Tuesday, March 22, 2011


On my way home today from yet another doctor (No! There's nothing new wrong with me!), I passed St. Joseph's, a Catholic parish of the Extraordinary (Tridentine) Rite. And I thought again, as I do every time I pass it, I can certainly understand why these people want their old rite back, because look at the insipid stuff they otherwise endure. Full sympathy on that point. But what I can't understand is why they want to keep it in Latin. Yes, their sign out front specifies it's in Latin. What for?

What's wrong with English, in good translation?

Is the sense of mystery, the sense of the holy, for Catholics really only preserved by using Latin? If so, this is only a gimmick and something deeper is wrong than merely which rite to use.


123 said...

It's the same reason Orthodox in the diaspora want to keep their services in languages they don't understand. Incomprehensibility is a way not to feel responsible for Christian teaching and faith, it's a way to turn Church into a holy thing, an object that we can project our spiritualities and our spiritual needs onto.

Schmemann makes a case (somewhere) that rizas over icons act in much the same way: they turned icons, windows into heaven, audacious proclamations of the Incarnation and deification into holy objects, talismans.

Attending a Greek church in America was wonderful training for having a toddler with me in Church. I got used to not paying attention, to praying distractedly or not at all or on my own despite what was being prayed corporately. Yes, grace is there whether I understand or am attentive, but are we called to fullness or not?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I got used to not paying attention, to praying distractedly or not at all or on my own despite what was being prayed corporately.

YES. I'm still battling that.

Thanks for all your insightful comments.

123 said...

Unfortunately, it's hard to battle the already difficult struggle to maintain attention when you are purposefully barred entrance into the meaning of the prayers chanted publicly. Sure, the Jesus Prayer is a wonderful substitute, but it is a substitute for the prayers of the Divine Services themselves. Praying in a foreign tongue is wonderful training for not praying - just like kid wrangling.

We prefer the world.

I would very much prefer a parish that served all (or almost all) in a single language. If English, then I can fight to "pray with attention" along with others; if in Greek or Slavonic, etc. I can fight to "pray with attention" using the Jesus Prayer. The back and forth ruins the rhythm of both forms of attempted attentive prayer.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What you said reminds me of my first experience hearing opera in English translation.

As long as it was in Italian, I could only imagine what profound things of love the man and the woman were expressing, what magical, winged things, the ineffable somehow put to rare and precious words after all.

And then it turned out they were actually saying something like, "Hark! Someone knocks at the door!"

"Who can it be?"

"It is Leonardo!"

How disappointed I was.

123 said...

My spiritual father grew up in a Romanian parish. The first English-language service he went to was for the Beheading of the Baptist with all its language of gore, etc. he said, no wonder they don't chant this in English!

But, that's a problem when the lex orandi is a primary authority in your faith.

An executive I know noted he spoke fluent German. He wasn't of German descent, but he had worked for a Swiss German company and wanted to know what his colleagues and bosses would talk about between themselves. He assumed all sorts of things, but it turned out they were mainly saying things like, "What did he say?" and "Where should we go for lunch?".

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

In our parish, there are still plenty of first-generation immigrants, so contined use of SOME Greek is, I suppose, still in order. It's about 75% in English, now, with the goal, I suspect, of 100%. Except when a bishop visits, in which case it has to be 100% Greek.

Byzantine, TX said...

Met. Kallistos (Ware) recently spoke on this. He said that, while in America many churches use English, this is not at all true in the UK or much of the EU (using the native language and not the ethnic language of the emigrants). Indeed, even in places where the language of the service is the same as the language of the people it is often in a very old form not easily understandable by the people. One could also point to the refusal to use the native tongue in services to battle nationalism or gain control (e.g. Ukraine and Georgia).

The use of Latin in the Roman Church is, as much as it is about language, is about returning to its roots liturgically. The "old" liturgies (just like the liturgies of the Orthodox Church) don't allow for all the absurdities we have seen permitted in the Novus Ordo masses (clowns, puppets, liturgical dancers, etc.).

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Maybe it's a similar situation in both cases. To translate the Divine Liturgy into really good English would require someone who is a saint, a scholar, fluent in both languages, and a poet, all combined. Perhaps the same may be true of the old Latin Mass?

123 said...

Though they are often confused with each other in such discussions, a distinction must be maintained between foreign languages and old forms of one's own language.

Greek and Slavonic are foreign languages for Americans in general, and for most descendants of Greek and Slavic immigrants. There is simply no possibility of understanding these languages without studying them as one studies any foreign language. Effectively, it implies one must be Greek or Slavic or do your best to become such before we will allow you to be saved.

In English, I personally prefer older forms of the language. I prefer the SJKP and HTM texts, as well as the KJV (or at least the NJKV). There should be some level of struggle after the meaning, some pedigree to the meaning. The only time I am against this is with non-native English speakers, i.e., immigrants. Converts and second-generation immigrants can struggle with archaic English in the same way Greeks and Slavs have always struggled with higher or odd forms of their everyday tongues. Immigrants new to English - especially those we are attempting to evangelize, if we attempt to evangelize them - are already struggling for meaning. English is a foreign tongue to them and must be taken into account.

Even were Ukrainian, for example, to be allowed in the services, it should be as classical a form of Ukrainian, as possible, not the everyday language of the Ukraine. Except for the koine of the NT, the writings of the Church have been written in 'high' forms of Greek, and later in Slavonic, etc. The same should be true of modern Greek translations of the services, modern Romanian, and the like.

Genevieve said...

Yes, people like to imagine that God likes or prefers one language to another. I came from the more pious monastery way, and from an elder who knew 14 languages and changed the service language to fit who was present in the room. What a blessing it was. If the people there were Greek, the service would have some greek. If it was all Americans, he would have it all in English. What a blessing that we had! People always felt welcomed and at home, and they could worship with him. At Pascha we would sing the Christ is Risen in at least three languages. And we would all try to learn the greeting for the holiday in a new language each year. Orthodoxy is for all, for every tongue to praise the Lord. I also know that there is a belief out there that one language is better than another. This is all false. I see on our parish that some greeks only want greek. but some of the greeks that have been in America most of their lives, have been away from hearing the greek, and complain that they can't understand the service, why isn't it in all english? Most of the children have no desire to learn greek anymore. And they would do better to understand the services, in English. So, I agree, it is a constanst struggle. I understand that the Hellenic culture is important to some, but we need to cultivate an Orthodox culture no matter where on earth we are. We also have so many visitors from overseas. Germans, Ukrainians, Georgians, Serbians, etc. They all come to church, and we try to be reverent in God's house. They wouldn't go to a church in Serbia and expect to hear it in French. Why would we want to keep the services in America in Greek? Only to please a select few. The official language of this country is English. (of course someday it might be spanish) I hope that God will help us to be able to see the same thing you all said about the opera. If a person doesn't know what is being said, then they will make it up sometimes. And then we are not all praying in unison.

Anastacia, I understand exactly what you mean. :) It has been very difficult to have attentive prayer sometimes.

One good thing I can say is that in our Sunday School, I chose a hymn that they do in English and in Greek, Trisagion, and tried to teach the children in the meaning, and how to sing it, so they could understand it. But if the priest says a feast day only in Greek for example, then most the kids never know what is being said or going on.

The use of Latin in the Roman Church is, as much as it is about language, is about returning to its roots liturgically. The "old" liturgies (just like the liturgies of the Orthodox Church) don't allow for all the absurdities we have seen permitted in the Novus Ordo masses (clowns, puppets, liturgical dancers, etc.).

I believe this to be true. I think that they are trying to get back to the roots of a un-adulterated liturgy. But on the other hand, I have heard something that Latin is like better than other languages or preferred, and that is not true. All languages are constantly changing and being updated. Even the Greek church uses modern greek, not ancient in the readings. (personal note, too bad the bishops don't see this blog, to understand what the problems are. )

Genevieve said...

To all,
my dear elder Fr.John, of blessed memory translated every service into English. He was fluent in 14 languanges. His writings are out there (at a small monastery), but church politics is the problem, not someone to do the work. It has been done. My husband helped him save the work onto the computer, and keep his computers running well. I believe he translated every service of the year in the church. People do not want to change. He was a true apostle to America. He constantly chose the asectic life over the world. He always did the services exactly as they should be, and finished them to the end, even when he was having a heart attack. The books included rubrics and everything. As I said, people in church politics have other agendas. They were so well done. He had a doctorate, was very highly educated, and it was his life's work. I hope that someday it will be appreciated. This was a very interesting conversation blog, thank you all for posting to it. I pray that someday we will hear the service in English in America, and that the children will hear it in their native tongue, so we all might cry out in unison of heart to our merciful Lord.

Maria said...

We must live close to each other. I'm not far from there and I used to attend St. Joseph's sometimes with my Catholic husband and my best friend attends another Latin Mass chapel in our area. If you go to unavoce.org, they discuss the primary reasons tradition-minded Catholics prefer Latin.