Page 2, 24th December 1942

24th December 1942
Page 2
Page 2, 24th December 1942 — SOME DIFFICULTIES OF AN ENGLISH LITURGY The Question of Music

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People: E. M. PECK


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StR,—The question of a vernacular liturgy has become a hardy annual and provides seasonable merriment for angels and for men. It will be a shock to St. Edmund of Canterbury, for instance, to learn that the Sarum Rite was in English. On the other hand, it is a little difficult to see what " the language of the Church (which was) for long centuries the passport to the furthest ends of Christendom " has to do, one way or the other, with proposals for a vernacular liturgy now. Plainly, the language of the Church is no longer the " passport" (and that seems a curious wind to ese) to the furthest ends of Christendom. and there is little enough chance of it ever becoming so again. Your correspondents seem to be very inadequately informed in liturgical history and so gaily make suggestions and unit nations that create a deal of innocent amusement in presbyteries and monasteries throughout the land, but which are hardly likely to solve a very complicated problem. Let us review some of the factors in the problem.

It' is well known that the question of vernacular liturgies was discussed at the Council of Trent and opposed because the Reformers were making capital out of it at the time. Vernacular liturgies at this time were doctrinally tendentious, as anyone who has studied the evolution of the Book of Common Prayer knows. A matter of ritual was turned into a dogmatic controversy. The " Lord's Supper " became a prayer-meeting and all efficacy was denied to the Mass as an action. The vernacular is essential to that theory. This danger has passed and so, presumably, that reason for opposing the use of vernacular liturgics. It would seem that there is no principle involved, for the Church does permit the use of vernaculars, e.g., Arabic. Further, the argument that Latin is a sign of the unity and universality of the Church is palpably not true, and can only have been formulated by those who arrogantly assume that the Church is coterminous with Western Civilisation. The Mass (or the Liturgy, as the Eastern Catholics call it) is said in the Catholic Church in over a dozen languages, Greek, Syriac, Old Slavonic and the rest. The real reason why we have a Latin Liturgy in this country is a historical one. We received the Faith from Rome, and just as the daughter churches of, say, Antioch or Alexandria, took their rite and language from the Mother Church, so did we. Since churchmen, whether clerical or lay, are notoriously conservative, we have kept the rite and language of Rome, and it was the Roman Liturgy in the Latin tongue (Vespers and all) that was a powerful help in converting our rude forefathers (see Tiede, Hist. Eccl.1, c. 2(u).

Our whole Liturgy is saturated with Rome, with Roman saints, with Roman customs, with Roman geography and associations of every sort. It is sung (a point most of ydur correspondents seem to overlook) to a music Roman at least by baptism and peculiarly fitted to the Latin tongue, When, then, suggestions are made for an English Liturgy, let us at least envisage the whole problem in all its complexity. An English Liturgy involves the virtual creation of a new rite. It is not just a question of putting Messrs. So-and-So's popular translation of the Missal on the altar and getting on with the job. For one thing, and with all due respect to the painstaking but uninspired translators of liturgical books, the Liturgy has not yet been translated into English,. and as I scrutinise their tortured and largely incomprehensible versions, I ask myself, Who is to do this stupendous task? It is true, we look forward to a new translation of the Bible by Mgr. Knox and that no doubt will help, but then I suppose all sortg of questions of copyright and vested interests will arise to complicate matters. Nor, in the present state of Canon Law, is there the least likelihood of a corrected Authorised Version being permitted. At present, all vernacular versions used for public reading in church must be translations of the Vulgate.

Another question that constantly bothers me is, What music, if any, are we to use for our new translated. liturgy? I notice it is the unmusical who are keenest on a vernacular liturgy I This attitude is, I suppose, one more result of a depleted liturgical practice, of the almost universal prevalence of Low Masses. Or perhaps we are to be regaled with English hymns while the priest gets on with his vernacular liturgy! In spite of the fact that some Anglican churches and communities have adapted the chant to English texts, it is almost universally agreed by musicians of repute that English and plains6ng simply do not march together. What then? Is it likely that an army of musical geniuses will spring up in a night and provide us with adequate musical settings for every Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion for every Mass of the year? But, you say, we don't sing them now! We monotone them drearily. But what of the Ordinary? Arc we to return to the good old days of Turner in F and what not?

The matter is no easier for Vespers and Complinc. Or are the Vespers envisaged merely ordinary Sunday Vespers translated? In that case, it would not be a liturgical office and would have all the disadvantages of an unvarying monotone.. If you are going to have the Vespers of the Church in the vernacular, this would involve the printing of vast numbers of books, set out in a manner such as they have not hitherto been printed. You cannot have choral Vespers if the book sends you hopping here and there for various parts of the service. Again, the whole question of music comes up. Vespers is essentially a choral office, and even if one fries the dangefous business of adapting plainsong melodies, the work would be long and arduous and probably unsatisfactory. It is true there are sundry settings of Byrd and the Elizabethan composers for the Magnifica and Nunc dinattis, but how many parish choirs are Ray to he able to ling them? Even Compline, a it is to be a liturgical office, has a sufficient number of variations to make it necessary to have the right kind of books.

I am not much impressed about the business of " catching Anglicans " or converting England by vernacular Vespers. The Church of England is far from satisfied with its present form of worship, and I believe Mattins and Evensong no longer attract their people as they did. Indeed, one wonders whether they ever did. Wesley's revival in the eighteenth and the Stigginses and Chadbands who stalk through the nineteenth century give reason for doubt.

And this raises another question. Perhaps the most cogent reason for a vernacular liturgy is that it engages the attention of the congregation and saves worship from formalism. Yet the glorious literature of the Anglican Prayer Book has not done this for the people, and the sonorous and graceful Elizabethan English of that book is largely incomprehensible and distasteful

to the average twentieth century Englishman. If we are to have a vernacular lituigy it must he in modern English. That means, of course, that a liturgy will need re-translating every two hundred yeats or so. Some may say. " And so it ought to be." In any case, the possibility should be faced.

For my part, I think the root of the trouble is deeper. Men lost, airing with their sense of community and corporate responsibility, the feeling for public worship. What people really like nowadays, I am told over and over again, is nice, warm homely services, with lots of sentimental hymns, sting as badly as you can, and candles and incense. And since Benediction is not a strictly liturgical service (and here I raise another hornets' nest), I do not see why the 0 Salutaris and Tannin' ergo should not be in English. It is a bi-lingual service already. What we have to do, then, is to restore that'sense of worship to our people. I happen to believe this can be done, especially with the young, who make litIte difficulty over plainsong or Latin. The reform, it seems to me, must be brought about in the realm of ideas, of doctrine, and that is the only guarantee of a real change. What part a vernacular liturgy can play in this reform it is hard to say, but in any case let us face all the implications of the question. I do not say that the difficulties I have raised are insuperable. I only ask that they should be faced.

J. D. CRICHTON (Rev.).

Our Lady of the Wayside, Stratford Road, Shirley, Birmingham.

Experience of Converts and Children SIR,—May I add to the remarks already made in this matter of the 1,iiurgy and language, that of the very many women converts I have known, and instructed (of all ages and kinds of education, from " high-brow " to almost illiterate), I have found in every case that they liked the Latin. Those whose knowledge, even of English, is limited, find, very soon, that they become familiar with the better known parts of the Mass, and the hymns at Benediction—arid it obviously adds to thc attraction rather than otherwise. have spoken to children, and young people up to sixteen and seventeen, too, and in almost every case they arc against any alteration.

It seems to me that, apart from religious considerations, any contact with another language is good—broadening to the mind and sympathies—and as for " leakage "—those who would " leak " will do so in any case, and those of good will, as usual, will persevere in any case, for these things have little .to do with such considerations. Equally, there is psychological value in the romance and mystery attached to the different language which appeals to as many non-Catholics as it repels. Most people like having a special language for worshipping God, witness how so many children prefer the " Thee " and " Thou " for addressing God rather than " You."

(Miss) G. HURRPLI.. 21, Derby Road, Haslemere.

Another Convert SIR,—I am a recent convert to the Catholic Church, and as one who for three-quarters of a century has been a member of the Church of England and accustomed to take a prayerful part in its beautiful and devotional Communion Services, conducted in my native tongue, I feel a deep and very painful sense of loss when I attend Mass, Not only is the language foreign to me, but the prayers arc so rapidly and so inaudibly said, that one's mind fails to register any intelligible verbal response.

Though one is conscious of taking part in a supreme act of worship, not being able to join in that act in the words of one's mother tongue in which one habitually plays, is a most grievous loss ahich leaves one with a painful sense of frustration.

I beg to sign myself, Ores OF MR. BELLOC'S ADMIRERS.

Latin and Hymns SIR,— I, as •a recent convert, would like to state that I do not think the Latin tongue in Mass worries many of us. If you have been instructed by a devout and conscientious priest, as was, the Mass loses nothing of its value by being said in Latin, especially as the English translation is printed in the Missal for those who wish to follow the Liturgy closely. But converts do miss the many beautiful hymns and carols which characterise non-Catholic services, and which mean so much to the congregation. Why does the Catholic Church neglect the hymn book so? Surely music is a natural means of inspiring and expressing devotion, anti converts who have to attend Low Mass must miss the atmosphere created by the organ. Whilst I agree that singing hymns during Mass might be distracting. I would suggest that a hymn sung before' end/or after Mass would be much appreciated.

E. M. PECK, 31. Allerton Road, N.16.

Slovenliness-. Responsible

SIR—In my opinion the use of the vernacular in Liturgical services would

be nothing short of a calamity. It seems to me that there may have been many reasons for its introduction in the sixteenth century, but now there arc. none at all. If people cannot follow the Mass and make the responses it is just slovenliness and laziness on the part of priests and people. I should say especially the former.

My experience in the " backwoods " has been that the very average Catholic crowd takes to the " holy Latin " like ducks to water, if they are given any encouragement and help, and if in this twilight, how much more in your noonday? The following of the litany of the saints and making the responses thereto is just nothing at all.

I think that those who have known by experience how very deadly the services of the Book of Common Prayer can become, in spite of their beautiful English, realise that the vulgar tongue is a very secondary consideration. To my mind, the use of the Roman Church -is not, in any way, at fault, and, personally, I should hate to see it changed or even modified.

I am very much of the opinion that it is the clergy who are to blame principally and the very had tradition of the English-speaking Catholic world, which is almost impervious to any liturgical appeal that goes beyond surface things.

Some years ago I was present at Mass at Downside during term time. The great church was crowded with (Continued at foot of next column)

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