The right person

I devote a lot of time in my comms workshops to what I call the use of voice. First person. Second person. Third person. Plural. Singular. It makes a difference. Many participants, when talking about or referring to the company or organisation they work for, will inadvertently use THEY, thus distancing themselves. Using WE would be more inclusive. It’s a little thing that we don’t think enough about. But changing the voice we use during a presentation can shift the direction of our message, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Sometimes I think I preach to deaf ears. But occasionally, someone really gets it. And that makes me happy. The world would be a better place were we more conscious of our choice of words.

I read today (thanks, LB) about a Catholic priest in Phoenix, Arizona, who unthinkingly changed the voice in the baptismal liturgy.

Instead of saying ‘I baptise you…’ he said ‘We baptise you…’

I think the first person singular is accurate – he’s the one doing the baptising. But I can see where he would think the first person plural more appropriate as he’s the one representing the church as a whole.

Anyway, when some pedant brought this to the attention of the church authorities it transpired that he had done what he was forbidden to do:

… according to the Vatican, no priest shall add, remove or change “anything in the liturgy on his own authority”.

The Vatican has now said that all baptisms he performed since 2017 are invalid and will have to be redone. And as baptism is the first in a series of sacraments, an invalid baptism invalidates subsequent sacraments, like confession, communion, and confirmation.

I’m a pedant, too. Had I been present at one of those baptisms, I might have wondered why it was first person plural not singular. I might even have asked him if there had been a change to the words. But never for a minute would I have thought it enough to invalidate the sacrament.

A step too far perhaps?


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3 Responses

  1. The sort of mistake that leads to progress – for those prepared to make use of it.

    And remember that there are also “We inclusive”, i.e. our side and the people addressed, and “We exclusive” – just our side.

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