Question: During a homily about doing battle against the devil, a priest said that the…
What are the different types of gossip?
Question: Although I hear the word “gossip” used a lot, I am not sure if I have a very good idea of what it involves. Is there a good working definition of it?
— Mike Mancotti, Washington, D.C.
Answer: Gossip is idle talk or the passing of rumors, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. The term also can apply to banter or talk of a trivial nature. But usually it is a word we tend to associate with uncharitable conversation about others not present. Gossip also can cause harm by spreading errors and or introducing inaccurate variations into the information transmitted. It is a sin of speech, and St. Thomas Aquinas includes it in his treatise on justice in the Summa.
We often distinguish different forms of gossip and sins of speech against others. “Reviling” is a dishonoring of a person, usually to their face and often in the hearing of others. It is usually rooted in anger and has a goal of being heard by others so as to bring shame or embarrassment to the one reviled.
“Backbiting” is the secret and quiet injuring of a person’s good name to others. It is called “calumny” when it is a spoken lie or slander (a written lie) about someone. It is called “detraction” when it involves calling attention to the known faults of others or passing on harmful truths about others that don’t need to be disclosed.
“Tale-bearing,” also called “whispering” (susurratio), seeks to spread embarrassing information with the purpose of stirring up trouble for the victim — for example, the loss of friends, job or good standing.
“Derision” is making fun of a person, not with light-hearted humor but with malice.
“Cursing” involves a spoken wish or command that another person be afflicted with some evil or harm. Sometimes cursing is informal, such as when someone says “drop dead” or “damn you.” These expressions are usually uttered at angry moments. Formal cursing involves the cold and calculated request to God or to dark powers to harm another person. When one has recourse to witches or mediums to do this, they also sin against the First Commandment.
All these types of gossip are an abuse of the nature and purpose of the gift of speech.
Liturgy of the Word
Question: A Protestant friend asked me why the Church reads the Scriptures out of a special book instead of just reading from the Bible. Further, we don’t announce chapter and verse to enable people in the pew to follow in their Bibles. Why is that?
— Name withheld
Answer: Ideally, the celebration of the word of God in the liturgy involves a proclamation of the word that is meant to be heard, not read along with by people. Further, translations of Bibles sometimes differ, and this makes it difficult to follow.
If, due to poor acoustics or poor readers, one has difficulty following the proclaimed text, they are free to use a missalette or other visual aid, but this is not ideal. Another factor is that Protestants normally use only one reading from which they preach and to which they ask the people to open. Catholics, however, use as many as four readings each Sunday, and this would involve a lot of page flipping.
Thus the Catholic solution is to use a Lectionary that, while containing biblical readings, is arranged so as to group together the readings for a given day on the calendar or a given feast day of a saint or event. It is convenient and standardizes the book and translation from which all lectors read.
Another thing to remember is that the Catholic approach is both more ancient and more useful today. Books and widespread literacy are modern phenomena. To go to a parish church in the 12th century and ask everyone to open their Bible to Isaiah 11:1 would draw blank stares. Prior to the invention of the printing press, books were rare, very costly and, for that reason, few people were trained to read and write well. Thus the Church proclaimed the word and preached out of it while the majority of parishioners listened. Even today, in many parts of the world, literacy is not a universal trait. Thus the concept of asking people to bring their bibles and follow along is both new and presupposes a nearly unanimous literacy. The Catholic Church is bigger and older than that. Our Liturgy of the Word also has more “moving parts” than the typical Protestant service.