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30 January 2013

Why Am I Singing in Latin?

I am not a fan of singing songs in unknown tongues.

Our choir director welcomed us into the new year with a packet of songs set to last until Easter.  One of my immediate surprises was the number of songs we are scheduled to sing in Latin. Sure, I studied Latin in the eighth and ninth grades and can still do a fair job of proper pronunciation, but I have very little recall of the meaning of most words.  When I rehearse and sing these songs for weeks to come, I am not going to have much of a clue as to both what I am saying and why.  How is this going to nurture my spiritual life and strengthen my faith?  How is this going to help me minister to listeners in the pews?

I find it troubling that a mainline protestant, english-language church is programming songs in Latin Sunday after Sunday when the language prevents most of us in the choir or congregation from comprehending the content of the lyric.  I know the songs once belonged in worship, having been designed for use in Catholic congregations hundreds of years ago.  Fine.  At least those congregants had a chance to know what the choir was saying and why.  If you want me to sing the song today, at least give me a lyric I can understand.  I, personally, would much rather sing an english translation or paraphrase of the original Latin text.

Singing lyrics in an unintelligible language (as perceived by the average participant) is an educational rather than a spiritual exercise.  Why not design a concert and sing all of these songs you want in their original language.  Then, each creation and form of expression may be appreciated and the program may help listeners become better educated musically, historically and perhaps even theologically.

I don't believe in singing (or playing) music in worship for the music's sake.  Paul wrote that he would rather speak a few words people can understand than many that make no sense.  A good guide for selecting lyrics for worship.



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