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Domine, Labia Mea Aperies: Why Catholics Who Love Tradition Should Not Use Profanity

In recent years, the use of profanity has spread like a virus in our society. Among those with weak or no religious affiliation, this is no surprise, but among devout Catholics who love traditional liturgies, it is a jarring reality. As Catholics who seek to uphold the traditions of the Church, we must, like St. Benedict, rise above the degradation of civilization around us.

So many of us, especially the Millennial generation, thoughtlessly adopt the customs of secularism. What tragic irony it is when the faithful sing the sacred words of the Holy Mass, only to utter profanity in trivial jests moments later! They utter profanity with the same tongues that have, by the benevolence of God, joined the choirs of angels in praising Him at Holy Mass.

In traditional liturgies, we are immersed in the royal glory of God to a degree unmatched either in general society or mainstream Catholic liturgies. We walk a royal road, and as the Gospel says, “To whom much is given of him will much be required.”1 We who love tradition must always hold ourselves to the highest standards of courtesy and dignity in our speech in order to glorify God and build up His kingdom.

From his earliest days on Earth, man has sought to gauge his position in the order of creation. The psalmist gazes in amazement at the firmament and declares:

For when I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place,

What is man that You should be mindful of him? Or the son of Man, that You should look upon him?2

The Holy Ghost inspires the psalmist to formulate the incredulity we all feel when we catch a glimpse of our smallness in the order of creation. The psalmist’s questions contain a note of the despair, which threatens to overwhelm man when he feels the stupendous weight of infinity upon his shoulders. When man views this vast splendor of the universe without faith in the Creator, he hangs his head in dejection because the infinite terrifies him, and he resigns himself to the ranks of animals, who do not have to trouble themselves with philosophical questions. This dejection manifests itself today in polished scientific theories that always boil down to the same premise – namely, that man isn’t really anything extraordinary. He just happens to be the organism that has the upper hand on Planet Earth. Modernists promulgate this idea to assist in erecting a post-Christian culture of apathy that degrades the dignity of man and the language he speaks.

The Holy Ghost doesn’t delay in providing the psalmist with His answer. In the very next verse, the psalmist pens thrilling words:

But You have made him a little less than the Angels, and crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands.3

To be “a little less than the angels” is no small thing, but since the Incarnation, mankind has found itself elevated to an unprecedented degree. The liturgy, great mother and teacher that she is, explains this in the offertory prayers of Holy Mass:

O God, who, in creating human nature, didst wonderfully dignify it, and hast still more wonderfully restored it, grant that, by the Mystery of this water and wine, we may become partakers of His divine nature, who deigned to become partaker of our human nature[.]4

The Second Person of the Trinity did not deign to become an angel. He deigned to become human. Humanity is that element of Creation to which Our Lord chose to espouse Himself, and for this reason, it is the only part of creation that has received dignity of being joined to God Himself not simply by deifying grace, but by hypostatic union.* When man realizes that the Creator is mindful of him, and indeed looks upon him, and in this mindful look elevates his very nature, then man must acknowledge the folly of deliberately degrading himself with the use of vulgar words.

If we ponder these passages of Scripture and the liturgy that speak of crowns, glory, honor, and divine nature as gifts for us, we might find ourselves catching our breath at the splendid thought of it. Man now has a tangible answer to his questions put forth in the psalm. And what an answer! It leaped forth in one Word from the royal throne.5 Myles Connolly beautifully captures the impact that contemplation of Christ’s Incarnation can have on man in his novel Mr. Blue when his protagonist states:

When God became man he made you and me and the rest of us pretty important people[.] … My hands, my feet, my poor little brain, my eyes, my ears, all matter more than the whole sweep of these constellations! … God himself, the God to whom this whole universe-specked display is as nothing, God himself had hands like mine and feet like mine, and eyes, and brain, and ears!6

Mr. Blue understands that since it is impossible for God to degrade His nature, then it must be true that in the Incarnation, He marvelously elevated ours. Falling to our knees in the Creed, the Last Gospel, and the Angelus, we remember the vast height to which the Incarnation has propelled us. We make these external signs of reverence to show ourselves and others the profound magnitude of our calling before the Incarnate Word.

When we allow foul words to pervade our speech, we make so many external signs of rudeness, indignity, and irreverence. Let us not cancel out our acts of reverence so beautifully ensconced in the liturgy.

All creation praises God, but only men and angels praise God with words. We must use this rare gift of speech for the Glory of God. Psalm 44 aptly describes the fundamental purpose of the tongue:

My heart bursts forth with a good word; I declare my works to the king; My tongue is the pen of a scribe swiftly writing.7

The human tongue functions as a tool for us to praise God with “a good word” that bursts forth from our hearts. Another psalm says, “May my mouth be filled with praise, to sing Your glory, and Your grandeur all the day long.”8 Our mouths cannot at once be filled with praise and profanity. Good words will not burst forth from our hearts if we give quarter to vulgar words. Whether we speak about the Creator or only about created things, we must, in both cases, use reverent words – good words.

As Catholics, we have the responsibility of building up the kingdom of God. Our words function as bricks. We must ask ourselves what kind of structures we build with our words. The Incarnation of Christ revealed and honored so profoundly in traditional liturgies is the light that guides the faithful along the narrow way. It makes clear to us our relationship with the Creator and His creation. We begin to see with the eyes of Christ, and our understanding of who we are and how we ought to act in our daily affairs grows. The initial void we feel when we cast off vulgar expressions will quickly be filled from the outpouring of grace that the extraction of these words accommodates. Those of us graced with eloquence will use our words to speak ornately of Christ, like architects who built in the Gothic or Baroque style. Others of us may prefer simple speech more analogous to a simple Romanesque church. Whatever style of speech the Lord has bestowed on us, we may be sure we are called to use it to build up a beautiful edifice for Him.

When we refine our speech, even those who do not know God will desire to listen to us. Our words will draw them with the soft fragrance of a rose and the sharp clarity of a diamond. Although the beauty of a rose or a diamond does not speak explicitly about God, it points to Him unwaveringly. If we cultivate our speech like a gardener cultivating his roses, and polish it, like a skilled jeweler polishing his gems, then indeed we will direct the multitude who thirsts for beauty to the source of beauty. Little by little, they will seek no longer our voices, but the voice of the one of whom it is said, “[Y]ou spoke and they were made.”9 Eventually, these searching souls will yield to Him, the author of all beauty, fairer in beauty than all the sons of men with grace poured out upon His lips.10 Then we will say with Judith: “You sent forth Your spirit, and they were created, and no one can resist Your voice.” 11

* Corrected from the original. Thanks to Peter Kwasniewski for the fix.


[1] Luke 12:48, Ignatius RSV

[2] Psalm 8:3-4, Baronius Brev. Vol. I (page 194)

[3] Psalm 8:5-6, Baronius Brev. Vol. I, Author substituted U.S. spelling. (page 194)

[4] Ordinary of the Mass, Baronius Missal (page 925)

[5] Wisdom 18:15, Ignatius RSV. Paraphrased by author.

[6] Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly, Cluny Media LLC (page 34)

[7] Psalm 44:1, Baronius Brev. Vol. I (page 394)

[8] Psalm 70:8, Baronius Brev. Vol. I (page 521)

[9] Judith 16:14, Baronius Brev. Vol. I (page 414)

[10] Psalm 44:2, Baronius Brev. Vol. I. Paraphrased by author. (page 395)

[11] Judith 16:14, Baronius Brev. Vol. I (page 414)

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