20 February 2016

How to pray in English

That marvellous Roman document of 2001, Liturgiam authenticam, took up a hope expressed by the great student of liturgical Latin Christine Mohrmann: that modern European vernaculars might develop sacral, liturgical dialects. LA talked 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). The current Novus Ordo Missal goes some way to fufilling that hope.

Patrimonial readers, of course, will reflect that the liturgical tradition initiated by Dr Cranmer's Prayer Books had provide just such a vernacular sacred dialect. Last Advent, the Ordinariate Missal came on stream, so that Cranmer's hieratic English - although not his heterodox theology - is now a liturgical usage in good standing within the liturgical community of the Roman Catholic Church. I wonder what Professor Mohrmann would have thought of it ... I like to imagine her warmly approving.

Cranmer had a characteristic habit of expanding, padding out, his Latin originals. The original Roman prayers were so spare, terse, and elegant that - to put it bluntly - a literal English version might be 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 Ordinariate Use 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).

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.

The old collects were just too simple, profound, austere; too imbued with that Romanita which formed Western European culture for nearly two millennia ... for modern liturgical committee-men, both Anglican and Roman, to be able to tolerate them.

7 comments:

vetusta ecclesia said...


(Clearly not for publication)

I did Latin A level in 1962 and subsequently read Spanish and French at Oxford.I am trying to get back my Latin Thanks to Universalis I say the Morning and Evening Offices (NO) in Latin. I can pretty much cope with the Psalms (whose content is familiar) but have more trouble with the hymns. The parallel versions are different hymns. Is there readily accessible a fairly literal rendering of the office hymns that might help? Is there a Latin dictionary you could recommend for my purposes? I have enrolled in the LMS Latin course in the summer.

My email is nhinde@btinternet.com

Dale Crakes said...

Fr hope you will make at least some of your suggestions public.

Dale Crakes said...

Fr I hope you will make at least some of comments on this public.

ansgerus said...

Deus, qui conspicis omni nos virtute destitui: interius exteriusque custodi; ut ab omnibus adversitatibus muniamur in corpore, et a pravis cogitationibus mundemur in mente. Per Dominum nostrum...

In the German Lutheran Tradition, we enjoyed also a highly liturgical idiom, deriving from the early Neuhochdeutsch of the 16th Century, which was the official liturgical language of the Lutheran Missal called "Agenda I" until 1990. The above prayer which was proper for the 2nd Sunday in Lent read as follows:

Lieber Herre Gott, der du weißt, daß wir arme, verlassene Menschen sind und uns selbst nicht helfen können: wir bitten dich, halte du die Wacht in uns und um uns, auf daß unser Leib behütet sei vor allem Unheil und unser Herz rein bleibe von argen Gedanken. Durch unseren Herrn Jesum Christum, deinen Sohn, der mit dir und dem heiligen Geiste lebet und regieret von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.

In French acc. to a Paroissien Romain of about 1900 in my possession, it reads more literally

O Dieu, qui nous voyez denues force, gardez-nous interieurement et exterieurement, afin que nous soyont preserves de toute adversite dans notre corps, et purifies de toute mauvaise pensee dans notre ^ame. Par N.S.J.-C.

I beg all readers for pardon that I Hand to omit all French accents as I do not know how to write them on my German tablet, but what you can see, the liturgical languages demanded by Christine Mohrmann existed already, but they were mostly ignored by the compilers of the modern Catholic (and in the meantime also Protestant) liturgical books.

Stephen Barber said...

The best small Latin dictionary is Chambers-Murray, also known as Smith and Lockwood, though this is for classical Latin. There is also Stelten's Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin. For the office hymns the problem is getting back to the unrevised texts. Britt's Hymns of the Breviary and Missal would be ideal except that it uses, perforce, the revised texts. Similarly Connelly's Hymns of the Roman Liturgy, though both are useful and have prose translations.

Fr Tom Mendel said...

Though - as you rightly state, Fr - this collect has been replaced in Common Worship as the collect for Lent II, it continues to be used as the post Communion prayer. It works quite well in that position with the addition after "keep us" - Canon B5.1 again! - of words such as "who have received these holy gifts" and so we continue to benefit from the old, Latin, Patrimony.

John Vasc said...

"This superb old collect...does not feature among the Lenten Sunday collects in the modern Roman Rite"
But it is of course intact, Father, in the E.F. Traditional Latin Rite - the Sunday Mass I attended today.
I was interested to read that English version by Cranmer - as you say, apparently extended in order for the meaning to be unpacked. Did Cranmer perhaps feel he had some support for the use of repetition and synonyms to extend the phrase for descriptive and rhetorical emphasis, as they are general stylistic features both of the Hebrew Psalms, and of Pauline epistles (and of much Latin/Greek rhetoric in general - also found in many Latin Collects).

I wonder if this rhythmic parallelism already existed in English prose style? How far did he create it and influence its later use? It certainly became a powerful tool in late 16c Elizabethan prose in general (and in blank verse too, of course :-)