‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: The Language we use.

Last week, I mentioned the attractiveness of holiness, which is made visible in the way we care for and maintain our church, and I mentioned, When someone walks into our church they see far more than candles, wood and statues, they sense that this is a holy place of worship, that this is the ‘House of God; the Gate of Heaven’ Now there is something else we do, which is different from the ordinary world we live in; it is the language of worship. Our form of speech in worship is the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, all from England of the 16th Century.

Every religion has wondered about the appropriate way of speaking to the Almighty. Hindus and Buddhists use the 2,200-year-old Sanskrit. Jews still use Hebrew (modern Hebrew is a revival by the State of Israel). The Catholic Church still uses Latin but permits local languages. The Orthodox use Byzantine Greek and Slavonic). The difficulty with this is that the form of language for worship is not readily understandable. Of course, in England Latin was used up until the Reformation and it fell to Archbishop Cranmer to devise an English liturgical language. He could do this because of his outstanding skills as a translator and in expressing it into the language of public speaking of the day – so he had sense of how it sounds when said aloud. So, his English was understandable by ordinary people but it was not the same as ordinary conversation. The same was true of the translators of the King James Bible (The Authorised Version) of 1611. They deliberately used a form of English of 1500. Again, it was understandable but different. When these scholars presented their translation, they did not submit documents but read them out aloud; how it sounded was all important. Like Cranmer they were trained as orators. So, a beautiful language of metre, rhythm, poetry and phrasing was created. Though different it was heard, understood, valued and remembered.

The beauty of worship is not just furnishings, but something that is heard. Unfortunately, this abandoned in the 1970s, with the new prayer books and so there are many who have lost contact with this beautiful language. Years ago, I stayed at a Russian Monastery in Essex. Their founder, Father Sophroney, decided to translate the Slavonic liturgy into English. He chose the language of our Book of Common Prayer, why? ‘Because it is a language of worship’. Of course!