More on Brentwood Butler and revolt against the ICEL translation

A little while ago, a priest of the Diocese of Brentwood (UK), Fr. Michael Butler – director of the diocesan commission for liturgy, sent a letter to the priests of that diocese, and to the über-liberal, dissident weekly publication The Tablet (aka The Pill), claiming that priests can – on their own authority – refuse to use the current ICEL English translation of the Roman Missal and go back to the obsolete 1973 translation.  I took him apart HERE.

Immediately the local bishop, Most Rev. Thomas McMahon corrected the record.  He wrote to the priests of the diocese to affirm the obvious: we must use the new, corrected translation and priests cannot use the older version, and he made it clear that Butler was not speaking for the diocese.

An eminent liturgical scholar, Fr. John Hunwicke of the Ordinariate of O.L. of Walsingham (btw… see Daniel Mitsui’s fine new artwork HERE), weighed in with his comments at his blog Mutual Enrichment.  He treats Butler’s risible remarks with the tone they deserve:  “they are a joke”… but a joke we have to pay attention to.  Let’s plunge in media res and with my trademark emphases and comments:


We thought that there was a self-supporting, self-validating network of so-called ‘experts’ or ‘liturgists’ who were determined to impose their own very narrow group agenda upon the Church. Fr Butler confirms this. He tells us that the Roman document Liturgiam authenticam is “a laughing stock among academics and scholarly linguists“. Clearly, that last phrase means, in the Vernacular, ‘me and my chums and people who agree with us’. [Exactly.  They are in a self-constructed and remarkably small echo-chamber.] So Butler is not a lone, ridiculous, figure. His own claim is that he represents a significant group. These are, presumably, the same jokers who, when Joseph Ratzinger started to write about Liturgy, threw up their hands in outrage and cried “But he’s not a liturgist!” [Remember that?  I recall the retort of Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP: “Liturgy is too important to be left to liturgists.”] The ones with regard to whom somebody coined the good old witticism about what the difference is between a terrorist and a liturgist (“You can negotiate with a terrorist”).

And it is an apparently illiterate group. Specimens of its illiteracy are Butler’s absurd discussion of the word ‘vernacular’ [Even I, with my heart as cold as a frog’s on a mountain, felt embarrassment for him.] and Archdeacon’s bizarre statement that “there is nothing sacred about Latin”. [Patently ridiculous.] Clearly, despite the lofty manner which each of them adopts in putting us lesser mortals straight, they do not have at their finger-tips … to take but one example … any of the many works of the great linguist and liturgist Christine Mohrmann, who dominated her field for decades. Writing in English, French, German, and Dutch, she demonstrated [in a classic monograph that every person who opens his pie-hole ought to have read and retained on his shelf …] how Christian Latin emerged, was consciously developed, in order to fill the needs and instinct of the worshipping community for a deliberately sacral language. She felt that the time was not ripe for vernacular liturgies in the late twentieth century, because modern European languages had not developed their sacred vernaculars. Liturgiam authenticam, interestingly, echoed her words in its call for the development of such vernaculars, even if this meant the possible use of archaisms. In other words, ‘vernacular’ does not possess anything like the univocal, simplistic sense which Butler claims. … [My friend Fr. Uwe Michael Lang has also written about Latin and vernacular HERE.]


Like many slippery operators, Butler mentions Sacrosanctum concilium [sic] of Vatican II. But SC 22 (3) (the sub-section which lays down that nobody is to do things by their own authority) does not deter him from informing his readers that “it is legitimate to use our previous Missal”. And it is clear from his letter that, in his official capacity, he has been going round the clergy of his diocese with an agenda which does not noticeably include encouraging them to behave legally, or helping them by explaining to them things they do not understand. By listing dissentient malpractices with such cheerful relish, he is either naive or he is encouraging others to join in breaking the Law. Perhaps the most amusing of his absurdities is his characterisation of the current translation of the Missal as ‘illegitimate’. I simply love that: is the poor Bu**er aware that this precisely echoes the rhetoric of Archbishop Lefebvre, who often remarked that the post-Conciliar rites were “illegitimate” (sometimes translated as ‘bastard’)?  [To echo a grand American prelate, Butler manifests a “Lefevbrism of the Left”.]


Perhaps the tone of what I have written has, too flippantly, suggested that the Butlers are merely a joke. They are not. They represent a very evil (I use the word advisedly) threat to the hopes of recovery in the Latin Church. I plan to deal with this at greater length.

But they are a joke too, and we are entitled to our laughs.

Fr. Z Kudos to Fr. H.

Read the whole thing over there. If you comment, tell him Fr. Z sent you.

Rem acu tetigit.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z KUDOS, Liberals, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, The Drill and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Simon_GNR says:

    Note to Fr. Z: In England & Wales, bishops are “Right Reverend”, not “Most Reverend”, the latter title being reserved for archbishops. This is not the first time I have pointed this out to you.

  2. Acanthaster says:

    This is very timely, Father, as just this past weekend, someone passed out during the beginning “And with your spirit.” Fortunately, the muscle memory of the beating of the breast during the confiteor, revived him unexpectedly. We thought he was safe after that, but during the Creed, he simply burst into flames and started lashing out at the word “consubstantial”…

  3. Unwilling says:

    Christine Mohrmann (1903-1988)

    How delighted I was to see her work mentioned! She is a favourite topic of mine and I see a longish note arising from it. I am certain that the level of discourse about Latin in the Liturgy would very greatly improve, if Dr Mohrmann’s work were more widely known and cited.

    Fr Z has done it!

    On the other hand, in the absence of her being properly known, it is possible for the Butler-like anonymous writer of “Christine Mohrmann (1903-1988): The Science of Liturgical Language,” {Liturgy Digest 1:2 (1994) 4-43.} to pretend that she was in favour of the vernacularization of the Liturgy in ways that she in fact strongly disagreed with, and thereby to coopt and recruit her to their destructive designs, driving away from her magnificent Nachlass those who could gain most by her work.

    In addition to the “Liturgical Latin” mentioned, see her pamphlet “Latin Vulgaire – Latin des Chrétiens – Latin Medieval”.

    Dr Mohrmann’s work is of the highest standards of scholarship, guided by a profoundly wise understanding of the human mind in relation to the sacred, and an unshakeable Catholic Faith. She is not only the greatest modern scholar of Ecclesiastical languages, but a polymath who compiled an Atlas of the Church (that still has no equal), on education, on linguistics, on Europe, etc. Although some popular ones have been translated into English, her works are mainly in French. Her collected scholarly essays “Études sur le Latin des Chrétiens, Tome I-IV” are beautifully printed (ABE ~$50/v +s&h). [I had hoped to translate all her works on Church Latin into English, but the years have caught up to me.]

    There is almost nothing in English on her life. And the relatively recent bio in Dutch “Wetenschap als Roeping[Science as a Vocation: Prof dr Christine Mohrmann (1903-1988)” ] is personal rather than intellectual.

    To any one linguistically competent, I warmly, nay, insistently, recommend all her writings. You will return laden with treasures!

    venientes autem venient in exultatione portantes manipulos suos
    Ps cxxv.6

  4. Cathy says:

    It’s odd, what may have been considered sacral vernacular, the use of words such as thee and thou, have been replaced with words such as you and yours. I’ve noticed this most in the recitation and printing of Marian prayers. It seems that this change, in my own little mind, has merited a replacement, of sorts, from theology to “you-all-ogy”. Words are important, and sometimes disturbing in their use. I’ve noticed, that when people are up in arms in defense of particular practices that the Catholic Church has judged as grave error or disorder, or when she sheds light upon practices that are spiritually dangerous, those who determine to hold on and defend their practices generally begin with a declarative self-description as a devout Catholic, rather than a faithful Catholic.

  5. James C says:

    After his call for rebellion, is Fr. Butler going to keep his job running the liturgical freakshow of the diocese of Brentwood? Let us hope he is promoted to washing rainbow stoles and polyester chasubles!

  6. fatherrob says:

    I note that the folks over at the Pray Tell blog have said nothing about this.

    Perhaps they haven’t heard yet.

  7. rbbadger says:

    We recently had a priest in my parish who persisted in using the old unapproved translations. The reason was that the missal he had with the unapproved translation was so he could wander about the sanctuary talk-show style. I sent a letter to the bishop complaining and the bishop disciplined the priest. (It is so nice after so many long years of tolerance of dissent and heterodoxy to finally have a good, solid, and young bishop who takes these things seriously.) While I ended up being castigated from the pulpit for three Sundays in a row, it was worth it.

  8. jflare says:

    I tried looking on Amazon for a copy of the book about liturgical Latin, as pictured. I couldn’t find one.
    Where might one go for a copy of this book?
    I’ve been wanting a sound explanation for liturgical development for a long time now. Ms. Mohrmann’s book strikes me as a good place to start.

    [May I suggest that you try the library? My library used to work miracles with interlibrary loans.]

  9. St. Epaphras says:

    rbbadger, thank you for acting on principle and exercising fortitude. And thanks to the bishop, though he likely won’t see this.

  10. scholastica says:

    Cathy, regarding thee’s and thou’s and you’s: I learned a surprising and interesting tidbit this weekend at a Shakespeare conference. At least in his works, thee and thou are only used in the familiar sense b/w lovers and perhaps family members. “You” is considered the more formal address. It was pointed out as a way of determining when a couple “falls in love”. So, from this it seems “thee” was actually the vernacular.

  11. BobP says:

    It could have been worse. Imagine if the ICEL had translated “linguae vernaculae” in the SC as “vulgar tongue.” Perhaps then we’d be discussing the morality of any translation, forget obedience.

  12. Joe in Canada says:

    I wonder if the Bishop knew about this before he appointed him director of the Diocesan commission on the liturgy, and I wonder if he still holds the post. Bishops often reap the harvest they have sown.

  13. kiwiinamerica says:

    A joke.

    Q. What’s the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist?

    A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.

  14. Hans says:

    Kiwi, we had a fine young Franciscan priest at our parish not too long ago who had a different spin on that joke:

    Q: You’re stuck in a life raft with two infamous murderous terrorists and a liturgist; you have only two bullets in your gun; whom do you shoot?

    A: The liturgist, twice, in case you miss the first time.

  15. Patruus says:

    Christine Mohrmann’s “Liturgical Latin” in the form of an 86-page paperback is listed at[1] for $15, and as a 101-page paperback at[2] for GBP 8.54.



  16. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Writing in English, French, German, and Dutch, she demonstrated [in a classic monograph that every person who opens his pie-hole ought to have read and retained on his shelf …] how Christian Latin emerged”

    fr.z. doesn’t say that about many books, but when he does, i’m glad to breathe a sigh of relief and recall, yes, i’ve read it. whew.

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