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Choral Corner # 36: Why do we use traditional pronouns?

Q: At our parish, we use the traditional liturgical pronouns (Thy/Thou), but some other parishes use more contemporary language (You/Your). Some parishes also use Thy/Thou for God, and You/Your for everyone else. What’s going on?

A: In our parish, we customarily use the traditional singular pronouns. These are no longer used in casual, vernacular English, but this is of no concern,  as our worship is certainly neither casual nor vernacular. This evocative hieratic language helps us look past ourselves and lift our hearts and minds up to God.  We employ a form of English that is dignified and reverent, but not stilted, archaic or overly ornate to the point of causing distraction. For this reason, we do usually — not always — use the pronouns You/Your when addressing more than one person. The alternative, “Ye”, is relatively rare in any modern Anglophone Christian tradition (both Orthodox and heterodox), and when over-used may call to mind swashbuckling pirates on a galleon more than the choir of saints aboard the Ark of Salvation. 

To an extent, the choice of traditional vs. modern pronouns is an aesthetic one influenced by individual parish customs and the direction of the diocesan hierarch. However, there is one aspect of this that requires very serious theological consideration: the use of traditional pronouns for God, and vernacular pronouns for everybody else — especially the Mother of God. This creates a false separation between Christ, who is both truly God and truly Man — and us, His people whose humanity he fully assumed in order to save us. To deny this is to deny the Gospel, full stop. One may then say, “Well, let’s use the traditional pronouns only for God the Father, and for the Holy Spirit,” which is equally catastrophic, as this denies the consubstantiality of the Trinity. These small words — pronouns — really matter! Each word is what it is, and where it is, for a reason: to reveal God, who has revealed Himself to us. 

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