Friday, June 26, 2009

Cardinal DiNardo, the Book of Divine Worship, and Thoughts on Hieratic English in the Liturgy

Recently, one of our readers sent in the following report, which came in the context of an Anglican Use conference that took place in June at the church of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Texas -- which was designed by the the firm HDB/Cram and Ferguson.

Inclusive of the speakers at this conference was the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and Fr. John Saward, writer and parish priest of Ss. Gregory & Augustine in Oxford.

One of our readers shared a brief report and some images of the Pontifical Mass offered by the Cardinal according to the Book of Divine Worship, the liturgical book of the Anglican Use in the Latin Rite:

Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated by Cardinal DiNardo on June 12 for the Anglican Use Conference at Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church in Houston. It was a Votive Mass of the Holy Ghost according to the Book of Divine Worship; the ordinary was Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices; complete choir propers from The Anglican Use Gradual; concelebrated with Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth; about 16 priests assisted in choir.

The Cardinal’s Mass was noteworthy in showing us an American Cardinal celebrating Solemn Pontifical Mass in robust, hieratic English, with full choir propers, ad orientem, using the Roman Canon, with the threefold Domine non sum dignus, and Communion administered to the faithful kneeling and on the tongue.

Evidently, on those occasions when the subject of the "Anglican use" arises, so too does a debate, with some asking whether it wouldn't be better if the Pastoral Provision were to use the "English Missal" (a hieratic English translation of the usus antiquior) or the use of Sarum (a mediaeval English variant of the Roman rite) -- both matters which would require the review and approval of competent ecclesial authority it should be noted -- and others simply suggesting the use of one of the two forms of the Roman rite. This debate does indeed raise some interesting and fair questions for consideration -- though considerations which must also be balanced with the pastoral nature of this provision in mind -- but my purpose here today is not to engage that particular question, and I would ask that people try to set aside that discussion for the present moment to instead focus on another, broader matter.

I wish to tie back in to a comment made above: "The Cardinal’s Mass was noteworthy in showing us an American Cardinal celebrating... Mass in robust, hieratic English, with full choir propers, ad orientem, using the Roman Canon, with the threefold Domine non sum dignus..."

The questions that naturally follow for me relate more generally to the Roman liturgy today, and to a consideration of different ways we might manifest a hermeneutic of reform in continuity in the context of the reform of the reform, and further, the question of the additional potentialities (especially unconsidered potentialities) that we might bring to light here, not only for those who are already actively working within the context of these same goals and principles, but most especially for those who have not been.

Evidently, some of these matters (ad orientem, the Roman Canon, and the manner of receiving communion) are already on the table and are very familiar to many Catholics, but there are other aspects here which may offer a sort of epiphany moment to some, having been unconsidered, or not given enough consideration at any rate. What I am particularly thinking of relates to the matter of vernacular translations and its corresponding relationship to vernacular forms of sacred music.

For a number of decades now, the matter of English within the Roman liturgy has been approached in a very particular way. Polyphony, chant and propers were all but abandoned as though the project of establishing continuity with their Latin equivalents was too difficult to undertake, even unattainable. As well, the form of English used was also relatively plain, as though this is what "vernacular" necessarily entailed for the liturgy.

But in this instance we see a liturgy not only where both Latin and English were employed, but where the English used is also one which is hieratic, sacral and liturgical in nature; further, where not only the chant of the Proper is done, but where they were likewise sung in this same English and according to Gregorian melodies. (We will endeavour to bring you some sound clips of this shortly, so do watch for updates.)

It seems to me that events such as these might help to raise awareness, amongst all parties, not only of a particular approach to the liturgy, but also of the broader potentialities and applications of English in the liturgy, as well as in sacred music, far beyond what we have seen manifest these past 40 years.


In 2006 I wrote a brief reflection on the subject of hieratic English and this particular conference and liturgy has perhaps provided a venue to raise that subject anew for discussion. Accordingly, I wish to re-publish a slightly updated and abbreviated form of that piece for your consideration.

On the use of Hieratic Liturgical English

It seems important in any discussion of liturgical English to preface it with the following remarks: the use of Latin as a liturgical language is something that ought to be preserved in the Latin rite. This is not my personal opinion only, but also that of the Church which declared at the Second Vatican Council that Latin ought to be retained in the Latin rites. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which our tradition and the treasury of chant and polyphony written for the Latin language.

That being said, this piece is not about Latin, rather it is about English; specifically, liturgical English. It seems to be a given that the use of at least some vernacular in the Latin rite is now a fait accompli. There are varying responses to this, both positive and negative, but ultimately I would suggest that this is a liturgical development which is not lamentable of its own accord. It seems to me that there are some manifest spiritual benefits (if not also perils as post-conciiliar experience has clearly shown) to be found in the use of the vernacular within parts of the liturgy, particularly in the context of the Proper of the Mass -- most especially the readings -- and the Divine Office. Such a development -- applied properly -- in the present day Roman liturgy seems to genuinely manifest a legitimate development which is demonstrably for the spiritual benefit of the faithful -- though evidently, this does not exclude the possibility of liturgies celebrated entirely in the Latin language either it should be noted.

What has been lamentable, however, has been the application of the introduction of the vernacular in the Roman rite since the time of the Council. Perhaps this, more than anything, is what has left a sour taste in the mouths of many -- which is then reacted to as though there were a general incompatibility with vernacular and the Roman liturgy. The problematic application is two-fold. On the one hand, there has been the wholesale replacement of Latin in the Roman liturgy. This was never intended by the Church and further is not desirable as the costs are simply too great -- particularly in the domain of sacred music. Second, as it relates to the English vernacular specifically (and possibly other language groups as well) we have been subjected to a highly problematic English translation of the Roman missal - an impoverishment which is thankfully being addressed in our own day with a new, more faithful English translation of the modern Roman Missal underway.

There is, however, a second subset to the issue of the English of the missal which doesn't pertain just to the question of whether a translation is literal or “dynamic”, but relates also to the type or style of English that is employed. We are speaking here of course of what has been called by some “hieratic English” or, in other words, an English which retains certain older forms. Clearly in the new English translation of the Roman Missal that is underway, they have opted to not use this form, however a discussion of the principle yet seems worthwhile for future consideration.

So then, what of the possibility of using this form of English in our liturgy instead of a modern form? Some may be tempted to write this off as romantic, even unrealistic, but we should recall that even in our present English edition of the modern Roman missal the Our Father is still found in such English: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Recall as well that many of our memorized prayers, such as those of the Rosary, also retain this usage. Thus it should not be seen as completely outside the pale given that it does still have some currency even in our present day Catholic liturgy and devotions. Insofar as that is the case, there is no reason why the question could not be asked: why not the use this form of English for the English language translations of the modern Roman Missal itself?

Of course, even the simple process of producing a more literal translation of the Missal texts in modern English has created opposition from certain liturgical quarters who complained that even this was too formal, too “Anglicized” and, of all things, even too sacred. This seems to flow from a principle, often stated -- and also applied to other domains related to the liturgy -- that for the Church to reach people and be relevant to them, it must shape itself according to what we might call everyday culture. Of course, this seems to make some fairly sizable presuppositions about what does and does not reach people -- as though that which is outside the ordinary and everyday is somehow necessarily incapable of being comprehended or meaningful (something which certainly does not stand the test of our experience). It perhaps also fails to give sufficient weight to the principle of sacrality and "otherness," and the thirst for the transcendent. These aspects are particularly spoken to by the unique language, art, architecture and ceremonial life of the Church, which precisely lift it out of the everyday, giving us a glimpse of heaven on earth and making us aware of the supernatural realities that lay beneath the liturgy. Certainly in this instance then, there is a case to be made for the use of hieratic English wihtin the liturgy, for by being set apart from day to day use, it is is consistent with the liturgy's "otherness" and helps to emphasize the same.

In the second instance, the use of hieratic English would likewise align to our greater tradition of liturgical language. Hieratic English is comparable to what Latin was in the early Church. As Fr. Uwe Michael Lang has pointed out in his research, the liturgical Latin of those times was also highly stylized and certainly not representative of "common vernacular." We can make similar observations about the language of the Eastern liturgical rites and their use of more ancient and stylized forms of the vernacular.

Hieratic English language has become not only a more formal type of English, it has particularly become understood as a more sacral form of the English language. Accordingly, it can be a quite effective vehicle by which to communicate the sacred in the context of the liturgy and is further in keeping with the Catholic tradition which seems to have historically shied away from the over-familiarity of the common vernacular of the day.

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