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Monday, June 04, 2012

Open Thou My Lips

Two items from the Romish realm, but likely to be of interest in other desmesnes:

First, New Liturgical Movement has just posted a piece about the "Customary," or principal liturgical formulary, of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.  The chief news thus far is that the new book adopts old language -- what Shawn Tribe and his tribe like to call "hieratic" or "sacral" English.  We do not love those expressions; we're happier with "old-fashioned," "[faux-]Jacobean," or simply "theethou."  But by any name, it is a rose that smells sweet to some of us.

Since Roman Catholic liturgical materials were generally left in Latin during the Renaissance, few have a long or deep tradition of expression in the English of those days.  English-speaking Roman Catholics are for the most part left to choose between the banality of the post-Vatican II translations or the stilted accuracy of the new missal.  Whatever one thinks of the Ordinariate (and our view is dim), one cannot repress a shiver of excitement at the thought that these ex-Anglicans may bring to it, and to Roman Catholics in much of the world, their particular linguistic charism.

Second, it seems that for some terrible reason (jealousy, no doubt) we neglected to mention that the Baronius Press has finally released its Latin-English edition of the 1961 Breviarium Romanum.  It is a long-awaited masterpiece:  three volumes, leatherbound, illustrated, slipcased.  It is not cheap, at about $350, but ... it looks beautiful.

Except, ironically, for one thing:  the English.  Based on the scans they provide, the English translation looks serviceable and accurate, but unremarkable.  The hymns are from a 1950s edition by Joseph Connelly, which means that they are not selected from the many other fine translations of Breviary hymns, as for example by John Dryden, John Henry Newman and (of course) John Mason Neale.  Connelly would have to be pretty good to outclass those guys.


Paul Barlow said...

Does it really begin ... "open thou my lips"? I've recently discovered some versions of the office which use me/my rather than "our" and it really jars. I've always seen praying the office as a communal activity, even if I happen to be alone at the time. It is the prayer of the church, not an individual.

Father Anonymous said...

Interesting question. It does begin "my," unless somebody changes it. That is a change to be made only very deliberately, and here's why.

The customary versicles for Morning Prayer (and sometimes other hours) begin with this line, which is a direct quotation from Psalm 51:15. In Hebrew, the word is sephatay, which is sph+the first person singular genitive ending. So there's no question about the meaning of the source text (you can debate "lips," but not "my.")

Historically, this has always been "aperies labia mea" in Latin (unless there are exceptions of which I do not know, which is always a possibility).

In English, the BCP translation was "my lips" in the 1549 book; from 1552 it was pluralized, perhaps for the very reason you suggest. Such remains the custom in Anglican and Episcopalian books.

The more literal "my" has been retained at least among Lutherans, from the CS/SBH right up through Matins in the 1978 LBW (and, I just noticed with pleasant surprise, the ELW). The services have changed in other ways, but not the parsing of this versicle.

There are two important things to notice about the Anglican practice: (1) it is comparatively new, and (2) it changes what was formerly a direct quotation from the Bible.

Now, neither of those is necessarily a bad thing. There are examples of both innovation and language-tweaking throughout liturgical history. But both are surprisingly rare, especially the tweaking. People have been chary about changing Scripture to suit their own desires.

Of course, praying the Office is a communal activity, just as you say. No sensible person would deny that. This fact raises the question of why somebody didn't tweak "my lips" a millennium ago. Any answer, it seems to me, depends on how Christians understand the relationship of the individual and the community.

My own guess -- and the reason, apart from sheer linguistic conservatism that I like "my" lips -- is this: It seems to me that when we pray together as the Church, it is the Church which speaks, in its own singular voice.

This is a parallel to the way modern exegetes see the Suffering Servant as representing all of Israel. Mind you, the plural person of the collects undermines this idea, but I still like it.

Paul Barlow said...

I take your point. I'm not well versed in Latin, a product of an age which hasn't taken such scholarship seriously, I'm afraid. But I realise that all the office books I have been used to have the plural, including the Roman Divine Office in the 1974 English language edition.

Father Anonymous said...

Not *that* is genuinely interesting. I don't use the modern Roman office, and don't have a copy handy here in the remote mission field. Do you -- or do any other readers -- know if the Latin has been tweaked as well?

It's an interesting question, of course, because of the arguments around English translations of the modern Roman rite in general, and the controversy over the new Missal in particular. It would be very useful to know whether the 1970s translation followed or "improved" on the official Latin version.

Paul Barlow said...

My Edition of Priere du temps present (sorry can't add the accents), the French translation of the Roman Office has Seigneur, ouvre mes levres and Dieu, viens a mon aide (again apologies for the lack of accents) so it would appear to be an alteration from the Latin original in the English language rite.

p.s. I am indeed from the Anglican Paryer Book tradition