(This is Neil) With regard to Todd’s post, Trautman’s Vocab, below, I thought that some of our readers would be interested in this excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ posthumously published Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (1964). Lewis is discussing the process in the Church of England that ultimately led to the publication of the Alternative Service Book (ASB) in 1980 (a Liturgical Commission had been appointed in 1955):
For whom are we to cater in revising the language? A country parson I know asked his sexton what he understood by indifferently in the phrase “truly and indifferently administer justice.” The man replied, “It means making no difference between one chap and another.” “And what would it mean if it said impartially?” asked the parson. “Don’t know. Never heard of it,” said the sexton. Here, you see, we have a change intended to make things easier. But it does so neither for the educated, who understand indifferently already, nor for the wholly uneducated, who don’t understand impartially. It helps only some middle area of the congregation which may not even be a majority. Let us hope the revisers will prepare for their work by a prolonged empirical study of popular speech as it actually is, not as we (a priori) assume it to be. How many scholars know (what I discovered by accident) that when uneducated people say impersonal they sometimes mean incorporeal?
What of expressions which are archaic but not unintelligible? (“Be ye lift up.”) I find that people re-act to archaism most diversely. It antagonizes some; makes what is said unreal. To others, not necessarily more learned, it is highly numinous and a real aid to devotion. We can’t please both.
I know there must be change. But is this the right moment? Two signs of the right moment occur to me. One would be a unity among us which enabled the Church – not some momentarily triumphant party – to speak through the new work with a united voice. The other would be the manifest presence, somewhere in the Church, of the specifically literary talent needed for composing a good prayer. Prose needs to be not only very good but very good in a very special way, if it is to stand up to reiterated reading aloud. [Thomas] Cranmer may have his defects as a theologian; as a stylist, he can play all the moderns, and many of his predecessors, off the field. I don’t see either sign at the moment.
Based on this excerpt, we can, I think, ask four questions:
1. Regarding the vocabulary in new liturgical translations, has anyone actually conducted relevant empirical studies of popular speech? (Or are we just speculating?)
2. Can we say anything more than Lewis about “archaic” expressions? Is there an argument for “liturgical English – a “sacral” and “strongly stylized, more or less artificial language” (see here) – beyond the claim that some people (but inevitably some) will find it numinous and an aid to devotion?
3. Can the church presently speak with a “united voice” regarding liturgical translation?
4. Have we made use of any “literary talent” in translation?
about Todd FlowerdayA Roman Catholic lay person, married (since 1996), with one adopted child (since 2001). I serve in worship and spiritual life in a midwestern university parish.
about John Donaghy
John is a lay missionary since 2007 with a parish in western Honduras. Before that he served in campus ministry and social justice ministry in Iowa. His ministry blog is http://hermanojuancito.blogspot.com
He also blogs reflections on the lectionary and saints/heroes/events of the date at http://walktheway.wordpress.com
He'll be a long-term contributor here analyzing the Latin American bishops' document from their 2007 Aparecida Conference.
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