Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

TIME for midnight Mass (why, by the way, do the Protestants welcome this `dangerous deceit' of a word, Mass, only in a yoke with 'midnight'?) and my husband is bad-tempered because all the parking places are filled with people who only come at Christmas, and they are bewildered because they cannot follow the service and even the words of the Lord's Prayer are strangely changed.

Which brings me to why Ronald Knox was wrong to translate the Bible into workaday speech instead of some sort of 'hieratic' language (`Mind your language', 12 December). The answer comes in a book by Christina Mohrmann (who wrote other weightier volumes) called Liturgical Latin, published in 1959.

It came as some surprise to me that Latin replaced Greek in worship only in about AD 360-380, and one of the reasons was the natural tendency for liturgical language to be conservative, formalised, hieratic. Indeed, as Professor Mohrmann points out, even the earliest Christian formulations are artificial. The term for the Eucharist, for example, `breaking bread', was klao ton arton, which was not a common expression for taking part in a meal. `The modern liturgists who would like to view the earliest eucharistic celebration as a "gathering round the kitchen table" certainly do not find support in the testimony of the earliest terminology. …

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