April 16th, 2013
It is a well-known phenomenon that whenever revolutionaries take over a society or nation, they have to change the language, the very words, their new subjects use. In this way they can more easily eradicate tradition and change the memory of a whole people.
When Lenin and the Bolsheviks imposed their rule on the Russian people the very grammar of the language had to change. In this they followed the example of the French Revolutionaries of the 18th century. This change can be so profound that it actually obliterates the memory of former usages. It was observed that at the fall of Communism in Russia by the 1990’s that the Russian language no longer seemed to have any current forms of polite address that was the equivalent of our “sir…m’am…mister…” etc. It had all been replaced by the all-purpose leveler “Comrade”.
In a way, our Catholic culture has undergone the same form of “revolutionized” language. Just the other day after hearing the confessions of our First Communicants our CCD staff told me of an irate parent who arrived late and who actually thought it was First COMMUNION! They tried to explain to him it was “Reconciliation“. He wanted to know what that meant. It took a few moments before the word “Confession” was used. At that he said, “Well, why didn’t you SAY so!” “Confession” he knew, “Reconciliation” sounded like something he’d attempted and failed with his ex-wife.
We refer to “Liturgy” for “Mass”; “homily” in place of “sermon”; “Adoration” in place of “Exposition”; “Liturgy of the Hours” for “Breviary” or “Divine Office”; “Presider ” for “Celebrant” etc.
It has even happened that when distraught people call a parish for “Last Rites” for a dying person, they either get a blank silence, or a lecture on “Vatican II.” Once when I heard this going on I said to the priest “Just get over there and give the poor man the Sacraments and save the ‘updating’ for later!”
Words mean things and when words are changed, THINGS are changed.
And not always for the best.