Friday, May 27, 2011

Likewise, I'm Sure

Gentle Readers, please bear with me for one more rant about the language of liturgy.

It just gets worse and worse.

The follow prayer appears in the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer (I have seen it attributed to St Augustine but do not know if this is correct):

'Keep watch dear Lord with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake'.

It's a beautiful prayer, and was warmly welcomed; it has been adopted by many other denominations.

But in its trans-Atlantic migration to the C of E's Common Worship (and in my view this service book is common in the worst sense), whoever is writing liturgy for the poor Anglicans has violated every principle of the translators of the KJV, which I have sketched out in recent posts. This timeless and inclusive prayer now sounds like someone throwing bricks. It reads:

'Tend the sick ones, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary ones, bless the dying ones, sooth the suffering ones, pity the afflicted ones, shield the joyous ones'. I duck every time I hear it.

Even worse, "Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us" (American BCP 1979), said at the Fraction, a phrase which transcends time and is refulgent with meaning—for example, that Christ is the way our passover is accomplished through his passover—has, in the dreadful Common Worship, become 'Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us'. Oh puh-lease. The addition of the animal means that Christ is history, a sanitized OT/Apocalypse reference, a cutsey fluffy lambkin in a stained glass window; the addition makes material what is meant as spiritual. So much for the climatic moment of the Eucharist in which the two halves of the bread are held apart: the addition of the word 'lamb' reverses the apophatic moment: we are dragged back into and bound in time, dropped with a thud into linearity and the hamster wheel of our self-consciousness. It is a cringe-making change, and sometimes celebrants choke over having to use it, as well they should.

I have heard that the new translation of the RC liturgy is even worse than the last one, if that is possible, with the possible exception that 'and with your spirit' has been restored. This surely is a step in the right direction. I remember talking to Madeleine L'Engle about the phrase 'and also with you' when it was first inflicted on us. She insisted that it would automatically provoke the response 'likewise, I'm sure'.


Blogger Bo said...

I grew up with 'and also with you' and had no idea there was any other phrase used until I went to a High Church C of E mass for the first time.

1:56 pm, May 27, 2011  
Blogger Sr. Valerie said...

Oh, my! Yes, I can hear the bricks being flung under the guise of prayer. Duck indeed!

2:27 pm, May 27, 2011  
Anonymous AM said...

Amusing while it cuts into the heart of who we are as homos liturgicus. I found your lambasting of the "lamb" very profound a distinction! :-)

9:35 am, May 28, 2011  
Anonymous Fr David Wood said...

The version of Augustine's prayer that I know off by heart is somewhat different -

Watch, O Lord, with those who wait or watch or weep today, and give your holy angels charge over those who sleep; tend your sick ones O Lord Christ, give rest to your weary ones, soothe your suffering ones, rejoice with your joyous ones, welcome your dying ones, and all for your love's sake.

I use it often in the general intercessions after the silence where the names of those to be included in the church's prayer are mentioned, and it never fails to move hearts and minds.

12:24 am, May 29, 2011  
Blogger Janet Atkins said...

With apologies to the vegetarians who read MR's blog, it seems to me like basting lambs would be a much better "occupation" than trying to sacrifice one every time the liturgy is celebrated. Can you imagine what the liturgy would be like if people in Asia Minor had raised turkeys instead of sheep? Is this use of language in the liturgy perhaps an attempt to make the stories of the Bible and tradition more concrete? Many people who go to church have no clue what's in Scripture, so maybe the writers of the liturgy feel they have to spell out the basics. In the past, artisans used stained glass to remind worshippers of faith stories. It's only after one realizes that the metaphors and imagery are just that--figurative language--that one can move on to a deeper understanding of the theology that gives the heart something to be grateful for--and to lead one to understand the pivotal moment in the Eucharist as the moment of deepest loss and deepest gain of Self. Perhaps when we see the irony, it begins to make sense.

11:39 am, June 02, 2011  

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