Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. – Exodus 20:7
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the Second Commandment, “Among all the words of Revelation, there is one which is unique: the revealed name of God. God confides his name to those who believe in him; he reveals himself to them in his personal mystery. The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy. ‘The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it” (CCC 2143). The Commandment is phrased as a prohibition against disrespecting God’s holy name, but that is because we have a deeper responsibility to respect God, and showing respect for God’s name shows respect for God Himself and teaches us to respect Him in other ways.
We typically think it’s just about not using curse words or foul language, but that’s not really what it’s about. It can be sinful to curse someone or use foul language to attack another person, but the greater sin is in actually taking the Lord’s name in vain. Unfortunately, for many people the only time they ever say God’s name is when they stub their toe on the dresser or get stuck in traffic. To take the Lord’s name in vain is to use it uselessly and without purpose. It could also mean to make a vow or promise to God, thus “taking the Lord’s name,” and then go back on our promise or never intend to keep it in the first place. Possibly the most serious sin against the second commandment is blasphemy, which is speaking words of hatred against God and the things of God, such as the saints or sacred images, using God’s name to cover up a crime or to aid in committing a crime. This isn’t just a little sin, like we usually treat it; it’s a very serious sin, and perhaps even a mortal sin, depending on the circumstances, because it’s an offense directly against God Himself.
Every time we take the Lord’s name in vain we train ourselves to disrespect God. How can we learn to respect God in other matters if we can’t even respect His name? As the Lord said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater” (Lk 16:10). The opposite is also true; if we always use the Lord’s name in with reverence, we can teach ourselves to have reverence for God in other things as well. So, how should we use the Lord’s name? As the Catechism said, we should use His name to bless, praise, and glorify God, and to preach and catechize, which teach other people to respect God as well. How can we expect people to believe that we love God and believe in Him if we’re always disrespecting his name?
As Christians, we take the name of Christ, and in Baptism we actually take a Christian name. Our name isn’t just a word, it expresses who we are and who we want to be. This is why the Church asks people not to give their children names that are not “foreign to Christian sensibility” (Code of Canon Law, 855), although the Church would prefer parents give their children Christian names, names of saints or related to Christian mysteries, the Church only requires that the name not be offensive to the faith. This also gives a convert the opportunity to change their name, in the eyes of the Church if not legally, to show that they have begun a new life in Christ. Parents take many things into consideration when naming their children, and I would encourage you to consider a saint name, virtue, or mystery in the life of Christ that reflects the eternal life that you wish for your child.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.