Confusing the language of the Liturgy with the language of personal devotion.
The Battle for the Soul of the Liturgy
26 June 2014
Tiernan MacNamara quotes F.M. Cornford's Preface to his translation of Plato's Republic (The Tablet, 21 June). The battle for the soul of liturgical language is far from new. Fifty years ago Archbishop Francis Grimshaw of Birmingham penned a trenchant Preface to the 1964 Small Ritual published as a result of the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy.
The Archbishop praises the quality of modern translations from one European language to another and compares such skill with the apparent desire for literal translations in vogue among ecclesiatical translators. The tendency to copy Latin syntax is, he claims, justified by some on the grounds that this is the solemn language of prayer demanded by the majesty of God. Others, he points out, insist that prayer, whether private or public, should be expressed in the simple language of ordinary people.
He suggests that whatever has become the accepted form of address to one whom we respect yet love should be the form to adopt when we speak either to God or about him. Slavish, ad literam translation will not do any more, he says. We must avoid anything that makes the language of prayer unreal. (The argument that liturgical language that respects the literal meaning of the Latin original is "unreal" is founded on a faulty premise: liturgical language is not the same as individual devotional language. Liturgical language affirms exactly Who God is so we can direct our prayers to the Father in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is a theological necessity that liturgical language is precise and in perfect conformity to the received Tradition, which for us Latins means we have an obligation to insist that all translations conform precisely to the Latin original, even if our English sensitivities may suffer a little. Catholics, if they be faithful Catholics, depend on the orthodoxy of liturgical prayer to guide their private prayer. Personal prayer is firmly rooted in the liturgical.) Tiernan MacNamara thinks it's significant that no one is prepared to publicly admit ownership of the present so-called translation (That is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the facts. The translators were well known to the bishops and other committee members, and the process by which the translation achieved approval was completely transparent. The reason why some raise the issue of responsibility is because many of the complainants were not included in the process. Perhaps that was a good thing.).
Adopting the language of liturgy shapes our relationship with God in authentic ways, ways that help us, for example, to think and act with Holy Mother Church. Is it any wonder that a generation of liturgical tinkerers have led so many astray by projecting a vision of the Church on to the Church which resembles more the flawed human face of men more than the perfect human and divine face of Jesus Christ?
Liturgy is the “soul” of the Church. Each Particular Church has its own specific liturgy. For example, Maronites celebrate their own liturgical tradition, as do the Coptic, Chaldean, Armenian, Latin, and Byzantine Churches. Liturgy is what makes a Church fully “Herself,” and makes the Particular Church a gift to the Universal Church. For this reason, we must respect and protect the integrity of liturgy, safeguard its power to transform and pass this sacred work intact to the next generation, so that through the liturgy Christ may continue to do in others what He has done in us.—Liturgy and Prayer, Third Pastoral Letter of Most Reverend Gregory J. Mansour, STL, Eparchial Bishop of St. Maron of Brooklyn, 14 September 2008.
Worship in spirit and in truth.