Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why religious language goes for the timeless


A cartoon from the Episcopalians for the season. Seriously, the rector has a point. Hieratic language for worship is natural religion, human nature. Why the Jews use Hebrew in prayer, and the Eastern churches often use dead or archaic languages (Slavonic and medieval Greek, for example) for church services like we do in the old Mass. For English-speaking Protestants it's the King James Bible and, for the more liturgical among them, the Book of Common Prayer that preceded it. (Once saw something moving: a PTL Club Bible, used by sincere people who wanted to know about God; it has the King James English on one side and a modern version on the other, just like the Latin and English in my hand missal.) Just like everybody eventually comes up with a liturgy, as the late Fr. Peter Gillquist among others has pointed out. Ritual: we are creatures of habit; it's how we learn. (Speaking of how we learn, a one-year lectionary is the best.) "Catholic traditionalism is not about Latin" but, as in the cartoon, religious language, such as Latin has become in the Roman Rite, is useful, not a pious affectation, because it's a template with fixed meanings; it won't become dated in only a few years like the tech references in the hip Christmas pageant will. (Another example of the latter: the Christian rap the rector wrote 20 years ago.) That and Latin's a useful auxiliary language in a world church of many native languages, most of which aren't mutually intelligible. English does that too but English is alive so it's constantly shifting and it has dialects. An argument against hieratic language: "That way everybody equally doesn't understand it; ha ha." It doesn't take that much intelligence or effort (get a side-by-side text or learn your language's history) to understand.

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