Language a barrier?
10:49am Friday 3rd January 2014 in Letters
IF traditional language is such a barrier to modern people attending church and deters them from coming, how is it that the seasonal services of nine lessons and carols, employing as they do the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible and much-loved Victorian hymns, are so outstandingly popular? - for popular they are in an unparalleled way.
No other service in the year can match the number of people that are drawn to attend these artistically-constructed and exquisitely musical celebrations.
At Christmas time our cathedrals, in particular, and some parish churches too, are packed to capacity (as St David’s Cathedral was this year) by people of all ages, including children and the generally elusive males. Often it is necessary to arrive an hour before the service begins to ensure obtaining a reasonable seat.
The question is, do people come despite the traditional language or, more likely, partly because of it? Surely, on this occasion at least, the language appeals in a way that the quickly forgotten modern biblical translations and trashy choruses can never do. It draws them in.
To replace it would simply lessen the appeal; it is a temptation, which, I hope, the cathedrals will long resist.
But since elements of the Church, in their mania to achieve popularity, have too often shot themselves in the foot, and acted as their worst enemy, there can be no guarantee that this will always be so.
Admittedly, carol services have the added appeal of candlelight, special floral decorations, sparkling music and greater lay participation, yet, without the traditional language, so much would be lost.
This is not an appeal to abandon all modern-language services, although most of them are devoid of literary distinction and jar on the ear at some point, but to question whether traditional liturgical language - especially language that is rhythmic, balanced and harmonious - is the bar that some strident Church spokesmen assert that it is. Some of us think otherwise - strongly.
THE REV ANTHONY WINTLE