St Columba and the Scottish Liturgy in Latin

Taking time off in lockdown is a strange experience. Instead of a fortnight in Moidart, we had a week at home. During that week I translated the 1970 Scottish Liturgy into Latin with the aid of the English Communion Office from the Liber Precum Communium Ecclesiae Anglicanae (the Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer), and the Liturgia Scotica Anglice et Latine, tradita, collecta et promulgata a ‘Fra Ascensione’ (a translation of the Scottish Liturgy in the 1929 Scottish Prayer Book, published in Edinburgh in 1962 by Kenneth MacNaghten Mylne). This is an odd thing to do, even for someone like me who has published a book and a number of articles on the Latin Liturgy in Scotland. Even stranger, I celebrated this translation of the 1970 Liturgy for the feast of St Columba and am sharing it today on Youtube (see below – much of the introduction is found in this post, the Liturgy starts 9 minutes in). Why did I do this?

My first reasons are personal. For eighteen years I was a Benedictine monk and celebrated the liturgy each day in Latin, I was ordained in Latin and for almost five years celebrated the Eucharist each day in Latin. The Latin liturgy thus formed me as a Christian and entered into my soul, I still naturally use Latin in my personal prayers and it is my first language for the psalms. Praying in Latin for me is the same as praying in French for one who speaks French as a second language. Although I left the monastery and returned to the Scottish Episcopal Church, I will remain eternally grateful for the deep formation in Christian tradition I received there.

The other personal reason is that, although I have written on a number of subjects, my main academic interest is the Latin liturgy. I am interested both in how it was understood, the basic theme of my book Sacred Signs in Reformation Scotland (Oxford, 2015), and in the material culture it produced, catalogued in Lost Interiors (Edinburgh, 2013) and the ‘Catalogue of liturgical books and fragments in Scotland before 1560’, The Innes Review 62:2 (2011), 127-213. This work has shown me how limited is our entry into the Mystery of Christ if we confine ourselves to contemporary Christianity because Christians of previous generations and their habits of prayer have much to teach us. The challenge is to share this with our contemporaries.

While in the monastery I edited for liturgical use the unique chants for the feast of St Columba found in a precious liturgical fragment from the Abbey of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth. Later, with a group of young Christians and with the Scottish Plainsong Choir, I was able to sing some of these Latin chants at Inchcolm Abbey. The use of these Latin chants in worship today demonstrates their enduring value and is behind my decision to celebrate the Liturgia Scotica for the Feast of St Columba. Columba, and all the ‘Celtic’ saints, worshipped in Latin and used this same language in their private prayers, as is shown by their efforts to copy and memorise the Latin psalter and gospels. A Latin Eucharist, with understanding of the language, is a much more authentic ‘Celtic liturgy’ that anything that comes under that heading today.

Some may say that appealing to the Celtic Church is a smokescreen for bringing Roman Catholic elements into the Scottish Episcopal Church. Latin liturgy is actually rare in the Roman Church in Scotland today and any knowledge of contemporary Episcopalian liturgy and theology demonstrates that both our Churches live a common faith, even if we are still divided on a few individual points of doctrine and morals. The importance of Latin liturgy for Episcopalians actually come from different sources.

During the lockdown, among the various online liturgies a weekly celebration of Mattins in Latin from the Book of Common Prayer attracted over 600 views. The celebrant, Dr Francis Young, found his Twitter following rise to over ten thousand and published an important post on Anglican Latin liturgy on his blog. This concerns the Church of England but we find a similar use of Latin in the Scottish Reformed Church because, while the Reformers were concerned with worship in language people understood, Latin was one of those languages. It remained for centuries the common language of scholarship and not a Roman Catholic monopoly. The Scottish Lutheran, Alexander Alesius (1500-65), made the first Latin translation of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer in 1551, the Ordinatio ecclesiae, both to promote dialogue among Evangelicals and to encourage reconciliation between them and reform-minded Catholics. Latin psalters and prayer books remained in use among Reformed Scots, a book of Latin Epistles and Gospels was annotated in sixteenth-century Dundee to conform to the Book of Common Prayer and a twelfth-century psalter from Blantyre had the Prayer Book psalm numbering added in the same period.

When I was asked to put together a course of Scottish Episcopalian history and identity for the Scottish Episcopal Institute, the question was where to begin. We could start with the definitive separation of the Church from the Presbyterians in 1689 or from the Roman Catholics in 1560, but I thought it more true to our Church’s self-identity as a Scottish ‘branch of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ’ (canon 1) to start with the very beginning of Christianity in what is now Scotland in the Roman or sub-Roman era. A presence witnessed to by a few Latin inscriptions and texts. The living tradition of Anglican Latin liturgy may give the reason for a translation of the Scottish Liturgy into Latin, but praying this liturgy both puts us in closer contact with Christians from the the first millennium of the faith in our land and enables us to understand better how we worship in our own languages today (remembering that the Scottish Liturgy is now celebrated in Gaelic as well as English and that there are people in our congregations with other first languages).

Mass at Old St Paul’s using the 1970 Scottish Liturgy

Since first coming to Scotland as a teenager, I have been used to both the 1970 and 1982 versions of the Scottish Liturgy. In celebrating the 1970 Liturgia Scotica for St Columba, I was conscious that, while it was a one-off event, it was a normal act of worship and so I celebrated it in the way I would have celebrated it in English, with the same altar and vestments, and I spoke the Latin in the way I normally speak it. There was no attempt to stage a reconstruction. The 1970 Liturgy is an authorised liturgy of the Church, although the Latin translation is an experimental one. What I found interesting, as one who is more familiar with the Roman liturgy in Latin, is how translation and celebration brought out the distinctive characteristics of our Scottish Liturgy.

Firstly how strongly it proclaims the Eucharist as a Sacrifice, the sacramental offering of the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. This is not surprising if you know the Scottish Episcopalian tradition of Eucharistic theology, as found in Bishop Jolly’s The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist considered, as it is, the Doctrine of Holy Scripture (1831), and the adddition of the words ‘WHICH WE OFFER UNTO THEE’ in bold, referring to the bread and wine, to the Scottish Liturgy in the eighteenth century ‘Wee Bookies’. Secondly how it teaches the real and objective presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread and wine in a much stronger way than the Roman or English liturgies. These say that they ‘become for us’ the body and blood of Christ, whereas the Scottish Liturgy simply prays that they may ‘become’, ‘fiant‘ in Latin, the body and blood of Christ. All really teach the same thing but the Roman and English formula may be taken in a ‘receptionist’ way – that the elements do not become the body and blood of Christ except when we receive them.

These two points may be seen in the English text, but to one familiar with the Latin Roman liturgy they stand out more strongly in the Latin translation. Another thing that becomes clear is that the Scottish Liturgy is above all a Western liturgy. Much is made of the influence of Eastern Orthodox liturgies on the Scottish rite via the eighteenth-century Scottish liturgists, especially the presence of an Epiclesis found after the Institution Narrative. The Epiclesis in the 1549 English Rite and in the Scottish Liturgy from 1637 may in fact owe more to continental Reformed theology than the Christian East (it is also in John Knox’s Book of Common Order). It was, however, certainly taken as an Eastern feature by Episcopalian liturgists from the Eighteenth Century and the extended Gloria in excelsis in the Scottish Liturgy is another Greek feature, this time from the Codex Alexandrinus. These are, however, relatively minor details compared to the whole shape of the liturgy which, with the exceptions of the Epiclesis, speaks the language of the Latin tradition and more specifically this tradition in its late medieval form. This again is not surprising as most of it is a rearrangement of the Communion Service in the English Book of Common Prayer, which was itself a chopped-down rearrangement of the Lain Mass in the Sarum Missal. As the Sarum Missal was used in Scotland as well as England, this gives us a precious link with the devotional life of medieval Scotland.

An image of Mass from fifteenth-century Scotland, the Mass of St Gregory in the Arbuthnott Missal

This translation of the 1970 Scottish Liturgy into Latin, which I will share in a subsequent post, and the video of it being celebrated on the Feast of St Columba are offered to those who find that the Latin language helps their prayer, to those who are interested in Anglican Latin liturgy, to those who wish to get closer to the sources of the Christian tradition in Scotland, to those who wish to understand better the Scottish Liturgy, and to all scholars who understand Latin and are interested in Christian liturgy. It is not offered as a translation authorised by the Scottish Episcopal Church (although the 1970 Liturgy is authorised). Any constructive comments on the translation would be welcome.

10 thoughts on “St Columba and the Scottish Liturgy in Latin

  1. Delighted beyond measure with this ! Thank you so much, Stephen. Will be good to celebrate our Scottish liturgy in’Heaven’s own native’ from time to time in the chapel here.

  2. Thank you so much for this. Speaking of Scottish Sarum – do you know where I could find the Ordo of the Priory of St Andrews – and indeed anything about the liturgy used in the Cathedral? Thank you

    1. All the extant liturgical books from pre-reformation Scotland are in my catalogue in the Innes Review. If you can’t find it online I’d be happy to send you a pdf – send me your email address. Best wishes.

  3. This book probably has the best study of liturgy at St Abdrews Cathedral.
    Our awin Scottis use: Music in the Scottish Church up to 1603
 Isobel Woods Preece 
 xi + 369 (Studies in the Music of Scotland) The Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen Glasgow 
 2000 0–8526169–4–5

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