Being a good speller is a curse. Mistakes that most people don’t notice stick out like a sore thumb to us—actually it’s more like fingernails on a chalkboard! In my experience, there are four church words that are mispronounced or misspelled more than any others: diocese, pyx, Maronite and pastoral. Some of these have peculiar spellings, or get confused with other words, while others just seem easier to pronounce incorrectly than correctly! Note that three of these words are three-syllable words, but the tendency is to make them into four syllables.
Maronite (MAIR-o-night). 3 syllables, not 4. This is an Eastern Catholic church with its own distinct liturgy, patriarch, and bishops, located mostly in Lebanon, and places where Lebanese have emigrated. As many of you know, I am Maronite, and the new nearby St. Sharbel Church is Maronite. The Maronite church is named for St. Maron, a Syrian monk who died in 410 AD.
The confusion with the word Maronite is that many people think this church is named for Mary, which is not the case. As a result, many people will say “marianite,” adding an “i” and an extra syllable. (This is incorrect, but just to confuse things further, there actually is a religious order of priests with a similar name, the Marianists—Society of Mary, who run U of Dayton, et al.)
Pastoral (PASS-to-ral)—3 syllables, not 4. From Latin pastor, meaning herdsman. The head of a parish is called pastor because he “shepherds his flock.” A bishop carries a crosier, a stylized shepherd’s hook. “Pastoral care” is spiritual care for the sick, the imprisoned, or perhaps someone who is going through a difficult time and needs to speak with a priest. Pastoral care can include the sacraments of anointing, reconciliation, and/or communion. A “pastoral letter” is issued by a bishop, or group of bishops, to address a particular issue that concerns their flock.
Some people change “pastoral” from a 3 syllable word to 4 syllables, by adding an “i” after the r, just as they tend to do with “Maronite.” I guess it flows better that way, but it’s incorrect!
Pyx (pix). From Greek pyxos, meaning “box,” which comes from that same Greek word. This is the little round metal box that we put one or more consecrated hosts in when we bring Holy Communion to the sick on a pastoral visit. The confusion is that when we hear the word “pyx”, we may think we are hearing the plural of “pick.” Often, a parishioner will ask, “Father, may I have a pick?” I respond, “No, but I’ll give a pyx.” Then they look at me funny! So, the plural of pyx is pyxes—(I guess!)
Diocese (DYE-o-seize). 3 syllables, not 4. From Greek dioikesis, meaning “administration.” This of course is the jurisdiction of a bishop. The ending “cese” seems to throw people off. Some want to drop the s and say “diocee.” Others seem to confuse the noun “diocese” with its adjective form “diocesan”, which is pronounced very differently—the accent shifts to the second syllable, and it’s four syllables long.