Saturday, 29 November 2014
Tomorrow in Bournemouth we begin celebrating Mass according to the Ordinariate Use. We shall do so for a month, to immerse ourselves in its words and actions. In part (the better part) this Use derives from the Book of Common Prayer - devised by Dr Cranmer and amended in the reign of Charles II. So there are great translations of ancient Latin collects. Just look for example at the one appointed for the week before Advent. "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded". Compare that with the clumsy version in the most recent Roman Missal translation: "Stir up the will of your faithful, we pray, O Lord, that, striving more eagerly to bring your divine work to fruitful completion, they may receive in greater measure the healing remedies your kindness bestows". No contest.
So I have nothing against the language of the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer of humble access (moved to follow the Agnus in the Ordinariate Rite, instead of breaking up the Canon as Cranmer did) is a fine prayer. So too is the thanksgiving after Communion (albeit a little wordy for daily use). What I do find hard to take, though, is the god-wottery of the American Book which has been imported into the Ordinariate Use. For those unfamiliar with the word, god-wottery is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'an affected quality of archaism, excessive fussiness and sentimentality'. These, I fear, are the very things which many English members of the Ordinariate find so unhelpful.
First the archaism; we have been happy saying "and with your Spirit". Is it helpful to change this to "thy" spirit, last used by some of us half a century ago - and to younger ones totally unknown? Perhaps in remoter parts of the Pennines people still 'thee' and 'thou' one another, but for most of us this is just archaism for its own sake. Now some would argue that this is hieratic language and to put everything into the "you" form would be to treat Almighty God with too much familiarity. But that is exactly what Our Lord taught us to do! It is retained in the Latin of the Lord's Prayer (qui ES is coelis .. ES being the singular, informal address.) French and Italian and all those languages which make a distinction between the second person plural and the second person singular invariably address the Almighty in the familiar 'tu' form. That is what the prayer book did by speaking to the Lord as "Thou". By reverting to this usage, long dead in England, we now put an artificial distance between us and him which neither Our Lord not the Prayer Book intended.
Then, the excessive fussiness. Why have a threefold repetition of "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed"? The phrase 'vain repetition' comes to mind. And why introduce multiple kissings of the altar? Or duplicate genuflections?
As for sentimentality, I leave it to others to look through the Propers of the Book of Divine Worship. Perhaps we shall be spared some of its mawkishness when our own Propers are produced. Even so, I'm afraid that the Ordinariate Use has missed a great opportunity for finding beautiful and accessible language for today's worship. It might have begun by excising the most obvious archaisms; what is wrong with "Stir up, we beseech you, Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they, plentifully bringing forth the fruit of good works may by you be plentifully rewarded"? But we will try to use the rite we have been given to the letter, and by the time Advent ends perhaps I shall have been persuaded of its beauty and charm. We can only hope.