ASK FATHER: “God’s Holy Church” not “His” – inclusive language

From a reader…


Dear Father Z: You may have written about this before, but if so I’m not able to find your discussion of it. Where we say “His name” and “His Holy Church,” I have heard people, particularly women, and most particularly women religious, say “God’s name” and “God’s Holy Church.” Have others heard this, and if so, what is your take on it?

If people want to be silly and avoid using masculine pronouns when talking about God in ordinary discourse, that’s one thing. “God loves all God’s people and the many ways God created them to reflect God’s glory in and through God’s holy Church.” Blah blah.

If people take it upon themselves to change the words of the Mass and they replace pronouns in their responses, that’s an entirely different pot of beans.

What is merely silly in ordinary discourse becomes disobedience in liturgical settings.

The words of our liturgical rites are not their words to change. They are words that the Church speaks. The Church gets to determine what those words are.

We who are privileged to participate in the Church’s worship of God be aware that we walk on sacred ground. We speak sacred language.

The words the Church gives us to pray are not arbitrary or personal. We do not have the right to alter them.

I had hoped that most of this silliness had died off. I guess not.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liberals, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, What are they REALLY saying?, Women Religious and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. acardnal says:

    Jesus called God “Father.” He taught us to pray to God, “Our Father.” Moreover, the Church has taught us for centuries to begin our prayers by making the sign of the Cross “In the name of the Father, ….” That’s good enough for me!

  2. Frank H says:

    I hear that particular alteration every time I visit Milwaukee. Drives me crazy!

  3. Laura R. says:

    A particularly grating example of this silliness is the concoction “Godself.”

  4. rosaryarmy says:

    When I was in my early twenties, I briefly discerned with an order that shall remain nameless. Before praying the Our Father at Mass, the director of candidates said, “If you want to call God ‘Father’, that’s fine; but if you want to say something else, that’s fine, too!” It didn’t take me long to discern that I wasn’t called to that order.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    The new (and first) “Director of Liturgy” of our parish does this. I pray it does not catch on.

  6. Muv says:

    Laura, who is God’s Elf? Fr. Z, please can I change my name here?

    Some years ago my husband noticed that our local bishop (not retired yet) habitually used the words “… for us and our salvation…” After Mass one day I asked him why he was missing out a word. A truly bizarre conversation ensued, which went something like this:-

    ” Men doesn’t mean men as opposed to women, it means mankind.”

    “Fluff fluff burble burble.”

    “If you don’t qualify the word “us” it can be misunderstood by people who don’t know what it really means. They could think “us” means Catholics as opposed to protestants, or only the congregation here today…”

    “Fluff burble and flannel.”

    “Why don’t you say the word “men”? No woman with any sense is going to be offended.”

    “A bit more burble… It’s not in the original Latin.”

    “What is the Latin?”

    “Qui propter nos homines.”

  7. Simon_GNR says:

    “The words of our liturgical rites are not their words to change. They are words that the Church speaks. The Church gets to determine what those words are. ”

    But unfortunately the Church changes some of those words when it translates them:

    e.g. “…et vobis, fratres” literally translates as “… and to you, brothers”, but in the English translation of the Missal we get “…and to you, my brothers and sisters”. Neither “my” nor “and sisters” is there in the Latin, so what actually are the words of the Mass?

    Similarly, the English translation inserts an extra word which, I contend, changes the meaning in the translation of the Nicene Creed: Latin has “Credo…et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam”, but the English includes the word “in” before “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. This changes the meaning from saying that you believe the Church and what it teaches to simply saying that you believe in the existence of only one true Church: not the same thing at all. So, when I recite the Nicene Creed at Mass I omit the “in” and say “I believe one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”, which is a faithful translation of the Latin.

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Simon_GNR – I sympathize with your point, but it’s not totally correct. “Fratres” is the masculine Latin plural form of “frater,” and hence can mean either “brothers” or “brothers, including in the group any sister siblings.” It is just like “pueri,” which means both “boys” and “boys, including in the group any girls who happen to be around.”

    A masculine plural does not act this way in every instance (“viri” is just “male adult men” and doesn’t include any feminae hanging around), but there are quite a few which do work like this in the original sources. And my Latin teacher wasn’t any kind of feminist.

    As for “credere,” it can mean “to believe” or “to believe in,” depending on the English language quirks of expression. And even in English, “believe in” tends to mean “I trust in X” more often than “I believe in the existence of X.” When somebody says, “I believe in rainbows, kittens, and warm woollen mittens!” he’s not worried that you don’t believe there’s such a thing as rainbows and kittens, but rather declaring that he trusts their goodness or power.

    It’s a translator’s judgment call. You may consider it a bad judgment call, but it’s not the kind of dishonest translation we see too often in this world.

  9. Cantor says:

    Having been schooled in the great days of the Tyranny of Nuns, I was also taught that a pronoun referring to God was to be capitalized as well. (Venial sin category) I’ve never been comfortable with “his holy name” or “Then he turned to his disciples and said…” Sometimes the little things count.

  10. elijah408 says:

    When we say “his” Holy Church, we are referring to Jesus himself who established it. In a way they are denying the humanity of Christ when they just say “God’s Holy Church.” It sounds like we believe in a distant God that didn’t become like us to save us from our sins. Also, it is the new form of clericalism where priests think they know more than anyone else when they change the words of the Mass to fit their agenda.

  11. I often wonder if those who go in for this sort of language really intend one obvious effect, which is to depersonalize God.

    Imagine talking about another human being that way. Mother becomes “that human being who gave birth to me.”

  12. Sandy says:

    To hear that wording is certainly irritating. I have heard the substitution in “hymns”, if you can call them hymns. “God’s holy name”, instead of “His holy name” is sung, so I softly sing it the way it was written, before the feminists changed it. Our world is upside down these days. I sometimes think it is more difficult for those of us who have seen “the before and after”, who know what has been lost these last few decades.

  13. Joe in Canada says:

    We should trust the Church’s translation. Credo plus dative means “I believe in (a person)”, credo plus accusative is usually used for “I believe in (a non-person, such as the Church)”. So credo ecclesiam does not mean “I believe the Church”, it means “I believe in the Church”.

    The use of “God” for “He” etc has been going on for decades. I don’t think it’s all that harmless, as it is an easy way to attempt to change our notions of revelation and gender. I’ve heard theological explanations of it, but I’ve also hear explanations based on the sad stories of women who have negative experiences or memories of their fathers. In this case it normalizes the exceptional.

  14. Sandy:

    Grrr, don’t get me going on what the nincompoops have done to hymns. It’s bad enough that they spoil poetry and elegant expression, but in some cases they turn an orthodox expression into something vaguely heretical..

    In “Hark! The herald Angels sing,” we have a line that goes something like, “born to raise the sons of earth” — Eeek! sons! can’t have that! Slit is now rendered, “born to raise us from the earth…”

    Do I smell…Gnosticism?

  15. bmadamsberry says:

    The Bible often speaks of G-d with feminine imagery, but never once does it ever refer to G-d as ‘she’. I think that’s extremely telling.

    @Simon_GNR: By you changing the words at Mass, how does that make you any better than the priests Father refers to above? Besides, some differenced between the original Latin and the translation are going to occur, such as word order, etc. There is a proper balance to be found.

  16. wmeyer says:

    The inclusive language madness is absurd on its face, as well as something which makes English a tortuous construct. However, in Flawed Expectations, Msgr Wrenn and Kenneth Whitehead did a fine job in one of the appendices of demonstrating plainly why it cannot be used on scripture.

  17. jflare says:

    Gender neutral language…anywhere.
    *groans* *tears hair out*
    There’s a reason why I rarely attend Mass at any but my chosen parish!
    I simply have no interest in fighting against the typical politically-correct expectations people often impose.
    I’d say this concern and overly simplistic music–read BORING!–collaborated to drive me from any church-related choir and from singing at all at Mass. If I’m going to sing, especially in choir, it’s going to be with the original (masculine) lyrics I learned, or it’s going to be in Latin. ..Or it might be in English, in the case of hymns from before 1970 that I didn’t know existed until after 2000.

    I pity people who must tolerate this nonsense.

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: capitalization of His, I do it myself. But historically, it was not done before a certain era, so there can be non-scandalous reasons not to capitalize.

    Of course, most secular folks stopped the practice out of disbelief, and now believers end up doing the same thing just to fit in.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear Simon_GNR,

    if the Creed said what I interpret you think it says, “the Church” should have been in the dative, “uni sanctae catholicae et apostolicae Ecclesiae” that is. The “you” in “I believe you” must absolutely be a dative in Latin (and in German). The accusative after “credere” stands for the things you believe.

    That said, I think the Creed is actually equivocal here (probably including both meanings). “et unam, sanctam etc.” need not necessarily refer to “credo”. It can also refer to “locutus est per” (look it up!), viz. (I believe in) the Holy Spirit who spoke through (the Prophets and) the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    There is even, then, a theological difference (implied by theologians at least) between “credere in” (faith; belief in the full sense), as in “I believe in God”, and “credere + acc.”, which means “hold to be true”, as in: “I believe in the dogma of infallibility”. But to render this distinction literally into English (or German) would be a language mistake. English (and German) always has “I believe in”, except when what follows is actually a dative.

  20. katholos says:

    I will never get used to the political correctness of some of the women religious I’ve encountered since I was received into the Catholic Church almost twenty years ago. I left the territorial parish where I was brought into the Church because it went from worse to “worser”. The last encounter I had there was with the Sister serving as pastoral assistant regarding a prayer book she recommended. I’ve never seen text forced to jump through so many hoops to avoid using the masculine pronoun for God. She also insisted that since Vatican II we have “many” theologies — feminist, creationist, liberationist, etc. and that is it is now proper to use the terms CE and BCE instead of BC and AD. Needless to say I have moved on to another parish.

  21. Lynn Diane says:

    Here in the Bay area of Northern California we have had to deal with a lot of parishes, especially in Berzerkeley, using inclusive language. Our old pastor used to call the substitution of “God” for the masculine pronouns (He, His, Him) in the liturgy “Berkeley baby talk,” and so it is. The new translation of the Mass was quite literally a Godsend for those of us who can’t abide incessant “baby talk” from our priests and fellow parishioners.

  22. JesusFreak84 says:

    Aquinas College, in Michigan, did this when I was a student there. (Graduated in 2008 and haven’t set foot in Bukowski Chapel since then, so I don’t know if it made it through the corrected translation.) When I asked about this during freshman orientation, the sacristan, wife of one of the theology profs, gave me a very patronizing answer, which included the baloney line I got my entire time there, “We’re Catholic, but we’re Dominican, too!” and was basically informed that I had no right to question their infinite wisdom in interpreting the “Spirit of Vatican II” and the usual manure. It was one of the reasons I stopped attending the campus Masses unless there was zero other way to fulfill my Sunday Obligation.

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