Friday, November 16, 2007

Father U. M. Lang on Christian Latin as a Liturgical Language

Recently there was a quotation given here of a piece by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. One of the readers over on Rorate Caeli, a Rev. Anthony Forte, has given a complete translation of that piece.

The piece is an important one. While Fr. Lang has been mostly known in the English speaking world for his important study of the practice of ad orientem, he has also been pursuing the study of Christian liturgical language with specific reference to liturgical Latin.

The recent piece in L'Osservatore Romano was titled Latin: Vehicle of unity between peoples and cultures and gets into important distinctions about the use of Greek in the early liturgy, the transition to Latin and how that does and does not relate to what we think of today as vernacular in the liturgy:

"This [liturgical Latin] was not an adoption of the "vernacular" language in the liturgy, given that the Latin of the Roman Canon, of the collects and of prefaces of the Mass, were remote from the idiom of the common people. It was a strongly stylized language that an average Christian in Rome of late antiquity would have understood with difficulty, especially considering that the level of education was very low by the standards of today. Moreover the development of the Christian Latinitas would have made the liturgy more accessible to the people of Milan or Rome, but not necessarily to those whose mother tongue was Gothic, Celtic, Iberian or Punic. It is possible to imagine a western Church with local languages in its liturgy, as in the East, where, joined to the Greek, were also used Syrian, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian and Ethiopian. In every way the situation in the West was fundamentally different; the unifying force of the papacy was such that Latin became the sole liturgical language. This was an important factor favoring ecclesiastic, cultural and political cohesion. The Latin liturgy was from the beginning a sacred language separated from the language of the people..."

One can see how this can lend itself to a much more nuanced discussion of Latin and the vernacular, moving away from an oft-made and overly simplistic assertion that Latin merely was the common vernacular of the time and it was for that reason and principle that it was adopted. It further contributes something of pertinence to the debate instigated in the English speaking world by the likes of Bishop Donald Trautman about the re-translation of the English in the Roman Missal -- where he expresses objections with the linguistic idiom being employed in that project, as mandated by Liturgiam Authenticam, on the grounds that it is not the common form of speech for the person in the street. It further raises up interesting questions such as the use of hieratic forms of vernacular liturgical language.

Of course, Fr. Lang is not suggesting everything must be all-Latin, all the time either, even while he promotes the use of liturgical Latin. The moderate, common sense approach he demonstrated in his study on ad orientem -- which unambiguously promotes the liturgical and didactic importance of that liturgical orientation, while also giving reasonable consideration as to the how that might be manifest in the modern liturgy -- is demonstrated in his consideration of liturgical Latin.

"The Second Vatican Council wished to resolve the question [of tensions with regard the use of Latin in the liturgy] by extending the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, above all in the readings (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 36, n. 2). At the same time, it underlined that "the use of the Latin language … is to be preserved in the Latin rite" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 36, n. 1; cfr also art. 54). The council Fathers did not imagine that the sacred language of the western Church would be replaced by the vernacular."

Unfortunately, precisely because it has become "all or nothing" [i.e. nothing] in so many places, linguistic fragmentation has resulted in Catholic worship.

I would encourage you to read the entire piece.

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