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Prayer and Belief – It’s Complicated

Vatican Council II

Lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of praying is the law of believing. Prayer shapes belief. Liturgy leads to theology.

But we also know that the relationship works the other way around: beliefs affect the way we pray. Theology affects liturgy.

Just this week (as just one example), I am watching a debate (yes – it gets heated) about changing third person (and hence, in English, gendered) pronouns to second person pronouns in the Magnificat (A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa follows this approach all the time). There is concern that changing from third to second person “removes the idea of proclamation and changes the canticle to private prayer”.

The English Language Liturgical Consultation, in its work where theology affects liturgy, justifies the option of such a change:

In Hebrew prayer God is praised indirectly in the third-person as well as by direct address.
The third- and second-persons may alternate, as for instance in the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2) and frequently in the psalms. There is also ancient liturgical precedent for converting an original third-person address to the second-person, as in the Sanctus where the original “his glory” has long been rendered as “your glory.” In contemporary English, direct address is more natural.

In the Benedictus and the Magnificat the third-person of the original generates a number of masculine pronouns—considerably more in English than in Greek or Latin. The Consultation has therefore offered alternative versions, in which the third-person is replaced by the second-person. (Praying Together, page 38)

Prayer and Belief – the relationship is complicated.

So, in a Throwback-Thursday way, here is an article (across three posts) I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the first document promulgated by Vatican II:

When belief shaped praying (part 1)
When belief shaped praying (part 2)
When belief shaped praying (part 3)

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5 thoughts on “Prayer and Belief – It’s Complicated”

  1. Traduttore, traditore: language is always imperfect and experiences a kind of entropy in transition. The point made about the ancient change of wording in the Sanctus to the grammatical second person is salient, and Hebrew is full of third-person address to God. The principle in Latin is that the Father is addressed as tu in the Eucharistic prayer and so must continue to be addressed. The Benedictus, however, being addressed to the Son, is in the third person. It’s interesting to note that the latest translation of the Roman missal removed the sole third-person memorial acclamation to Christ on the basis that it’s not a faithful translation of the Latin and that it’s wrong to address the sacramentally present Christ in such manner: no one pointed out that Christ is addressed in the third person in the rest of the Eucharistic prayer. Likewise, the Gloria in excelsis quotes the angels’ praise of God in the third person, but continues in the seconds person. The ‘his people’ vs. ‘God’s people’ change could have been made by meaning it ‘your people’, but perhaps that would lose faithfulness with the biblical text. Remaking the Magnificat in the second person is a departure from the biblical text and, unlike the Sanctus, it’s not strictly required by context, yet vertical inclusivity often demands radical recording off texts.

    1. Thanks so much, Gareth. I have often (mainly in the context of the Collect) written (and spoken) about addressing the First Person of the Trinity. In the Tradition of the Church, there is a Eucharistic Prayer addressed to Christ – but it is an exception (that proves the “rule”?). The NZ Anglican acclamation addressed to Christ in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer has, for me hence, always stood out as odd. You have added weight to that sense. Blessings.

  2. People are preoccupied with pronouns. Sometimes I think The Borg had it right, as in ‘can I be human being Tracy’ because I do feel a little like ‘assimilation into the collective’ is become too important!

    We can’t all agree ( even about the simplest things! ) so-

    *how do we build communication bridges and cover that disagreement?*

    Nothing new there, just needs saying again occasionally!

    What is the oldest extant text of the Song of Hannah, do you know?

    1. Thanks, Tracy.

      I think having an apophatic foundation (God is beyond our comprehension) and realising how metaphor works (we can only use metaphors to point towards the one we call “God”) frees us in our use of pronouns. The trouble, I guess, is that most people don’t have those two realisations.

      I don’t know the answer to your Song of Hannah question, sorry.


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