11 March 2017

Recent liturgical shenanigans in Rome; this blog revisits Mohrmann (1)

Unhappily, there are still people who wish to involve the Anglophone Catholic Church in new Liturgy Wars ... not least with regard to the English translations to be used in Novus Ordo worship. Again, we shall hear ... we already hear .. the same spurious arguments paraded in the pages of anti-intellectualist periodicals such as the Tablet. And now, this morning, Riposte Catholique tells us more about a probably iffy Commission which has been set up in Rome.

So, with apologies to those of you who are bored with all this, I am going to dive back in!

Here is a narrative which I think is often at least implicit:

In the Early Church, Worship was always in the same everyday language that common people used all the time. So, in Rome, as soon as Greek became less common as a language, Latin, the prevailing vernacular, replaced it. Sadly, as the centuries passed, Latin in turn became incomprehensible to most. So, happily, the Second Vatican Council decreed that all worship should be in the vernacular again. And in the simplest possible language so that the greatest number of people could understand it. Because this would serve the cause of Active Participation.

You are waiting impatiently to explain to me that the last three sentences represent a complete travesty of what Vatican II decreed. Well done. But I think it is important to understand that the whole of this narrative is completely erroneous, and constitutes a deception.

One of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century was a Dutch Classicist called Christine Mohrmann. In a long series of articles and books in all the main European languages, she demonstrated that Liturgical Latin (and, indeed, Liturgical Greek) were never intended to be be vernaculars; that, indeed, they were deliberately designed to be formal, archaic, and hieratic. I will let her speak to you in her own words (1957):

"Liturgical Latin, as constituted towards the end of Christian Antiquity and preserved unchanged - in its main lines at least - is a deliberately sacral stylisation of Early Christian Latin as it gradually developed in the Christian communities of the West. The Latin Christians were comparatively late in creating a liturgical language. When they did so, the Christian idiom had already reached full maturity and circumstances rendered it possible to draw, for purposes of style, on the ancient sacral heritage of [pagan] Rome ... As regards the plea which we hear so often for vernacular versions of the prayer texts, I think ... that we are justified in asking whether, at the present time, the the introduction of the vernacular would be suitable for the composition of sacral prayer style. As I have pointed out, the early Christian West waited a long time before adopting the use of Latin. It waited until the Christian language possessed the resources necessary to create an official ecclesiastical prayer language. ... the modern, so-called Western languages ... are less suitable for sacred stylisation. And yet we must realise that sacral stylisation forms an essential element of every official prayer language and that this sacral, hieratic character cannot, and should never, be relinquished. From the point of view of the general development of the Western languages - to say nothing of the problems raised by other languages - the present time is certainly not propitious for the abandonment of Latin".

Much Mohrmann follows.


Highland Cathedral said...

'the present time is'. When precisely was the 'present time'?

Fred W. said...

I would be inclined to think that "the present time" would refer to the present of the identified author of the quotation.....

Anonymous said...

'the early Christian West waited a long time before adopting the use of Latin. It waited until the Christian language possessed the resources necessary to create an official ecclesiastical prayer language.'. Which means that the pre-Latin church probably spoke a hodgepodge of vernacular languages and some Latin (with a bit of Hebrew for good measure) at worship, does it not? And so Latin was a hierarchical imposition by Bad Roman catholics , to be swept away by Good Localcommunidy catholics? I've yet to meet a good honest orthodox lay Catholic with much of a concern with the early Christian church. Almost all Protestants and converts however normally are. So were the Liturgical Movement/ V2 crowd.

√Čamonn said...

To answer Highland Cathedral's question the "present time" in question was 1957, when the lectures which form that book were delivered in the Catholic University of America.