Expert Answer Forum

sin QUESTION from Patrick Bell August 17, 2000 Is use of vulgar language ie four letter words a mortal sin or a venial sin? As such use is a sin against the 6th commandment, I wonder if such use can be either a mortal or a venial sin.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on November 19, 2000 Dear Mr. Bell:
Perhaps you mean the 2nd Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
The name of the Lord is holy and sacred. We are to have respect for the name of the Lord and for all things holy and sacred.
If our disrespect of the name of God is done in anger or with thoughtlessness and carelessness then the sin is venial. If the disrespect and abuse of God's name is deliberate or directed against God it can be mortally sinful.
Remember, for a sin to be mortal it must meet THREE conditions and must meet all three conditions of 1) being grave matter (which taking God's name in vain is); 2) knowledge of the sin being grave matter (if one didn't know before, now they know); 3) and with that knowledge deliberately and with full consent of will commit the sin anyway.
If the sin does not meet all three of these conditions, then the culpability of that sin may be mitigated to venial sin.
Unfortunately, especially in the United States, there is an utter lack of knowledge, understanding, and sensibility of what it means for something to be sacred. This profound ignorance of the sacred is evidenced in the arguments over music in the Mass.
Many people want to have folk music in the Mass. This is patently improper. The Mass is a sacred time, a sacred place, a sacred space. To be sacred means to be set aside for that which is holy, for God. There is nothing wrong with folk music but it is not set aside for sacred purposes. As the name indicates, it is a music of the people. That is what folk means. It is of the people rather than set aside for holiness and for God. Thus regardless of how inspirational a folk tune might be, because it is not a music exclusively set aside for holiness, sacred worship, and adoration of God, it is improper in the Mass.
The lack of respect of sacred places and spaces is also seen in the casual attitude people take while in the Church -- talking up a storm often to the point that the Church sounds like a sports arena. There should be no talking in the church, before, during, or after Mass except that which is unavoidable -- and even that should be hushed and muffled.
Yesterday, I was sitting in the Cathedral of our Diocese waiting for my turn for confession (yes, there was actually a line, praise God. I usually see so few people coming to confession that I thought everyone had become saints and I was left behind as the only sinner...... anyway). While waiting for my turn at confession this woman comes into the Church and is wanting to get to the other side of the building. There is a aisle at each end of the Sanctuary area that leads into other chapels and areas of the Cathedral. Instead of walking around the sanctuary area in the aisles she just pops right up into the sanctuary area passes the altar (with so much as a glance at the altar) in order to get to the other side of the Cathedral. She was oblivious tot he fact that she had just violated a sacred space by her cavalier and pedestrian intrusion.
Lord, teach us the true meaning of sacredness and the respect due to all sacred things, places, spaces, and times. Amen.
This brings us back to the question of language. The name of God is holy and sacred. Thus it is not to be used in pedestrian ways. It is to be set aside for sacred purposes.
Thus everything we flippantly remarks, God it is hot today! we need to examine ourselves. Did we say that as a genuine act of prayer to God, or was that merely a profane (meaning not sacred) utterance about the weather?
The Church also teaches the this respect of the sacred is also extended to the names of the saints and even to the Church itself. Thus we can carelessly abuse the name of a saint, or even of the Church.
Although the name of God is above all other names, all sacred things deserve respect.
Ultimately, your name and my name have a form of sacredness too. This is way it is considered such a mortal sin to abuse and disrespect a person's name. To defame, slander, and gossip about a person is to profane their name and it is a sin.
In terms of other vulgarises not involving taking the name of the Lord in vain we still have a problem. While such language may not be abusing a sacred name of God, the saints, or of persons, it is abusing the creation of God which because God created it has a form of sacredness that we need to respect.
As to whether other forms of vulgarises are sinful, the nature of the sin and its severity will depend on the situation. The vulgarity in-an-of-itself may not be sinful (although perhaps disrespectful to God's creation), but the context in which it is said may indeed be sinful due to possible scandal.
There is some other information about this subject that I have back at St. Michael House. I am not at the House now, but visiting in another city. When I get back I will look up this other information and perhaps post a follow-up on this.
BTW, the Divine Praises that are prayed at Benediction form an excellent counter to the blasphemies and curses of the world during the day. I encourage people to recite the Divine Praises often in reparation for our, and the world's, disrespect of God.
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