Thursday, January 10, 2013

Church Chat II

The first edition of "Church Chat," in which I explained the meanings and etymologies of a number of Church-related words, was by far the most read post I've made on this site. Given its popularity, I thought it worthwhile to bring you another round of ecclesiastical vocabulary.

Confirmation -- from Latin confirmare, "to strengthen." In the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are strengthened in the gift of the Holy Spirit which we received at our Baptism. In the ancient world, oil was used to aid in healing injuries (as we still use ointments today for the same purpose); that is, it was used to make a sick person stronger. Sin is a sickness of the soul, and the anointing of this sacrament (as well as the Anointing of the Sick) acts as a sort of booster shot to fortify our our spiritual immune system. (This is not an exhaustive explanation of this sacrament, but it does describe an aspect of it.)

Grace -- from the Latin gratia, which, apart from itself meaning grace, means "favor, thanks, goodwill." The grace of God is not something I can adequately explain in a paragraph, but suffice it to say: it is God's sharing of His own life with us. It is His free gift to us, unearned and undeserved, a demonstration of His favor and goodwill. Here would need to follow a whole treatise on the distinction between earning and meriting, on how God's gracious action in us does not take away our freedom but rather grants freedom to us, and a host of other issues, but you might be better served by reading the section in the Catechism on grace. Say, that's a good one...

Catechism -- from the Greek katechesis, meaning "oral instruction," more literally "to sound down (into the ears)." Perhaps it's something of an oddity to use a word meaning "oral instruction" for a written text, but remember that the purpose of a catechetical text is use in teaching. This is much more evident in the format of past versions such as the Baltimore Catechism with its question-and-answer format. Catechisms are used in catechesis to hand on the faith. Say, that reminds me....

Tradition -- from the Latin tradere, "to hand over." Tradition, then, is that which is handed on, often used in a generational context: one generation bequeaths something to another. This word is used to describe the way in which the Christian faith is transmitted to succeeding generations, through teaching, example, and religious practice (especially the liturgy), and written works such as Scripture. (It seems to me that instead of drawing this divide between Scripture and Tradition, it would be more accurate to describe Scripture as part of and a product of the Tradition.) Note: The Latin word's flexibility allows it to mean both handing something on, like an heirloom, or handing someone over, as in betrayal. (If you look at the Latin text of the Mass, you'll see in the Eucharistic Prayers that when it says "on the night [Jesus] was betrayed" the Latin word is tradebatur, "he was handed over/betrayed.")

Reconciliation -- (I've mentioned this one in a previous post, but it's good enough to include again.) from Latin re-, "again," con-, "with," and cilia, "eyelash." To be reconciled, then, is to literally be eyelash to eyelash with someone once again. It is regaining a closeness you once had. And you can't be much closer to someone than having your eyelashes entangled. Think of a parent and child with their foreheads pressed together, or a couple kissing. That kind of intimate closeness. That's what reconciliation is about.

Saint -- from Latin sanctus, "holy." Like many Latin adjectives, sanctus is a verb form, the perfect passive participle. That fancy term means it's a word expressing an action that happened to a subject in the past, the effect of which continues into the present; in this case, sanctus is "one who has been made holy (and is still holy)." The saints are those who have received God's sanctifying grace and have cooperated with it and been made holy.

Liturgy -- from the Greek laos, "people," and ergon, "work." Liturgy is "the work of the people," or "a public service." Public services are done to satisfy obligations either owed to the people or required to be done by the people. We are obliged to worship God. But the obligation to worship God is not arbitrary or external, but necessary or internal. We need to worship God like we need to eat, or breath, or be with our loved ones. Too often, though, we substitute the good food of God for the junk food of lesser goods or goods twisted into evils (whether it be sleeping in rather than getting up and going to Mass, or seeking God's love through others via lust instead of self-giving love). We choose what might taste good for a moment, but will make us less healthy spiritually in the long run. This does give us what we need. The Mass, the Sacred Liturgy, is the pre-eminent place in which we get what we most need, for there we receive the true food, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation, the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life within us.


  1. Beautifully done, and it so helps us to understand the true origin and meaning of these words we take for granted. The feeling and import behind them.

  2. I concur with Shannon. Nicely phrased. I am much relieved that you're "back in the saddle". It was nice for you to have the Christmas break, and nice for us to see you, but we do so enjoy your writings, plus we benefit from them as well. You are, indeed, a natural born teacher, me lad!
    Love, Grandpa Jake