Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, April 22, 2018

msgrliptak_halfQ. A caller on talk radio recently asked whether there is a difference between "freedom of religion" and "freedom of worship." He said that a political appointee keeps using the phrase "freedom of worship," never "freedom of religion." Do you have an answer?

A. Of course there is a difference between "freedom of religion" and "freedom of worship."

"Worship" (from the Anglo-Saxon root indicating the manifestation of "worth") principally refers to words and actions used in public prayer or in external reverence. The Sacred Liturgy is at the summit of worship; e.g., the Mass, the Sacraments, the Divine Office, paraliturgical devotions or practises. Hence worship falls under the category of religion.

Religion pertains to any aspect of man’s relationship to God. The Roman poet Virgil (d. 19 B.C.) used the Latin word religio for "reverence for God (the gods)." Cicero, the great Roman orator (d. 43 B.C.), apparently thought the word derived from re and ligare, signifying "to tie up again" (i.e., to link with God), but the precise derivation is unknown. However, the meaning is clear.

Use of "religion" in the United States Constitution at the very least describes man’s relationship to God. In that document, the word pointedly means precisely this. Article I of the Bill of Rights begins:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …"

One way to ignore the Constitution’s freedom clause is by using vocabulary that obscures its clear meaning. Thus, an oppressive regime can readily claim to ensure "freedom of worship," and even call it "freedom of religion," simply by allowing adherents of any religion the practice of their God-given liberty only within a church, or within a synagogue, or within a mosque. But the same worshippers are prohibited from exercising their right in the public arena; e.g., on radio or TV, in published works; in classrooms, in the arts; even in home catechesis; etc.

This is happening now, in various parts of the world. Yet the true exercise of religion means what the words say.

This is a general topic on which I have commented many times; specifically, that we, as Catholics, should insist upon defending our vocabulary of faith and not allow either the media, or academia, or advertising institutions to distort or misinterpret or even trample on our words and expressions of faith.

This holds whether the discourse is about doctrine or morality. We should not abandon our linguistic treasures such as redemption, Eucharist, transsubstantiation, beatific vision, atonement, ecclesial, papal, Mariology, baptism, hagiography, Angelus, theologian, contrition, Sign of the Cross, Grace before Meals, Liturgy, homily, charisma, etc.

Beyond courage and steadfastness of faith, a commitment to preserve the words and phrases of faith requires considerable reading and listening.

Those who would destroy the faith often engage first in the destruction of faith’s vocabulary. (Isn’t there a radical norm to the effect that controlling the vocabulary ensures controlling the debate?)

This is serious business, of course, and it must be taken seriously, especially by those who lay claim to a Christian character. At any rate, beware of "innovative" phrases when they relate to God-given freedoms.