by Uwe Michael Lange
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D
This book is very carefully and meticulously written regarding liturgy being the voice of the Church at prayer. Having a background in the history of the Church makes it more comprehensible concerning foundational content. As the author states: “I intend to address several significant moments in the development of this complex and subtle relationship. Beginning in Chapter 1 with a discussion of Biblical language and the formation of a Latin Christian idiom. Chapters 2 and 3 are dedicated to the origins and the characteristics of Latin as the sacred language of the Roman liturgy. In Chapter 4, a brief account of the transition from late antiquity to the Middle Ages is given. Particular attention is given to St. Thomas Aquinas’ theological on the subject of liturgy and language in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 follows the history of Latin and the vernacular in the modern age up to the present day.” I was able to take a course with Father Lang in the summer of 2019. Besides being a thorough author (for the sake of the content) the author is as salient as a speaker. He lets us know the shift after Vatican II as the Latin prayers of the Mass were replaced by modern translations. Father Lang analyzes the nature of sacred language. He traces the beginning of Christian prayer to the Scriptures and the Greek is spoken at the time of the apostles. He recounts the slow and gradual development into the sacred language of the Western Church and its continuing use throughout the Middle Ages. Lang addresses the rise of modern languages and the question of whether participation of the laity at Mass is helpful or a hindrance because of the use of Latin.
“The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council addressed the question of the language of worship comprehensively and granted a significant extension of the use of the vernacular in the Catholic liturgy. The primary motive for this was to promote “fully conscious and active participation’ of the people in the liturgy. The relevant article of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no.36. strikes a balance that was reached after some debate on the Council floor, asserting in the first paragraph that ‘the use of the Latin language s to be preserved in the Latin rites’ and then secondly granting that the use of the vernacular may be extended, which ‘will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and some of the prayers and chants’.” According to the author, it would seem obvious from these articles of Sacrosanctum Concilium that the Fathers of Vatican II did not envision a general introduction of the vernacular, let alone a placement of Latin with the mother tongue as the liturgical language of the Roman rite. The type of language to be used in the liturgy ”should always be worthy of the noble realities it signifies, set apart from the everyday speech of the street and the marketplace.” The challenge for translators is to “make clarity of language and dignity of expression shine forth in the vernacular translations of liturgical texts”. The author assists us in understanding this moment in history when he states: “The linguistic fragmentation of Catholic worship in the postconciliar period has gone so far that the majority of the faithful today can hardly pray the Pater Noster together when they gather at international meetings in Rome or Lourdes.