Monday, 5 September 2011

Domine, refugiam...

Psalm XC is possibly my favourite psalm in the Psalter. I am currently listening to a fair rendering by Thomas Attwood, sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey. A sample of it can be heard here. The language of Liturgy is not something I readily discuss on Liturgiae Causa. I am not averse to liturgical English. This is something that distinguishes me from the RC Traditionalist. Where they see Latin as a liturgical form and expression, an extension of Romish truth (a rather nebulous formula), which outweighs well-nigh all other matters liturgical, they are blinded to most else of import measurable in the tradition of the Church (so much so that they see little fault with the liturgical books of 1962, or that lovely Offertory motet Colores Diei - it's in Latin, and ad orientem, what could one want more?). Wherefore does it matter whether you say Gloria in excelsis Deo or Glory be to God on high? For that matter, which is more Catholic? For one church to celebrate the mysteries of Holy Week according to the bastardised rites of Pius XII; or for another to celebrate them as they were until those rites suffered violence at the hands of the pope? What is a ''liturgical'' language? Is it a language raised to a certain eminence? Of a surety, but why must Liturgy remain obscure to them that would otherwise descry somewhat of the Divine Majesty by the understanding of liturgical texts? I am by no means propounding Bible-in-basic-English; nothing could be more inimical to ecclesiastical propriety! Perhaps I am undecided on this matter, which many readers may find strange! Verily the catholicity of Christ's Church is not determined by a universal language of Liturgy. The Coverdale Psalter has, at the head of each psalm, the Latin incipit, which can be seen as a mode of continuity with the past - nova et vetera, and all that. Perhaps I can see, in a unified Church, the traditional local rites restored (Sarum, Hereford, York for England, etc), the Rood Screens carved and painted anew, and parishes opting to follow either the Latin of our Catholic forebears or the English of the Prayerbook...And then the wind blew, and I woke up! I am going to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings again. (I haven't forgotten the issue of Sacred Music in the problem of liturgical language. It is a myth that English cannot be put to plainsong, but the notation in the Graduale is naturally set to Latin, not English. Hmmm, perhaps in the light of this post I shall write another with that in mind).

Anywho, Domine, refugiam from the Coverdale Psalter:

Lord, thou hast been our refuge: from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made: thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.

Thou turnest man to destruction: again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday: seeing that is past as a watch in the night.

As soon as thou scatterest them they are even as a sleep: and fade away suddenly like the grass.

In the morning it is green, and groweth up: but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered.

For we consume away in thy displeasure: and are afraid at thy wrathful indignation.

Thou hast set our misdeeds before thee: and our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

For when thou art angry all our days are gone: we bring our years to an end, as if it were a tale that is told.

The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years: yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.

But who regardeth the power of thy wrath: for even thereafter as a man feareth, so is thy displeasure.

So teach us to number our days: that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Turn thee again, O Lord, at the last: and be gracious unto thy servants.

O satisfy us with thy mercy, and that soon: so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

Comfort us again now after the time that thou hast plagued us: and for the years wherein we have suffered adversity.

Shew thy servants thy work: and their children thy glory.

And the glorious Majesty of the Lord our God be upon us: prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handywork!

The above illuminated manuscript is from the St Florian Psalter. It is a veritable reason to be Catholic. Wasn't it Cardinal Ratzinger who once said that apart from the saints and her art, the Church really had nothing else going for her?


  1. However on that same CD they have taken it upon themelves to miss out 7 verses from the middle of Psalm 69; how DARE they.

    the Priory series of Psalms also suffers this perversion.

    The St Paul's 12 volume set is complete; shame they do a pitiable quantity in their actual services, rather than those of the evening as set.

    The best of the Priory series is the Ely (vol 8) which is exquisite.

  2. " Verily the catholicity of Christ's Church is not determined by a universal language of Liturgy."
    Indeed not: Latin, Greek, Coptic, Old Church Slavonic, Syriac, Ge'ez, Ancient Georgian and Classical Armenian have traditionally been liturgial languages.

    Besides, I find the very act of Victor I translating the liturgy into Latin to militate against the idea of a liturgical language (at least in the strict sense of language rather than linguistic register); indeed, the same can be said, I think, for all non-Greek liturgical language.

    On the other hand, here in the West we are part of the Latin Church (whatever you think of the present Pope, cardinals, etc.) by tradition, history, and (largely) faith, and as with the Canon, the preservation of that link seems important to me.

    So I find myself in a similar position to you in being unsure as to what to think on liturgical language.

    The obvious compromise would seem to be to keep the fixed parts of the Mass in Latin, and use the vernacular for those parts that change according to the season, feast, etc. But I have a suspicion this mixed approach isn't one you would approve of!