Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr. (RIP) on Contemporary Liturgical Language

Famed conservative intellectual, columnist, spokesman, and debater William F. Buckley Jr. passed away this morning at the age of 82. Best known for his incisive and erudite political commentary and his felicitous use of the English language, Mr. Buckley also penned an "autobiography of faith," Nearer My God, in which he noted his devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass and lamented the Second Vatican Council's "daffy innovations." In both his capacity as a faithful Christian and as a linguaphile, he had much to say during the heyday of liturgical renovation and relevance. Herewith is an excerpt from one of his commentaries on the compulsion to "improve" upon venerable English translations. All self-appointed liturgists and translators would do well to heed his commentary:

This morning, the Church of England has issued its re-wording of the Lord's Prayer. Now, the head of the Church of England, at least titularly, is the Queen of England. She continues to be addressed with all the euphuistic pomposity of Plantagenet prose, but now they are modernizing the form of address appropriate to God. One continues to refer to the Queen as Your Majesty, and as "Ma'am," but for God, "Thee" and "Thou" are—out. The Lord's head has been placed on the Jacobinical block. He is not quite yet addressed as Comrade, or even Big Brother: but He is definitely made to feel at home in the modern world.

It now goes not, "Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name"—but "Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your Name." Granted, they have left the capital letter in "Your," which must have been done after grave debate in the relevant councils. But clearly it was felt that "Thy" was simply—too much. Who does He think He is? The Queen of England?

It goes on, "Your will be done on earth as in Heaven." One wonders what has been gained by that formulation over the traditional formulation, which read, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." There is transparent here something on the order of a Parkinsonian imperative: A venerable passage will be reworded by a rewording commission insofar as a commission to reword possesses the authority to do so.

...[S]ome would go so far as to say that it is most unlikely that [the Lord's will] is being done by the Royal Commission on the Vulgarization of the Book of Common Prayer when they take such a sentence as "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" back from the alchemists who worked for the Lord and for King James, and beat it into the leaden substitute which they have now promulgated.

One wishes that were all, but there is no sin of omission for which we might be grateful. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" has been changed to, "Do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from evil." Why? For the sake of clarity? (That is the usual answer.) I know, because every sense in my body informs me, and every misinclination of my mind, what is temptation, from which we seek deliverance. But "the time of trial"? That sounds like the Supreme Court is in session...

Perhaps it was ordained that the Anglicans, like their brothers the Catholics, should suffer. It is a time for weeping, and a time for rage. Do not go gently into the night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. That would be the advice of this outsider to my brothers in the Anglican Church. They must rage against those who bring upon Christianity not only indifference, but contempt.

(From "His New Prayer," originally published on November 17, 1977. Reproduced in William F. Buckley Jr. A Hymnal: The Controversial Arts. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1978), pp. 287-289.)

Update: This seems worthwhile, too:
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you...The Lord is with who! Thee to you, Buster, I found myself thinking during the retreat when I first learned that it is a part of the current edification to strip the Lord, His Mother, and the saints of the honorific with which the simple Quakers even now address their children and their servants.

...[T]he new liturgy is the triumph, yea the resurrection, of the Philistines.
(Quoted from "The End of the Latin Mass," originally published on November 10, 1967. Reproduced in William F. Buckley Jr. The Jeweler's Eye: A Book of Irresistible Political Reflections. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1968), p. 293.)

William F. Buckley Jr., Requiescat in Pace. You will be are missed.

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Blogger Eric Jobe said...

Yeah...unfortunately, it is all very subjective. While Mr. Buckley may think the King's English is the only proper way to address God, others feel quite the opposite (though I do not speak of myself). Pedestrian language is certainly to be avoided, but doing away with archaisms, especially those no longer understood, is no sin against divine dignity.

8:29 PM  

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