Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alcuin Reid reviews Britt's Dictionary of the Psalter

A Dictionary of the Psalter:
Containing the Vocabulary of the Psalms, Hymns, Canticles, and Miscellaneous Prayers of the Breviary Psalter

by Fr. Matthew Britt, OSB

(Product Link)

Reviewed by Dr. Alcuin Reid

Many clergy, religious and laity who are discovering the beauty and value of the older liturgical rites anew suffer from the educational conspiracy of recent decades that has meant that they have been taught no Latin. They may have an understanding of the meaning of the more common liturgical texts - that is not difficult - but when it comes to the more complex Latin of the Divine Office or of the proper prayers of the Mass, they struggle.

Certainly nothing can replace courses in Latin vocabulary and grammar studied over time and under the supervision of a qualified instructor. However for some, such courses may be a luxury in terms of time or money that may not be immediately available. What is the priest, seminarian, novice or layman to do in order to unlock the ecclesiastical Latin that is integral to the usus antiquior, especially the Divine Office?

A number of 'self-help' books exist in print, and now that range is augmented by the reprinting of this splendid Dictionary. Originally compiled by Dom Matthew Britt as a guide to monastic novices, it contains over 2,700 entries written to aid the comprehension of those who pray the Divine Office according to the more ancient uses, both Roman and Monastic. Given the correspondence between the psalter and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and other sacraments, the Dictionary will be of assistance with these also.

Again, it must be said, this is not a replacement for the work of learning Latin grammar, but it will certainly assist in building a comprehension of the Vulgate psalter as used in the Sacred Liturgy. The Introduction to the Dictionary, brief as it is, will assist in comprehending fundamental grammatical points and indeed in gaining a basic understanding of the Vulgate Psalter itself.

Britt's entries are comprehensive, giving context and meaning(s) and, where apposite, comparative uses. Later scholars (the book was first published in 1928) would no doubt have further points to add, but that does not take away from the value of all that is compiled here.

This is a sturdy, hard-bound reference book which will stand up to the constant reference to which it will be put. My only reservation is that the reprinting seems (hopefully only in the copy I have) to be a little faint. But Preserving Christian Publications are once again to be congratulated in rendering the Church a fine service in placing this resource into our hands anew, “ut mens concordet voci” as St Benedict desired.

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