What is the Second Commandment and why is God’s name so important?
The second commandment [requires] respect for the Lord’s name. Like the first commandment, it belongs to the virtue of religion and more particularly it governs our use of speech in sacred matters.
—CCC, no. 2142
At the burning bush, Moses asked God for his name. God replied, “I am who am. . . . This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you” (Ex 3:14). The Hebrews treated this name for God with such respect that they did not speak it. It was honored in silence. Only the high priest, once a year at the feast of atonement, pronounced this name at the incense offering in the Holy of Holies in the temple. Out of reverence for the revealed holy name, the people substituted the name Adonai, which means “Lord.” Modern Jews adapt this custom by writing “G-d” instead of the customary spelling.
The Second Commandment calls us to the virtue of reverence for God, which trains us to know and to preserve the difference between the Creator and the creature. Respect for God’s name keeps us from reducing him to a mere fact, or even a thing that we can control or manipulate. At the same time, a gracious God desires to be intimate with us, even becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ and dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel, Jesus applies to himself the expression “I am” (cf. Jn 8:58), thus identifying himself with God. He distinguishes himself from his Father and from the Holy Spirit, whom he will send to the world after his Resurrection. This was one way Jesus opened us to understanding God as Trinity.
A name in some way conveys the reality of a person—the origin, the history, the very being of the person. That is why people are protective about their names and expect them to be treated with honor. The name of God obviously deserves the highest honor and respect. The Lord gives us a Commandment that asks us to reverence his name and not to use it in a disrespectful or manipulative way. When Jesus taught the Our Father, his first petition was “Hallowed be thy name.” We also praise God’s holy name in every Mass at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer when we recite or sing the Holy, Holy, Holy.
We also draw strength from recalling our Baptism, which initiated us into the Church “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” To be baptized in the name of the Trinity means to be immersed into the very life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s name sanctifies us. In Baptism, we also commonly receive the name of a saint, a disciple of Christ who has led an exemplary life, to remind us of our call to holiness. Patron saints—that is, the saint or saints whose name we have been given—serve as examples of the way to holiness by their witness to faith, hope, and love. They also intercede with God for our benefit. God calls us by name. Our name is sacred. We need to honor God’s name and the names of others to make our world a center of dignity and respect.
You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
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