"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, December 9, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: St. Catherine of Siena and Jesus as Thou

I’m always willing to pass on some wonderful tidbit about the patron saint of this blog, St. Catherine of Siena.  BishopRobert Barron, who seems to be everywhere in the Catholic media, wrote an article on why we should refer to Jesus in the formal, archaic thou, and apparently it was inspired by how St. Catherine referred to Jesus while praying.  Here’s what he wrote:

On the final morning of the November meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we were treated to a fine sermon by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. The leader of the church in Seattle spent a good deal of time discussing Pier Giorgio Frassati, a saint from the early twentieth century to whom he and I both have a strong devotion. But what particularly struck me in his homily was a reference to the great St. Catherine of Siena. One of the most remarkable things about that remarkable woman was the intimacy which she regularly experienced with Mary, the saints, and the Lord Jesus himself. Archbishop Sartain relayed a story reported by Catherine’s spiritual director, Raymond of Capua. According to Raymond, Catherine would often recite the office while walking along a cloister in the company of Jesus, mystically visible to the saint. When she came to the conclusion of a psalm, she would, according to liturgical custom, speak the words of the Glory Be, but her version was as follows, “Glory be to the Father, and to Thee, and to the Holy Ghost!” For her, Christ was not a distant figure, and prayer was not an abstract exercise. Rather, the Lord was at her side, and prayer was conversation between friends.

Archbishop Sartain invited us to muse on Catherine’s use of the intimate form of the pronoun, in her Latin tibi (to you), and rightly rendered in English as “to Thee.” As is the case with many other languages, Latin distinguishes between more formal and more informal use of the second person pronoun, and it is the familiar “tu” that Catherine employs when speaking to Jesus. It is an oddity of the evolution of spoken English that today “thou, thine, thy, and thee” seem more rarified, more regal and distant, when in fact just the contrary was the case up until fairly modern times. These were the words used to address family members, children, and intimate friends, in contradistinction to the more formal “you” and “yours.” How wonderful, Archbishop Sartain reminded us, that this intimate usage is preserved in some of our most beloved prayers. We say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” and we pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Again, I realize that to our ears, this language sounds less rather than more intimate, but it is in fact meant to convey the same easy familiarity with the Father and the Blessed Mother that Catherine of Siena enjoyed with Christ.

Yes, St. Catherine visibly saw Jesus often, and how funny she would say “Glory be to the Father, and to Thee, and to the Holy Ghost!”  I could see her nodding her to Jesus and saying, “to Thee.” 

To read the other reasons for referring to Jesus as thou you can find the article at his Word on Fire website, here.  

One last thing.  Today is my mother’s hip replacement surgery.  Say a little prayer for a successful outcome, and I’ll appeal to St. Catherine of Siena, patron saint of nurses, to also pray for my mom.


  1. Thank you so much for this lesson! I listen to Fr Robert Barron all the time but had missed this one. It is very powerful! God Bless you and your mother - I hope all goes well with her surgery.