Towards A People's Liturgy: The Importance of Language, by Mark Twinham Elvins

Towards A People's Liturgy: The Importance of Language, by Mark Twinham Elvins

Michael E. Daniel

The Importance of Language

by Mark Twinham Elvins
(Leominster, Gracewing, 116pp, first published 1994, $19.95. Available from AD Books)

According to the author of Towards a People's Liturgy, "Since the introduction of the vernacular Mass ... Mass attendance has decreased dramatically. It is certain that the Mass has not lost its power. Perhaps this has been a serious loss of faith. Yes, but might not that loss of faith be caused by the vulgarization of the Mass with senseless experimentation and a vernacular that is at best commonplace?"

Among the enduring legacies of the 16th century were the "King James" translation of the Bible into English and The Book of Common Prayer. Both these texts not only profoundly influenced the development of the English language, but remain examples of dignified English composition that direct the worshipper to God who is transcendent.

These texts, many of which in The Book of Common Prayer are translations of Latin liturgical texts, stand in contrast to those which Latin rite Catholics use in their worship.

Pedestrian style

In this short monograph Elvins discusses the process by which liturgical texts were translated into the vernacular in the years following the Second Vatican Council. Acknowledging the difficulties of translating into any language, what effectively emerged was a pedestrian style of English that appealed to the lowest common denominator.

Ironically, many who advocated the use of the vernacular prior to the Council were some of the staunchest critics of the translations and were some of the foundational members of the Association for English Worship (AEW), formed in 1975.

Critics of the texts argued that at best they were loose translations of the Latin, at worst poor translations that downplayed the transcendental/metaphysical nuances of the original Latin. Elvins argues that their input into revisions of the translations cannot be underestimated, particularly when a comparison is made between the AEW's proposals and the 1987 ICEL re-drafts.

With extensive revision of the texts, particularly with the work of Vox Clara, it is hoped that the latest revisions will constitute a substantial improvement on the current texts, particularly given the very serious thesis that the translations that have been in use since the late 1960s have contributed to a loss of faith.

Michael E. Daniel teaches at a Melbourne independent secondary school.

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