Posted 11 December 2011 by
2011 Advent decorations for Church of the Redeemer, Kenmore, Washington

2011 Advent decorations for Church of the Redeemer, Kenmore, Washington

Expectant, let us live in joyful hope for the revelation of the light of our God and Savior, Christ Jesus! (Based on a prayer in Come, Lord Jesus by Lucien Deiss, CSSp)

The English language is an imprecise language. As a person involved in technical communications, I have reminders of this every day I work.

One of the ways my native tongue causes confusion is the almost complete loss of changing noun endings based on its grammatical case. About the only two cases in modern English are the possessive case and genitive case. Both of these cases are involved with showing possession or related idea (engineer’s solution).

Other languages have changed endings on their nouns for other cases besides showing possession. Speakers of German, Scots Gaelic, and Latin are used to changing nouns based upon its case. English speakers are supposed to determine case from context, not word ending.

Does this always work?

For Advent this year, Church of the Redeemer in Kenmore, Washington, is having a series of vesper services at 5:00 pm on Saturday. This simple half-hour services involve poetry, music, prayer, and silence.

The service on Saturday, December 11, 2011, also had the prayer at the beginning. After thinking about this prayer for a little bit, I realized there was some ambiguity in its construction.

Is “expectant” a noun or an adjective in this prayer?

Is “expectant” naming us or describing us?

If we were using prayers in Latin, we would know. However, removing the ambiguity in meaning would remove a chance to make this prayer mine. This way I had something to think about, rather than being told how to think.

The ambiguity of English helped me grow a bit.

I feel sorry for my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Making English read closer to Latin has problems. It takes away the ambiguity.

Of course, some wording always needs more work. One of the clumsy previous passages in Roman missal that is shared the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (US) comes from the Nicene Creed. What does “of one Being with the Father” mean? Does changing it to “consubstantial with the Father” solve that problem?

Even more important is the way the new translation rides roughshod over the imprecise nature of English. Here is one comparison in a verse said by all right before receiving communion in the Roman Rite:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at Redeemer

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at Redeemer

I read an explanation for this change that said people, after hearing Matthew 8.5-13, would make the connection between this passage from the Gospels and the text in the Mass. Who failed to catch the connection in the previous text? If some people were missing this connection, who was failing to teach this connection to people?

The verb “to receive” in English can refer to receiving food or receiving a guest in your home. The previous translation played on the imprecise nature of English to clarify the meaning of the text in the liturgy.

Even the new text does not correctly get to the meaning of the text in Matthew. In the passage, Jesus offers to go to a Roman soldier’s home to heal his servant. The soldier, understanding the nature of authority, said Jesus could issue the order from where he was and did not need to enter his house.

So, how is it more helpful to say in the more precise text that emphasizes not needing to receive Jesus immediately before receiving communion?

The literalness of the new English edition to the Latin creates a problem. The previous English version, playing on ambiguity in English, turns the verse into something to think about.

(There are reasons I much prefer the Prayer of Humble Access found in various Anglican prayer books.)

How is a person supposed to make a text to heart if there is no opportunity to reflect on its meanings?

How does using an imprecise language like English for worship change the approach of the faithful to God?

Maybe the looser approach found in Anglicanism, which has some bases in politics, a partial result of the language that produced Anglicanism?

I know my thoughts will have zero effect on what happens to the Roman liturgy. Even so, I have gained a new insight on how the English language affects faith. And, that I am thankful for it.

Why does everyone need to see things totally the same way?

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