Non-liturgical prayer takes its direction from the liturgical prayer of the Church. It is important that disciples of the Lord, eager to worship God in the midst of the communion of believers in the Church that Jesus Himself founded, pattern their personal prayer after the orthodox prayer (lex orandi) which the Church offers to God so that our hearts and minds are configured to the living and true God and not some other deity. The language wars fought in the midst of the Church truly have been epic struggles for the hearts and minds of Catholics.
Of course, the use of politically correct and dumbed down liturgical language is not unique to Catholics. Most protestant communities have issued at one time or another over the past few decades texts for communal worship that reflect the politically correct status quo and a culture of tolerance for sinful behaviours more than the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In many respects, the battle for the soul of the Liturgy reflects the battle for the minds of men and women misusing the tool of language to re-engineer Christianity much as politically correct speech has been used to devastating effect to reengineer societal mores.
Before moving on to a brief overview of Prayer Book English, it may be helpful to distill a few points from this wider discussion by way of outlining some principles relevant for appreciating the sacral language of Divine Worship: (24)
- Liturgical language is not so much a tool of edifying information as it is the simulacrum of divine encounter and revelation; it is not and has never been the diffuse idiom of everyday communication; rather it is the Church’s focused, concentrated instrument of mediation to effect, to incarnate our participation in the saving mysteries of our faith and to immerse, to wash the faithful in the figural meanings of Holy Scripture.
- Liturgical language is stylized, enacted speech with its own kind of mediated intelligibility, and far from excluding archaic elements it welcomes a modicum of traditional expressions and ritualized, formulaic conventions that “reach to the roots,” resonate in the auditory memory, and habituate an experience of worship wider, deeper, older than ourselves, transcending the gathered congregation in time and space to represent and configure our incorporation into the Communion of the Saints.
- Liturgical language is recursive and immersive; it bears and demands repetition, day by day, week by week, season by season, year by year, without ever exhausting its capacity to stimulate meditation and work ongoing conversion of life; its words are “poetic” in the sense of being athletic, even ascetic, by gently, insistently stretching the limits of expression in order to exercise, train, tune, and elevate our faculties that we might lift up our hearts to God and open out our lives in love and service.
Nonetheless, it needs emphasizing that liturgical speech by itself, even at its best and richest, cannot achieve these ends without the necessary structures of authority, authentic unity of intention, and manifest bonds of communion that are more than merely notional or aspirational, something more than wishful thinking. Words, of course, signify their meanings in context, by authority and intention, according to their arrangement, occasion, purpose, and the attitude of their utterance (ad placitum ex suppositione in the phrase of medieval grammarians).
Those from an Anglican background know that the rich words of the Prayer Book can fall flat and ring hollow when an otherwise lovely lex orandi is divorced from an authoritative lex credendi and leaves lex vivendi prey to the zeitgeist of “lifestyle politics,” setting souls adrift. What a difference it makes to be fully, unambiguously Catholic, to cleave to the rock of Peter, to subscribe to the Magisterium, and to trust the pastoral solicitude of Holy Mother Church! When the Ordinariate faithful recite the familiar words of the Nicene Creed, “I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” those words must mean something very different as Catholics than those same words once said as Anglicans. It makes a profound difference to pray the Mass with the Collect for Purity at the beginning and the Prayer of Thanksgiving at the end, clustered now not around an equivocal Prayer of Consecration (one not altogether clear about what exactly it is doing), but irradiating from the confidence of the Roman Canon and the power of the Holy Sacrifice. Such context can literally transfigure the significance of familiar words.
The article attempts to move readers beyond the superficial pseudo-arguments of a regressive mindset which holds and attempts to impose relativistic notions about liturgical language.
There is no accounting for taste, as they say, but it is a reality of the last fifty years of experimentation with vernacular liturgical language that viewpoints are many and fractured, in both Catholic and Anglican quarters. As Msgr. Kevin Irwin once quipped, in discussing styles of liturgical translations, “when two or three are gathered together, there’s sure to be at least four or five opinions.”(16) David Crystal, the accomplished and prolific English linguist, who has written widely on vernacular liturgical dialects, observes, however, that personal predilections about language are “relatively useless,” apart from an informed analysis and understanding of what liturgical language is and what liturgical language does in the context of public worship viewed from both diachronic and synchronic perspectives.(17) Liturgy, of its very nature, as the public worship of God and the recollected enactment of divine mysteries, requires a language set apart from everyday communication, description, and commerce. Historically liturgical language, even when it aims at intelligibility and engaged participation in the vernacular, is inevitably, to one degree or another, a specialized idiom (a Sondersprache), a register of language purposefully situated and one that takes its place as an integral component in the overall Gestalt of enacted praise, thanksgiving, penitence, supplication, and sacramental participation.(18) Liturgical language in the Catholic tradition is the verbal cognate of the stylized gestures, ritual actions, vestments, candlesticks, and architectural ordering of the sanctuary, themselves hearkening back to the historical character of ancient cultural forms and all of which work together with the dialect of proclaimed prayer to take the worshiping congregation out of the profane world into a sacred precinct for a dedicated and communal encounter with God. Accordingly, notes Crystal, liturgical language fulfills its proper function when it achieves qualities of dignity, stability, and memorability, and it typically, historically, has served these ends through the select retention of “archaisms, specialized vocabulary, and formulaic diction,” all to help transcend the inevitable flux and contingency of linguistic change and to shape an enduring idiom of public prayer.(19)—ibid., pp.139-140.
The place of the Coverdale Psalter in Divine Worship (The Missal), as in the classic Prayer Books, deserves some special mention. Ever since its inclusion in the 1662 BCP, its lyrical rhythms have punctuated traditional Prayer Book Worship and inspired a rich body of music. Some biblical scholars might complain that the Coverdale Psalter is not the most slavishly accurate of translations from the Hebrew, but no other English rendering manages so effectively to convey the musical clausulae of ancient Jewish lyrical poetry and its constant change-ringing parallelism with a vocabulary in many cases that is more readily intelligible and certainly more suited to singing and oral proclamation than most modern translations of the psalms.(42) p.151-152
cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter IV, Divine Office
The second event encouraging a revision of the Divine Office was the implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition in 2011. With new translations of the Collect prayers, the close link between the celebration of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours on Sundays, feast days, and during certain liturgical times of the year was weakened. Whereas prior to 2011 the concluding prayer for the various hours was generally identical to the Collect for the Mass that day, now the celebration of the Mass and the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours employ two often very diverse translations of the same Latin prayers. In addition, the other Latin texts for the Liturgy of the Hours need to be revised in accordance with Liturgiam authenticam, the 2001 instruction from the Holy See which guided the revision of the Roman Missal.
The first draft (“Green Book”) of Fascicle 1 was received by the USCCB in May 2014. The Green Book has already undergone review by the Bishops, and their recommendations were forwarded to ICEL last December. ICEL anticipates completing the final draft (“Gray Book”) in November 2015. After review and amendment by the Bishops, they may vote on the first installment in November 2016. The following table helps to illustrate the current schedule for the completion of the Green and Gray Books, along with a possible time for the USCCB’s canonical votes:
|USCCB Newsletter Volume LI March 2015|
The Conference may either send each completed segment to the Holy See as it is approved, or wait until all five fascicles are approved and transmit the full text of the Liturgy of the Hours, Second Edition for confirmation. Although the Liturgy of the Hours, Second Edition is not likely to be implemented before 2020 at the earliest, the Committee on Divine Worship and body of Bishops as a whole are dedicated toward completing a translation for the benefit of the Church in the United States that is both textually faithful to the Latin and musically poetic in English.