Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Return of "And With Thy Spirit"

Well, almost.

Th US Conference of Catholic Bishops has released its new official English translation of the Mass.  Although it won't become normative in parishes immediately, it has some interesting quirks.  

For example, the salutation before the Collect, "The Lord be with you," is no longer answered by the colloquial "and also with you," but by the more literal "and with your spirit."  (This, by the way, is sometimes held to have theological content, as it is a reference to the Holy Spirit called down upon the priest in ordination -- so that the greeting is traditionally not exchanged by laypeople, and the "s" is often capitalized).

One wonders what effect this will have upon US Christians who use a traditional liturgy, but are not in communion with Rome.  For thirty-some years, Lutherans, Anglicans and Roman Catholics have shared a great deal of liturgical scholarship and development.  Our scholars attend the same conferences, are handled by the same publishers (and may God bless those fine monks in Collegeville), and have very largely been heading the same way.  

But it isn't at all clear that this is still the case. The two major US Lutheran bodies have recently issued new service books, remarkable principally for musical variety rather than liturgical development.  But there are developments, and they do not track with those of the USCCB's new translation. 

For example, the ELCA's Evangelical Lutheran Worship takes a decidedly permissive approach to the language of Scripture, most noticeably in its wretched psalter, which turns many of the Psalmist's references to God from he to you.  The USCCB Mass is an intentional step toward textual literalism, not only in the salutation but more noticeably in the Prayer of Humble Access, which now more nearly (although still liberally) quotes Matthew 8:8.  ELW has included many new musical settings of the Eucharistic acclamation -- "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" -- which is omitted from the USCCB Mass.

Roman Catholics, of course, have a comparatively brief experience of worship in English.  Most of the Anglophone world has, inevitably, taken its lead from Cranmer and his descendants -- although by no means slavishly so.  (The US Lutherans who sought to create an English-language service which reflected their Reformation traditions were scrupulous about translating latin and German texts de novo -- and yet their 1888 Common Service bears an undeniable resemblance to the 1549 BCP).  After Vatican II, Roman Catholics adopted the same sorta-Jacobean language that their compeers had always used, until we all began using colloquial English in the 1970s.  And, while they are not returning to thee and thou, they are clearly retreating from colloquialism.  

So -- after a generation or two of travel together, have we reached a fork in the road, where we pat one another on the back, talk about what a fine time we've had, and promise to keep in touch?  Possibly so.  Or perhaps, if we simply continue on the road, we will meet up again just over the next hill.

2 comments:

rob said...

Actually, the 19th Century Lutherans made a point of using the existing liturgical translations from the Book of Common Prayer. Reed is exhaustive in pointing out the infrequent differences. Rob Stoltz, Portland, Oregon

Father said...

This is a common misconception. In fact, Reed identifies the Collects of the Common Service, for example, as "independent translations." (Revised ed., 195). This is an overstatement, since the CS translations clearly rely on the BCP -- sort of my point in the post.

But in fact the differences are *not* infrequent, and it is pretty clear that the Joint Committee looked over each collect in Latin and made frequent revisions to Cranmer's translations. If you are obsessive enough to care, there is more on this in an essay (of which I am the author) in "Anglican and Episcopal History," vol. 74, no. 3, Sept. 2005.

The significance of all this, incidentally, is that the Joint Committee had a tortured relationship with Anglicanism (surprise), and could not, as a matter of pride, simply borrow BCP material unaltered -- despite the contention of Beale M. Schmucker's preface to the CS, later expanded at great length by H.E. Jacobs, that the 1549 BCP was essentially a Lutheran service book.