Lord’s Name in Vain?

Q. My kids are wondering about using the Lord’s name in vain. They know that using God as a swear word is bad, but what about exclamations such as, “Oh my God!” What exclamations are OK?

Betty, Kalamazoo, Mich.

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:

The Second Commandment is quite clear: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Think about the meaning of the phrase “in vain.” The dictionary tells us “in vain” means “without effect or avail; to no purpose,” “in an improper or irreverent manner.”

God’s name is holy. What does the Church tell us? “Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2144). It must not be used except “to bless, praise, and glorify” God’s name (see No. 2143).

Our common exclamations which use the name of God are quite self-centered. They express surprise, anguish, disgust or whatever. But they do not “bless, praise, and glorify” God’s name. If we must exclaim, we should pick out something harmless.

I know a devout Catholic father of a large family who on occasion expresses deep negative emotions with a simple word: “Argh!” Tell your children to use their imagination and choose suitable exclamations for liberation of feelings.