Last week, I ended my Editor’s Choice review of Neil Olson’s The Icon by quoting a passage in which the main character comes to an understanding of the value of ritual language. He is praying in Greek, and “the Greek served him as he imagined Latin did others, giving the words mystery and power, and creating a sense of ritual that removed the individual from the process.” I then suggested that that those who advocate the Roman Catholic Church’s “numbingly banal vernacular Mass” take note.
This elicited only two email responses, one puzzled, the other approving.
My dim view of the English version of what is officially known as the Novus Ordo Populi is reinforced every Sunday at Mass. It reaches maximum intensity during the responsorial psalm. In the missal used at my parish church, the music for all of these has been composed by someone named Owen Alstott, who is my candidate for the worst composer who has ever lived. His psalm settings are so bland and devoid of character that it’s hard to believe they were actually composed by a human being. And today — on what used to be Pentecost Sunday but is now called the “solemnity” of Pentecost (how is that an improvement?) — I noticed that Alstott is also the fellow responsible for appropriating Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” tune for use as a hymn in the Catholic Church. May God forgive him. I certainly can't.
But my point isn’t about music. It’s about language. Anyone who has read the Book of Common Prayer knows that English can be quite serviceable as a ritual language. But the English translation of the Novus Ordo is simply awful — inaccurate and tin-eared. Credo continues to mean I believe, not we believe. Et cum spiritu tuo still means and with your spirit, not and also with you. And take that phrase alone — "and also with you." Can you get more banal than that? The entire Mass has been translated into the worst journalese — because “liturgists” think that’s the way to get things across to the poor “common people” in the pews.
I have news for them. The King James Bible has been read by countless numbers of relatively unschooled people for centuries. They didn’t have any problem with it or its formal language, which I rather suspect they regarded as appropriate under the circumstances. Plenty of noted authors have understood this as well. Which is why we have titles like The Sun Also Rises, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden. Which is also the real reason why the Bible should be taught in public schools: because it’s well-nigh impossible to understand large chunks of English literature without being acquainted with the Authorized Version.