Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lost in Translation: Churchy Church Language

So everyone who reads my stuff knows I work ecumenically, right?

Yes, I spend lots of real & cyber-time hanging out with clergy and lay leadership from lots of church denominations, mainly (or is that mainline) these: ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), Episcopal Church, USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Methodist Church.

This also means I spend some percentage of time engaged in simultaneous translation because, gee, let's not all use the same terms for everything. One Body? Hell no! Not even one brain. Certainly not one voice with a language system to go with it.

For example, I recently learned that instead of using the term "Eucharistic Adoration" like Roman Catholics, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians use the term "Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament."  I don't know why and, quite frankly at this point, I don't want to know why. I've developed zero tolerance for churchy church language that reifies divisions among Christians.

Yesterday I went on Twitter to ask if there was any agreement about using the term "Altar Guild" for the committee that fusses with flowers, altar linens, candles, menorot, pew kneelers, and all that.

Lo and behold, remarkable unanimity among "high church" Protestants: Altar Guild!

Catholics call it the Altar Society.

More clear? No, just different.

For the sake of Christian unity, I say we simply agree to call it the Prom Committee.


  1. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic Adoration are not the same thing. Eucharistic Adoration encompasses a variety of practices of which Benediction is but one. In my experience, RCs use the term Benediction. Anglicans talk about Adoration.

    But your general point is well taken.

  2. Thanks for getting the general point. You are warmly invited to argue with my husband about the details of Benediction/Adoration and then let me know if I should ever again listen to him!

  3. Love the "Prom Committee" thing, brings an almost leitmotif vibe to Altar Guilding. Hey? Alter-Guilding as a verb? Hmmm.

    The liturgical peevishness described,( so very well ), always reminds me of the visceral feeling of spiritual revulsion I felt way back in the '70s when, amongst myriad spasms of lunacy, the HMC decided they were going to be "ecumenical" in a transparent bid to be popular, ( enter the prom committee ). Determined to make Catholicism "cool" or "relevant", those vested with the care and protection of the Church tried to move God, herd Christ, closer to The People, 'man'.

    The beautiful Catholic liturgy, the cadence, the rhythm, the song of Mass was mangled and diminished. Not very surprisingly – I rebelled. Having memorized The Mass, I kept it close and recited it in Pre-Hey-Man-Wow reverence.

    And now, as the liturgy is restored and revived and while those about in the Church struggle to read the words I never gave up, the Church seems poised to move the people, herd the very lost lambs, back towards God, who never moved.

    Many Hugs & Pax Max!

  4. OK, Meredith;

    so who should decide what to call things?
    [serious question]



  5. I dunno, Bosco. All I see is how the different terms and then squabbling over what is/isn't correct hacks the Body of Christ into parts.

    On a lighter note, you know the joke about what's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist, right? Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.


  6. I was at a meeting of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion last evening. It is important that we move quietly and with purpose during the liturgy but there are so many little rules about what should be done that we could be in danger of losing the awe of serving the Body of Christ to fellow believers. Is this what Jesus intended when He gave us the Eucharist?

    The essence of what you have discussed in this post is indicative of a serious concern if the church of Christ is ever to be one. Thanks for addressing this in such a humorous way.

  7. Oh Lynda, I've been in those meetings and will never forget the one where one EM was so obsessed about what she should do if she MAYBE EVER dropped anything even the deacon rolled his eyes with exasperation. There's lots we do as "church" that Jesus never intended. This is me, heaving a heavy sigh.

  8. Your sigh is in tune with my sigh. I guess I think that Jesus will take care of himself. Having said that, I do respect those who want to show the deepest respect for our Lord - it's just that people are dying of starvation in our world and we are concerned about which linen towel we should use where. Enough said!!


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