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Latin not dead at Christmas

Coming up in the public school system in Savannah many, many moons ago, I got a strong base education in Latin. It was referred to as a ‘˜dead language’ then and it has certainly flatlined now – gone the way of cursive writing. I was able to master Latin somewhat but cursive writing? Not so much. I cannot read my own handwriting after a couple hours so I have my own code – unbreakable by anyone, including me. But back to Latin. It steps to the forefront at Christmas. I love to watch the Christmas mass from the Vatican with all the ceremonial flourishes, the processionals and swinging incense. The readings are in Latin and, though I cannot understand them, the language adds weight and credence to the importance of the birth of Jesus Christ. Last week, I watched mesmerized as the vastly talented members of Griffin Choral Arts performed John Rutter’s Gloria. It was performed in Latin, accompanied by brass and percussion. It was majestic – a masterpiece. John Rutter composed the musical setting for parts of the Latin Gloria in 1974 and conducted the premiere of it in Omaha, Nebraska. Often described as exalted, devotional and jubilant, it has been widely performed since. A large number of voices is required to make it sound as it should, however. Here are the words in English: Glory be to God on high, And in earth peace toward men of good will. We praise thee. We bless thee. We worship thee. We glorify thee. We give thanks to thee for thy great glory. O Lord God, heavenly King God the Father almighty. O Lord, the only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Of Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father. Thou that takest away the sins of the earth, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right of the Father, have mercy upon us. For thou art Holy. Thou only art the Lord. Thou only art the Most High. Jesus Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art Most High in the glory of God the Father. Amen Certainly, this is holy text. All, or at least parts of it, are familiar to anyone who has spent any time at all in church. Yet, the Latin is majestic. Here are the same words in the dead language. Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudimus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnum gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili Unigenite, Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Que sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis. Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus. Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu; in gloria Dei Patris. Amen. It is important to realize Rutter wrote the musical score to fit the Latin enunciations. Rutter’s masterwork is simple to find on your smartphone. Put in your earbuds and play it loud. It will never replace ‘˜Silent Night’ or ‘˜Away in the Manger’ in our culture but I bet you will play it more than once. It will remind you the birth of the Christ is what this season is really all about. Gloria in excelsis Deo and Merry Christmas.

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