Monday, May 21, 2012

Vernacular, quo vadis?

The Voice of the Church at Prayer
Reflections on Liturgy and Language
Lang, Father Michael (2012-05-08). 
Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

One of the fun things about a "real book" is that you pick it up and flip through it before reading. I suppose you could do the same with any ebook, but I tend to just open and start reading. I like Father Lang's style and was happy to see that Ignatius Press had brought out another study by him, this time on the important/critical and for me intriguing topic of liturgy and language. The site advertising the book gave a description including the number of pages in the book. Moving ahead in my enthusiasm for the topic, you can imagine my surprise when 60% of my way into the work I had already reached the end and found myself with the remaining 40% of the book consisting of bibliography and footnotes. Oh well, I guess I can admire that about Father Lang as well, n'est ce pas?

After reading the book attentively, I am wondering if I am entitled to express my own opinion on two issues, maybe three, depending on how you approach matters: 1) Given the existence of something called "liturgical Latin", what can we say, post Liturgiam authenticam, about the possibility of something like a "vernacular sacred language"? 2) Where is or how is "liturgical Latin" today? 3)  Could a return to the silent recitation by the celebrant of the Canon of the Mass be considered critical to healing the breach in our liturgical tradition? Not a project of a blog post you say? I totally agree. I wish I had the time and talent to research the book in three chapters with substantial introduction and conclusion, less 40% bibliography and footnotes, which these questions deserve.

Here's my favorite quote from Father Lang's book:

"The liturgical texts that have been analyzed in this chapter display a distinctive prayer style that is both Roman and Christian. The Canon and the variable texts of the Mass draw on the style of pagan prayer, including its juridical elements, but their vocabulary and content are distinctively Christian, indeed, biblical. Their diction has Roman gravitas and avoids the exuberance of the Eastern Christian prayer style, which is also found in the Gallican tradition. Mohrmann sees in these early Roman prayers the fortuitous combination of a renewal of language, inspired by the newness of Christian revelation, and a stylistic traditionalism that was firmly imbedded in the Roman world. The formation of this sacred language was part of a comprehensive effort to evangelize classical culture." {Lang, (Kindle Locations 1131-1137). Ignatius Press.}

On second thought, my book project would include a 4th chapter as well entitled: "The Formation of a Sacred Language to Evangelize Contemporary Culture". If someone else would like to write the book, I promise not to claim intellectual property, but only to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor and preferably as an ebook.


  1. I think the recitation of the Canon in a low voice is all but indispensible. This is a prayer addressed to God the Father, but it is difficult to actually pray it when one has to pronounce the prayer in such a manner as to ensure its phraseology is understood by the people. The versus apsidem orientation seems innately linked to a silent Canon; while versus populorum seems innately linked to addressing the congregation; an orientation that has instinctively encouraged celebrants to hold out the gifts toward the people during the words "take this, all of you..." , -a clear indication that the celebrant’s focus is on engaging with man, rather than God. These two ruptures of silent Canon and facing the apse are not hard to repair with good education of Bishops, Priests and people.

    Father G. Dickson, UK

  2. I'm convinced of the superiority and the necessity of restoring ad Orientem worship, the priest at the head of the people before God, but on your other point even Fr. Lang speculates about the recitation of the Canon in a low voice as perhaps being simply an accident of history. In Byzantine liturgy as I have experienced it here in Ukraine there are what are termed exclamations, which periodically come out while the Canon is being read independently sotto-voce by the bishop and concelebrants. The institution narrative itself or words of consecration are sung by all of the celebrants in unison. In the Roman Canon we have the "Nobis quoque peccatoribus". I guess I need to know more about the genius, the Roman genius, of the silence broken bby the elevations and the one exclamation. With modern day sound amplification all the people would still be privy to the experience we as altar boys had kneeling at the foot of the altar. I don't know what to say.


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