In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the wording of the Second
Commandment is the same.
You shall not utter the name of
Yahweh, your God, to misuse it, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the man
who utters His name to misuse it (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).
The Second Commandment is really an expression of the
preceding. It prescribes the respectful use of Gods name and forbids using the
Divine Name irreverently. Implied in this precept is the duty to profess by
verbal communication our belief in the one true God.
From the earliest days of the Chosen People, vocal prayers
were part of Israels religious history. Prayer in the Old Testament is
addressed to God alone, both because only God deserves to be praised as mans Creator
and because in Him alone is our salvation.
Because of the social character of ancient Israel, vocal
prayers and hymns in common were of primary importance. The books of the Old
Testament are filled with such forms of communication with Yahweh. The Psalms
alone are one hundred and fifty religious lyrics that have also become part of
the Christian liturgy.
As we enter the New Testament, we find Christ urging His
followers to pray, not only privately but together. At the same time, He was
very critical of some practices of prayer among the Pharisees. He denounced
their hypocrisy, describing them as devouring the houses of widows while they
make long prayers in public (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). When Jesus was asked by
His disciples to teach them how to pray, He gave them the Our Father.
Following the custom of the Israelites, the early Christians
sang ritual hymns in their public assemblies (Acts 16:25). In this they were
putting into practice what St. Paul told the Ephesians:
Sing the words and tunes of the
psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the
Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God
who is our Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:19).
While encouraging vocal prayers, the Church wants us to be
aware of what we are saying or singing. It is one thing to pronounce the words;
it is something else to unite oneself in mind and heart with God whom we are
addressing. There is such a thing as culpable inattention in vocal prayer, and
therefore a sin against the Second Commandment.
Oaths and Vows
An oath is the invocation of Gods name to bear witness to
the truth of what someone is saying. The oath may be either assertive or
promissory. It is assertive when the Divine Name is called upon in testimony of
the truth of some past or present fact or event, for example, that a crime was
not committed. The oath is promissory when a person calls upon God to testify
that a promise made will be kept.
In the Old Testament, oaths were to be made by Yahweh alone.
They were, in effect, a profession of faith in the divinity of the one invoked.
Therefore, to swear by other gods was a denial of the exclusive divinity of the
one true God.
At the same time, an oath is such a serious use of Gods
name, that it may not be taken lightly. The norms for a proper oath were set
down by Jeremiah when he said, If you swear, As Yahweh lives! truthfully,
justly, honestly, the nations will bless themselves by you (Jeremiah 4:2). An
oath must be in witness of the truth; otherwise it becomes perjury. It must be
taken prudently; otherwise it becomes a desecration of Gods majesty. It must
be expressed honestly, which means that an oath may not be taken to witness to
A vow differs from a promissory oath in promising God to do
something which is better than its opposite or omission. Vows are often
mentioned in the Old Testament and go back to the earliest history of Israel.
Jacob made a vow to worship at Bethel (Genesis 28:20); Hannah made a vow in
order to obtain a son (I Samuel 1:11); David vowed to provide a dwelling for
the Ark (Psalm 132:2). There are frequent references in the Old Law to the duty
of keeping a vow (Psalm 22:26, 50;14; Job 22:27; Isaiah 19:21).
In the New Testament, there are two explicit references to
vows (Acts 18;18, 21;23-24). But we know from tradition that Christians took
vows already in the apostolic age.
According to the Churchs teaching, a vow is a free and
deliberate promise made to God to do something that is morally good and more
pleasing to God than its omission. Always understood is that a person would
commit a sin by violating the promise. Vows are pleasing to God because in
taking them a person goes beyond the call of duty to be generous with God.
The most familiar vows in the Catholic Church are those
taken to practice the evangelical counsels of consecrated chastity, poverty,
and obedience. They are called counsels to distinguish them from evangelical
precepts, which are binding on all the faithful under sin.
In the vow of chastity, a person promises God to sacrifice
marriage. In vowing poverty, the promise is to give up material possessions.
And in the vow of obedience, a person agrees before God to submit to the
authority of someone in an institute of consecrated life.
Vows are praiseworthy because they unite the one taking the
vow by a new bond with God. Actions performed under vow become also acts of
religion. Vows give to God not only a single morally good action; they dedicate
a persons will to the Almighty. Vows also forestall human weakness by meriting
special grace from God to perform actions that might otherwise be humanly
Blasphemy and Cursing
Sins against the Second Commandment include every failure in
vocal prayer, and every offense against God in taking an oath or making a vow.
But there are two sins against this commandment that deserve special attention.
They are blasphemy and cursing.
Blasphemy is every form of speaking against God in a scornful or
abusive way. Blasphemy need not be expressed in speech. It can be
purely internal in thought or desire. And it can become externally
manifest in actions that are blasphemous twice over: once because
of the internal contempt for God which inspires the action, and
once again because the blasphemer goes so far as to profess his
opposition to God so that others are scandalized by the blasphemy.
Since Jesus Christ is true God, any thought or desire, word
or action that is scornful of Him is blasphemous.
There is, of course, a difference between conscious and
deliberate blasphemy and blasphemy that arises from emotion or ignorance.
Depending on persons responsibility for his ignorance or emotional condition,
the guilt of blasphemy must be judged accordingly. One thing, however, is
certain. Our knowledge of God is a duty, and control of our emotions is an
obligation of the moral law. We should know who God is, that He deserves our
total reverence of His name, and we have a free will that, with Gods grace, is
to master our feelings. Most cases of blasphemy arise under pressure of the
emotions, especially resentment against God because of the suffering that human
beings have to endure. The secret is to develop such a strong faith that even
the hardest trials of life will be seen as visitations of a loving God.
Cursing is the sin of calling on God to inflict some evil or
injury on someone. In a way, cursing is a form of blasphemy. Every curse arises
from hatred of another person, to the point of wanting that person to suffer at
the hands of God.
The malice of cursing is twofold. It is a grave sin against
charity. To love someone is to wish well for that person. To curse someone is
to wish evil for that person. But cursing is also sinful because it invokes the
name of a loving God to ask that someone be harmed. Cursing, therefore, is not
only a failure in love. It is hatred put into practice, and asks God to confirm
this hatred by injuring the one who is hated.
The devil hates human beings because he envies their
prospect of heaven. Those who curse others are imitating the evil spirit.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism