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Hallo again to all.

We have often identified—personally and professionally—as philologists, 'lovers of words' in the most literal translation, but with the wider connotation of studying a particular foreign literature. For us, this happened to be the classical languages of Latin and Greek, but the term has no such general restriction. Just the love of a language.Alleluia by Michael Podesta

This makes us particularly mindful when language is used in an interesting way in our daily lives and doubly so in a religious rite, an area that probably constitutes a second hobby if philology is our first. So when at an Orthodox Jewish wedding—a first for us—part of the ceremony involved reading the marriage contract, the ketubah, in the original Aramaic formulation, our ears perked up. There was, of course, a mixture of English, Hebrew prayers, and the appropriate cries of mazel tov as the glass was broken, but the use of a language, Aramaic, that tied back to Jesus' own likely spoken experience caused us to think more broadly about the use of language in the sacred.

Whole volumes can and have and will continue to be written on the subject, but our own brief thought is on how language serves as a potted history—or at least, a fingerprint of the history—of a faith. Modern Judaism blends Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek terminology—the synagogue is after all derived from the Greek term for a place where people 'meet together'. Christianity shares those languages, and then blends in Latin from its time as the official faith of the later Roman empire and shows its Greek heritage more prominently still whenever we cry kyrie eleison. Our musical heritage would also be far poorer without the many standards written for the Latin tongue, whether the Ave verum or the Spem in alium.

Of course, the Anglican contribution to this patrimony—and probably its most significant one—is that the majority of our sacred rites are in the language of the people. Once that meant English but now also encompasses translations of our liturgy into numerous languages. (You can see some of them here.) Cranmer's desire to write liturgy in a language understood by the people was an innovation for its time, and for centuries thereafter it was an Anglican distinctive.

For us, this calls to mind being in a friend's sitting room and looking at the decorations. A knick-knack from one part of the globe, a photo from a theme park or similar location, artwork; all of these tell a bit of the story of the people who live there. Likewise, the languages used in worship tell a portion of a faith's story. Not the whole, maybe not even the majority, but certainly a few of the layers are peeled pack if one listens closely.

So as you go to vespers, or morning prayer, Sunday worship, weddings, or any other rites, we hope you'll listen from where the words come. They have a story to tell.

See you next week.

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29 July 2018

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