Tuesday, August 30, 2011
It Just Sounds Better...
Anyway, the funny thing is that this is often the complaint about the switch from Latin to the vernacular in the Roman Mass. I well recall my dad's old Roman Catholic friend and fellow businessman in town who, after going to his first English Mass complained and was disappointed to find out "that the words in Latin have been the same words in English that the Lutherans have been saying for 400 years!" It just sounded better, more lofty in Latin.
To a certain degree I would agree. It does sound better. We cannot let go of the sound of Latin -- at least not entirely -- so we call the parts of the ordinary the Gloria in excelsis, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei. I think nearly everyone who has sung a Christian carol imagines the angel singing, "Gloria in excelsis deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" -- not "Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth..."
Yet it is not in how it sounds that we find comfort, inspiration, and grace. It is in what it says. This is the great conundrum. We may prefer the sound of the words in Latin but it is in what they say that we are edified and encouraged. Now if we know Latin sufficiently well, this is not a problem. For you Lutherans out there, the good Dr. Martin did not envision a time when Latin would not be the primary language of worship but he did make provision for the uneducated who did not know Latin (the Deutsche Messe).
Perhaps this is exactly the dilemma we find ourselves in when choosing a version of Scripture to be read. The sound of the King James rings even in the ears of a youthful people no longer accustomed to its archaic forms so my own church body has used the English Standard Version -- in part because of its accuracy and in part because of the way it reads out loud. Other versions may be just as accurate but sound wooden when read aloud or even casual and humdrum. The language of worship and the version of Scripture used in worship has to be attentive to the sound of this language as well as everything else. Is this not the reason why nearly every family prefers the King James for Psalm 23 while standing at the grave side?
Just a muse today... nothing theologically earth shattering... a preference for the way something sounds in one language over another, while at the same time acknowledging that it is not how it sounds that is most important to us (except perhaps in opera) but in what it says....