“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.
Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” (Isaiah 66)
An estimate of the influence of the Latin language on modern English suggests close to half our spoken words are derived from the Roman tongue, including Norman French words. The bulk of the remainder come from Germanic roots with about 5% derived from Greek. In East Asia Chinese has had a similar impact with the distinctive ancient characters coming to influence ideas and concepts throughout the wider region.
The whole question of language in our faith and worship is a complex and intriguing one. The introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, to which we are already becoming more accustomed but still adjusting to, has demonstrated this fact vividly in recent months. Of course, it’s not just a question of words and translation but the bigger issue of a mind-set or way of thinking that makes the question of language and interpretation an even more involved one.
In our Church Year we come across a number of familiar words that still maintain that direct link to our Latin Christian past. Naturally in our prayers and the Scriptures themselves words such as “Alleluia” and “Hosanna” and “Kyrie eleison” which come to us through Latin unchanged but reflect even more remote origins are commonplace. Two words that were traditionally associated with the Sunday of Advent and Lent are “Gaudate Sunday” (the 3rd Sunday of Advent before Christmas) and “Laetare Sunday” (the 4th Sunday of Lent before Easter). Both of the expressions and their timing within those liturgical seasons point to a half-way stage and a turning point in the journey towards Christmas and Easter respectively. One both Sundays traditionally the darker sombre colours of violet are lightened to a rose or pink to reflect a change in mood and outlook.
The word “Laetare” that marks this weekend’s liturgy on the 4th Sunday of Lent is derived from the first word of the Mass, the Entrance Antiphon (the Introit in older terminology) “Rejoice!” - an uplifting cry of expectation as the day of our salvations through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection is drawing nearer, captures the spirit of the day and the liturgy. While we make an effort to examine our lives, humbly recognise our failures and turn to the Church’s comforting Sacrament of Reconciliation at this time, we are reminded also to rejoice in the Lord’s gift of mercy and forgiveness as something not only to be received but to be shared.