11 February 2008

How to pray in English

That marvellous Roman document of 2001, Liturgiam authenticam, takes up a hope expressed by the great student of liturgical Latin Christine Mohrmann: that modern European vernaculars might develop sacral, liturgical dialects. LA talks about 'the gradual creation in every vulgar tongue of a sacred style, to be recognised as the correct way of talking liturgically (sermo proprie liturgicus; para 27)' and the production of a 'sacred vernacular language the vocabulary, syntax, and grammar of which are to be proper to divine worship' (para47).

Anglican readers, of course, will reflect that the liturgical tradition initiated by Dr Cranmer's Prayer Books did just that. Roman Catholic readers, I hope, will recall that not long ago the Holy See authorised The Book of Divine Worship for use by former Anglicans in full communion with Rome. So Cranmer's sacral dialect - although not his heterodox theology - is now a liturgical usage in good standing within the liturgical community of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cranmer had a characteristic habit of expanding the latin originals, so that - to put it bluntly - the collect was not over before the congregation had started attending to what it said. This can be illustrated by the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite ... and in Anglican Liturgy as we shall use it in S Thomas's church here in Oxford next Sunday. Bold indicates Cranmer's supplementing of the Latin Original.

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourseves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul (Latin: in mente).

I venture to suggest to admirers of Fr Zed's magnificent and learned column 'What Does The Prayer Really Say?' that these elegant productions, deeply embedded in English liturgical culture, are worthy to be considered alongside the dreadful old ICEL translations and Fr Zed's literal renderings and (when published) the new ICEL versions. Authentic ecumenism!

Just one fly in the ointment. This superb old collect, from the Sacramentary sent by Pope Hadrian I to Charlemagne, does not feature among the Lenten Sunday collects in the modern Roman Rite ... which eliminates all five of the Sunday collects before Palm Sunday and replaces three of them with new compositions (two of these 'worked up' from some phrases found in the Mozarabic Rite). The Anglican Common Worship also eliminates them. Why are modern liturgical committee-men, both Anglican and Roman, so hostile to the way in which the the Roman Rite prayed, during Lent, for 1600 years, that they cannot allow just one of these prayers to survive uncensored?


Scelata said...

"a hope expressed by the great student of liturgical Latin Christine Mohrmann: that modern European vernaculars might develop sacral, liturgical dialects."

It is very difficult to entertain such hopes when one is asked to worship the Almighty in such words as this:
When He rolls up his sleeves, He aint just puttin' on the ritz, our God is an awesome God."

But nothing is impossible with God.
Just because our parish uses such sung prayer today for "big" celebrations doesn't mean that next time the bishop officiates we won't use something with a touch more.... solemnity? grandeur? beauty?

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Little Black Sambo said...

"You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you."
Run for your lives!

Seth Kasten said...

You write about not denying Jews the privilege of recognizing Christ as Saviour. But the traditional prayer suggests that Jews cannot possibly be anything but ignorant, hard of heart, and contemptuous of God's word, if they are good Jews (as Jesus was, of course). Problems with this prayer are neither caterwauling
(one t, please!) or racist, and it might be contemptuous to believe that they are. We live in such a broken, hate-filled world. All you have to do is what Jesus asked of you-- to love God and your neighbor. Can you love a Jewish neighbor even he is loyal to his own faith?

C. Wingate said...

One wonders whether Cranmer's English had nearly the same syllable count as the Latin.