“Ask a Priest: May a Catholic Use or Display the Word ‘Namaste’?”

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Q: Many years ago, I was introduced to the “namaste” greeting and was drawn toward its meaning. I began incorporating it into my correspondence as I signed my name, then had it engraved inside my husband’s wedding band. Both of us are Catholic — my spouse is a convert. He had a piece of stained glass made for me as a wedding gift and had the word “namaste” put in the design. We were married 20 years ago. Over the years, I have begun to question whether we should have used this greeting. I cannot change the inscriptions, but I no longer use the greeting on correspondence. Can you advise me on this matter? Is it okay to display the stained glass (now in our bedroom)? I do not wish to lead others astray. -L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is commendable that you don’t want to “lead others astray.” In this case I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

The roots of namaste are traced to the Indian subcontinent. It is a customary greeting when individuals meet and when they part ways. It is usually accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upward, in front of the chest.

While the gesture could be identified with non-Christian peoples, it doesn’t preclude it from being used by other people as a form of courtesy. Some people in the West, for instance, might adopt the habit of making a slight bow when greeting someone, even though bowing is associated more with traditionally non-Christian countries such as Japan and Korea. Yet hardly anyone would think that, say, an American who bows is a Shintoist or Buddhist.

If anyone is curious about your use of namaste, you could simply explain it as a show of courtesy — a virtue very much in line with your Christian faith, which you would also want to share. Certainly there is no need to take down the stained glass — it no doubt has a lot of meaning for you and your husband. Besides, it is in your bedroom, which is a very private space.

By all means, also make use of explicitly Christian symbols in your life. Crucifixes, rosaries, images of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other symbols are time-honored ways of displaying your faith. Include references to your faith in conversation (“By God’s grace …”; “With the help of the Holy Spirit …”). And, of course, keep witnessing to your faith through the beauty of your marriage.

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4 Comments
  1. Interesting to learn.

    Seems the posture of a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upward, in front of the chest — is the posture of praying… and the Catholic priest when approaching altar or
    leaving altar usually uses such posture. It is the posture that has been used when approaching to ‘take the blessed bread’ . . . and then holding out tongue to take. (now its been said one can take in the hands in a
    certain way)

    Perhaps RESPECT FOR THE BLESSED PRESENCE could return if altar rails and kneeling (if able to kneel)
    were put back in place and the NAMASTE posture used when kneeling at altar. (not sure why the altar
    rail was taken away)

  2. The Namaste expression and bow is more than just a simple gesture like a handshake. “The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra,” writes yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala in Yoga Journal.
    So it is clearly not a Christian gesture and could cause confusion or scandal among those weaker in their faith. Why use Namaste at all? There are so many rich Catholic traditions to use instead, such as “Ecce, Fiat, Magnificat” or simply “Peace be with you.”

  3. Actually, I think I’m going to have to respectfully disagree w/ you, Fr. McIlmail. I subscribe to Dan Burke’s Catholic Spiritual Direction and he has a wonderful 5-part series on yoga in his library of articles (link: https://spiritualdirection.com/2023/03/12/yoga-isnt-an-exercise-its-a-spiritual-practice.) It goes into the roots of yoga and all of the spirituality intertwined in this pagan practice that goes contrary to our Catholic Faith. Using any of the terminology (including Namaste) and/or practices of yoga is in conflict with the Catholic Faith. I went through the training to become a Pietra Catholic Fitness instructor where we learned to be cautious and intentionally avoid using any poses/language/fitness flows that could be misconstrued as yoga. So I would highly recommend that folks educate themselves to avoid falling into any danger areas. God Bless!

  4. Motivation (intention) of an action is everything. AKA, THE SPIRIT’ of a gesture. https://thriveyogawellness.com/thrive-blog/the-meaning-of-namaste-why-do-we-say-namaste-in-yoga#:~:text=Namaste%20is%20an%20expression%20of,Te%3A%20to%20you

    If doing it as a single sign of respect, such as a handshake, or bow . . . I doubt God would be offended.

    If embracing Yoga itself as a means of ‘religious practice’ (external gesture for ‘the self’ and to simply ‘feel good’ for self . . . denying ANY notion of God…that might be spiritually dangerous. (thou shalt not have ‘strange gods’ before THE God.) Mortal ‘offense to God requires ‘full knowledge of an act being offensive’ sufficient reflection, and ‘free will’ . . .doing such with the intent of rejecting God.

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