Religious Platitudes

The problem with religious platitudes is that they are exactly that: flat (from the French, plat). They are usually true, or at least half-true, but they are uttered unthinkingly, or with a vague sense that they are appropriate in the circumstances, and have become thin with over-use. So, when somebody dies, there are well-intentioned mutterings about the deceased being ‘at peace now,’ or, rather presumptuously to Catholic ears, ‘with Jesus in heaven.’ Meanwhile, I am busy praying for the dead person’s soul and the forgiveness of their sins, not presuming but hoping, with firm faith and trust, that our merciful Lord will indeed forgive. The comfort offered by the platitude is no comfort at all if it obscures rather than illumines and prevents us responding as we might.

Today’s memoria of the Holy Rosary, instituted as a thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto, reminded me that love of Our Lady has given rise to a large number of quite cringe-making platitudes concerning her. They do her an injustice even as they seek to honour her. Mary is indeed our mother, but she is first and foremost the Mother of God, a woman of such unique faith, courage and holiness that she inspires a loving awe, a reverent fear, as she directs our gaze towards her Son, Jesus Christ. The wonderful array of titles with which the Church has invested her are the measure of this, each of them worth pondering carefully. Her appearances in the New Testament are comparatively few, but each one is telling. Today, if you have a moment or two, read through the gospel for the feast, Luke 1.26-38, and ask yourself what it means to be the handmaid of the Lord (and if you happen to be male, ask yourself the same question because the whole Church is feminine before God). The answer may disconcert you.


3 thoughts on “Religious Platitudes”

  1. Thank you for this reminder. I pray that we all, who profess ourselves as Christian, may respond each day unhesitatingly with Our Lady’s dedication, faith & love. Bless you Sister Catherine.

  2. I suspect that many of us are guilty of the platitudes that you describe. I always understood and still understand that prayer for those who have died for the repose of their soul are about firstly God’s forgiveness for them and that their unity with him will be in accordance with the promises made to us, particularly from Revelation. Sharing in his renewed Kingdom.

    It does seem that the hope we are expressing in that prayer might be taken as ‘instant” union with God, but to me that does seem to be presumptive of us, as if we can actually think for God, which is even more presumptive.

    And the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Jesus’ mother has her place, venerated for her unique role, but not worshiped in her own right, as if, being put in place of God, The danger of idolatry is only too real if we do so.

    • The Catholic Church is very clear about the points you mention, Ernie. For example, there is a distinction between the worship given only to God, latria, the special worship given to Our Lady, hyperdulia, and the worship we give to one another, dulia. The latter is the kind meant in the marriage service, ‘With my body I thee worship’. I don’t think there is ever any confusion between the three although Northerners, especially those of a more Protestant character, may shiver a little at some of the exuberance of Southern Marian devotion! Again, in praying for the repose of a soul, we know that God is merciful and forgiving, but we do not presume on his goodness. Only the saints can be said with certainty to be ‘in heaven’but we all hope to attain heaven one day, don’t we?

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