One of the priests of my acquaintance works in an inner city parish with an African American congregation. He does great work helping the poor and marginalized and his celebration of the liturgy is informal, relevant and accessible to his growing congregation. He’s worried that the elevated language of the new translation is too lofty and will not be well received by his congregation. So the question is, can the lofty language of the new translation of the Mass be ‘cool’?
I think it all has to do with the way it is approached. Many traditionalists will want to celebrate the new translation of the Mass with high pomp and Palestrina. Far be it from me to discourage them, however a solemn Missa Cantata is not going to appeal to all, and there will still be a whole range of personality types, cultural backgrounds and different settings for the Mass. Whether or not the more formal words of the Mass will ‘relate’ depends on how much it is simply accepted for what it is and how much the language ‘gets into us’ as we begin to celebrate the Mass.
I was brought up in a church and home which constantly used the King James Version of the Bible. We memorized it, read it, heard it preached and the cadences and vocabulary influenced us and all that we heard at church. It was not inaccessible to us at all. We just accepted the language for what it was and when the preacher said, “Thus saith the Lord” we knew he usually spoke in a different kind of language, but at church we used a loftier language and took it for granted. The sermons were still relevant and accessible even though they were loaded with long passages of seventeenth century English.
T.S.Eliot says the job of the poet is to ‘purify the dialect of the tribe’. In other words, the poet is constantly pulling language apart and re drafting it and searching for the new word, the best word, the clear word, the startling word. By doing so he lifts our language and therefore our thought and therefore our behavior. He purifies with his poetry the language we use every day. This is also the task of good liturgy. It should purify the language of the tribe.
Think how greatly the language of Shakespeare, the King James Version and the Book of Common Prayer influenced the development of the English language. Sadly, in our degraded and dull age the language of the new translation does not approach the grandeur and dignity of these three great works, but it’s better than it was and I think it will eventually influence all our words and ways of worship for the better.
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