And Thereto I Plight Thee My Troth

Since I seem to share my English “stuffiness” with Fr John Hunwicke, I share his most recent article Bishop Stephen Lopes and Remarried Divorcees which is more about the rite of marriage than the moral and sacramental issues of adultery discussed in the current controversy over Amoris Laetitia. I have the suspicion that he might have taken up the challenge of Multiplying Entities which seems to ridicule the archaic language used in our wedding service.

Some of these expression like plighting one’s troth come from middle and old English, because, unlike the rest of the Sarum Use in Latin, the marriage service has always been in the vernacular. Such a consideration has been one of the most cogent arguments for using Latin in the liturgy rather than the constantly changing vernacular languages, especially English and German which have been used liturgically for centuries outside the Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic Church. It might surprise some readers to know that the vernacular was used in southern Germanic countries at least from about the time of the Council of Constance (1414-1418), and even much earlier as the old Latin and German carol In Dulci Jubilo from about 1328 attests.

Perhaps the more extreme archaisms need to be updated or explained, like our English tradition of statute law, common law and jurisprudence. However, it does convey a notion of immemorial custom in liturgy that overrides reforming legislation. It is an argument for reviving the Use of Sarum, even if it remains only as an “extraordinary” use in the way I use it in a Church predominantly using the Anglican Missal and the less Protestant versions of the Book of Common Prayer.

The marriage service is a remarkable survival of the Sarum Use and the pastoral use of the vernacular in England and in many of the small German-speaking countries. The issue does bring up the question of how archaic the liturgical language may be as opposed to using something like the new translation of the Paul VI Roman missal. We in the Continuing Anglican Churches are very attached to Cranmer’s translations, the Coverdale psalter, the King James Bible and various other translations of liturgical texts in the same style like the Anglican Missal, the Warren translation of Sarum and the English Missal. The Slavic Orthodox Churches use Church Slavonic rather than modern Russian and the other languages of that part of the world. There is a value to using an idiom that can be understood but which is no longer our current way of communicating, and it is something that needs to be studied and discussed.

I thank both Fr Hunwicke and John Bruce for highlighting this issue.

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