30 September 2009

Did Christians ever worship inthe vernacular?

Writing in 1959, something like a decade before the Novus Ordo Mass was rendered into the impoverished English of Old ICEL, Christine Mohrmann showed that the very nature of Christian liturgical language, from the earliest times, had been sacral and hieratic. "Christians sought for prayer forms which were far removed, in their style and mode of expression, from the language of everyday life. This tendency was combined with a conscious striving after sacral forms of expression". Taking the Didache , that strange early text sometimes admired by liturgists unsympathetic to what were to be the classical forms of East and West, she shows "a linking up with the Old Testament sentence structure and parallelism - such as we find also in the New Testament Canticles and prayers, and ... the introduction of Aramaic and Hebrew elements which clearly indicate a striving after sacral stylisation. There is here an obvious differentiation from the language of everyday life ...". Moving on to the introduction of Latin into the worship of the Church, she demonstrates, as I showed in an earlier post, that the dialect deliberately constructed for this purpose was deliberately archaic and sacral; based upon those pagan Roman formulae of immemorial antiquity by which fields were lustrated or the gods of an enemy city persuaded to desert it. The "monumental verbosity coupled with juridical precision ... wealth of words ... parallelism, alliteration and rhyme ... " in the pagan formulae are to be found, above all, in the Canon of the Mass. " A sacral style has been created which links up with the old Roman prayer of the official Roman cult". One finds oneself idly wondering if the members of old ICEL were ignorant of Mohrmannn's weighty arguments, or whether for their own doctrinal-cultural reasons had decided deliberately to ignore her findings.


Patrick Sheridan said...

And all this was before Uwe-Michael Lang's article in L'Osservatore Romano which has been held aloft as some original discovery or thesis!

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Interesting... I wonder if the Book of Revelation can be used as a further early data point. As is well known, its Grrek is heavily Septuagintalized, deliberately borrowing the grammar and phrasing of the OT. As it also describes heavenly worship, these scenes are coded in this antique/unusual/hieratic form.

Does Mohrmann address this?