Friday, March 9, 2012

αἰνεῖτε τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου αἰνεῖτε δοῦλοι κύριον

One of more unfortunate tendencies in the Roman church is our tendency to forget our Greek past. It's hard to imagine why, but it is a fact of life. I read one review of Midwest Theological Forum's edition of the Roman Missal in which the reviewer expressed a shade of disappointment that the cover design stemmed from the Eastern rather than Western tradition.

For Southern Italians, there is the constant reminder of Latin Christianity's distinctly Eastern origins. From Naples south, the Italian peninsula had a long Greek past and, to varying degrees, this past has left it imprint upon the regional culture and even the regional Christianity. Calabria, in particular, bears the strong mark of this Greek past. Indeed, the Calabrian dialect is itself a unique fusion of Greek, Latin, and Italian, Greek forming the base upon which further Latin elements were built. Sometimes, this is reflected in the vocabulary, sometimes in the actual grammar of the Calabrian language. The Greek history is often demonstrable in the surnames from the south. In any event, it's there. Southern Italian Catholicism, as it has developed, is neither exactly Western nor Eastern in its customs or local expressions, but straddling a line somewhere between the two. Our saints and local cults are of a decidedly Eastern flavor, with a few of the more popular Norman era imports.

At the root of my cultural/ancestral Christian experience lay the Greek language. Indeed, at the root of my ancestry itself, there is the Greek language. As such, there is, in my mind at least, a sacred office to pray in the ancient ancestral tongue.

In a previous post, I noted the effects of Latin in my Christian formation. While I'm no longer so focused on Latin, there are some things that only seem to make sense in that tongue. Similarly, Greek too, more recently, has left its mark in the manner in which I pray and conceive of the divine. In particular, I cherish the last twenty five or thirty psalms of the Septuagint. I have no particular reason as to why, I couldn't explain if so pressed. It's simply how it is - and, most importantly, there's that twin response of emotion and intellect.

The language of prayer, especially liturgical prayer, should never be regulated by formality or aesthetics; it should never be the occasion for a blank response, sensory or otherwise.