you been saved” is kinda like confession
    “sinner’s prayer” is Act of Contrition simplified
    “altar call” is sort of approaching the altar for communion
    Am I getting the idea???

    • Bender says:

      Then there is that whole argument over “justification” by faith or justification by works.

      An argument that Catholics resolved and moved on from about 500 years ago, such that a Catholic is likely to respond “Huh? What are you talking about” if it is brought up, but it is still an issue that you’ll see argued in some Protestant circles today as if the dispute broke out only last year.

  32. Jason Clifford says:

    Isn’t is one of the essential roles of the priest to help the faithful to understand the language of faith?

    Some things need a specific language to understand them properly. You certainly would not expect a scientist to avoid using the specific language of his scientific discipline or an accountant or lawyer to avoid using the specific language of theirs.

    The language of faith is important. Over centuries the Church has learned very well that an exact understanding of many matters of faith, including the incarnation, consubstantial truth, the eucharist and many more, has led to far greater problems than having to explain ones self properly.

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