Church Words Are Peculiar

One question that I have been asked from time to time is about a line from the Apostles Creed.  In our church life we use a set of words that are sometimes different from everyday life.  But then again, most groups of people, trades, organisations etc. develop sets of words and phrases that mean something particular in their local contexts.

Also given that our English language is a real mixture of linguistic roots from other languages, it is not surprising that the church has its own set of words that are “peculiar”.   Take that word “peculiar” – a word with Latin origins – and it has two different meanings.  The modern usage might often be “different from the usual or normal”.  But the other meaning is also appropriate being “a characteristic of only one person, group, or thing”.   Some of our church words are truly peculiar.

“I believe … in the holy catholic church …”  Apostles Creed

A question I have been asked often sounds like this:

“What do you mean Holy Catholic Church?   Didn’t you guys (Luther) split away from the Catholic Church?”

The key word is catholic – but you must note the spelling of the words.  In our creed (which is a Latin word meaning “I believe”) catholic is spelled with a lower case “c”.  It comes from two Greek words “kata” which means “by or with” and “holos” which means “whole”.  In English, the definition of catholic with a small “c”, means universal.

In the questioner’s mind I understand that they are thinking about the “Roman Catholic Church” which is often shortened to “Catholic” church/person/priest/faith/etc.  Notice the upper case “C” in Catholic.  That is the title of the church which means “the universal church based in Rome”.  And that is true.  The Roman Catholic Church is universal around the world with authority through the various bishops and cardinals and ending back at Rome with the head of the Roman Catholic Church – the Pope.

The term “catholic” is also found in the Nicene Creed “We believe in one holy catholic church”.   And that additional word “one” is the essence of the statement.  And that is what we believe – that we, at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (our title with capitals), are part of a single worldwide Christian church – which comprises our London neighbours – two Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada congregations and three Lutheran Church Canada congregations, and it also includes our Full Communion partners in the Anglican Church of Canada, and our brothers and sisters in the local United and Presbyterian Churches etc., and, of course, also includes our sisters and brothers who belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

When we have people new to the life of our congregation, we need to be mindful of the peculiar words we use (from Advent to Vespers). What words have you not understood in church?  For me, I remember asking the pastor once what a ‘beatitude’ was.  One of the confirmation students asked me last month what ‘liturgy’ meant.   How would you describe these two words?

Can you help me put a list of Trinity’s peculiar words?  Email me, call me, drop in to the church office for coffee on Monday or Wednesday mornings, we could sit out in the narthex for a conversation and share your moments of wonder and understanding at our peculiar church words.

Peace – Pastor Steve
From November’s Trinity Times

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Peculiar Church Words Defined

Liturgy: The short answer is that liturgy is our set words and responses that are used in worship. Our hymnal contains different settings of these words.  The deeper answer is that liturgy is the “work of the people”; a phrase that which comes from a Greek word, leitourgia, itself made from the Greek words for “work” and “people.” The best example is the call and response part of our worship – The Lord be with you … I bet you cannot help yourself but to respond.

Beatitude: This a short cry of joy like “You happy man!” The word beatitude comes from the Latin beatus meaning happy, blissful or blessed. The best examples would be from Jesus’ sermon on the mount from Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”  etc.

Narthex: The entrance hallway to the main worship area where the people sit (I could have said nave  but I need to stop somewhere). At Trinity our narthex actually flows out into the Koehler Fellowship Hall which runs the length of the building to the main entrance.

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