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Saturday, 27 June 2009

Hieratic Language in the Liturgy

An article by Shawn Tribe on appropriate language for the Liturgy, in the context of a report on a celebration of a Solemn Pontifical Mass by His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, using the Book of Divine Worship, the liturgical book of the Anglican Use in the Latin Rite.
For a number of decades now, the matter of English within the Roman liturgy has been approached in a very particular way. Polyphony, chant and propers were all but abandoned as though the project of establishing continuity with their Latin equivalents was too difficult to undertake, even unattainable. As well, the form of English used was also relatively plain, as though this is what "vernacular" necessarily entailed for the liturgy.

I must have missed it first time around, well worth reading.
It seems important in any discussion of liturgical English to preface it with the following remarks: the use of Latin as a liturgical language is something that ought to be preserved in the Latin rite. This is not my personal opinion only, but also that of the Church which declared at the Second Vatican Council that Latin ought to be retained in the Latin rites. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which our tradition and the treasury of chant and polyphony written for the Latin language.

That being said, this piece is not about Latin, rather it is about English; specifically, liturgical English. It seems to be a given that the use of at least some vernacular in the Latin rite is now a fait accompli. There are varying responses to this, both positive and negative, but ultimately I would suggest that this is a liturgical development which is not lamentable of its own accord. It seems to me that there are some manifest spiritual benefits (if not also perils as post-conciiliar experience has clearly shown) to be found in the use of the vernacular within parts of the liturgy, particularly in the context of the Proper of the Mass -- most especially the readings -- and the Divine Office. Such a development -- applied properly -- in the present day Roman liturgy seems to genuinely manifest a legitimate development which is demonstrably for the spiritual benefit of the faithful -- though evidently, this does not exclude the possibility of liturgies celebrated entirely in the Latin language either it should be noted.

What has been lamentable, however, has been the application of the introduction of the vernacular in the Roman rite since the time of the Council. Perhaps this, more than anything, is what has left a sour taste in the mouths of many -- which is then reacted to as though there were a general incompatibility with vernacular and the Roman liturgy. The problematic application is two-fold. On the one hand, there has been the wholesale replacement of Latin in the Roman liturgy. This was never intended by the Church and further is not desirable as the costs are simply too great -- particularly in the domain of sacred music. Second, as it relates to the English vernacular specifically (and possibly other language groups as well) we have been subjected to a highly problematic English translation of the Roman missal - an impoverishment which is thankfully being addressed in our own day with a new, more faithful English translation of the modern Roman Missal underway.

There is, however, a second subset to the issue of the English of the missal which doesn't pertain just to the question of whether a translation is literal or “dynamic”, but relates also to the type or style of English that is employed. We are speaking here of course of what has been called by some “hieratic English” or, in other words, an English which retains certain older forms. Clearly in the new English translation of the Roman Missal that is underway, they have opted to not use this form, however a discussion of the principle yet seems worthwhile for future consideration...
Hieratic English language has become not only a more formal type of English, it has particularly become understood as a more sacral form of the English language.[emphasis supplied] Accordingly, it can be a quite effective vehicle by which to communicate the sacred in the context of the liturgy and is further in keeping with the Catholic tradition which seems to have historically shied away from the over-familiarity of the common vernacular of the day.

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