The 'New Old' Byzantine Liturgy

Our latest Web only article looks at the Byzantine Church's transition to a new liturgical translation. The author, the Rev. Michael N. Kane, is pastor of a Byantine church in Florida and a professor at Florida Atlantic University:

Several years ago, the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church in the United States began looking at its English translation of the liturgy. Byzantine liturgical scholars, diocesan liturgical commissions and hierarchs proposed a revised translation to the appropriate Vatican authorities. The new text was approved. Opinion and input from parish clergy or laity was not formally solicited.

In 2006, Byzantine-Ruthenian priests were informed that the new English translations of the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great, the two principal liturgies used in the Byzantine Church, were ready to be introduced into parishes. Clergy and laity hoped that the new translation would make evangelization easier and that these liturgies would become even better understood. The revised text has presented significant challenges, such as the re-introduction of obscure Greek words and a slavish adherence to traditional plainchant....

The list of challenges could go on. Even after four years, it feels overwhelming sometimes to the cantors, the people and to me, the pastor of a small church. From my perspective, stilted but precise translations have not added any fervor to the little congregation I serve. My parishioners loved God before—and they still love Him.

The new “purified” version of traditional plainchant melodies has done little in the way of lifting my heart.  And I wonder if anyone else’s heart has been lifted. Perhaps we will all grow accustomed to this new “old-way.”  Still, I admire my parishioners for their openness to this new translation. There are no revolutions to report, although there has been much eye-rolling and often a suppressed giggle. On the national level, there is a serious and continuing call from some clergy and laity to suppress the new “old-way.” When all is said and done, a greater understanding of the liturgy remains the goal. I just wish I could believe that we are on the right path.

Tim Reidy

 

Jim McCrea
6 years ago
I think a fundamental flaw in the liturgical language norms in the Latin Rite church is the slavish goal of adhering as closely as possible to the Latin text.

Direct translations of Latin, without any care for readability or attention of the indigenous language nuances and norms, can and will only result in correct translations that are stilted, meaningless and which will not begin to inspire the congregants.


Latin has its uses, but being the norm for liturgical language in contemporary society is not one of them.

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