Priest (D. Brentwood, UK) claims we can use obsolete English translation of Missal. FAIL.


Readers of Protect the Pope have informed us that Bishop Thomas McMahon has acted decisively against Fr Butler’s letter advocating that they abandon the revised Roman Missal by writing to the priests of Brentwood diocese to refute his arguments and make clear that his maverick letter does not express the policy of the diocese.

Augustine writes:

‘In any case, the President of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission is Bishop Thomas McMahon – who has already written to all his priests very politely and very firmly putting the record straight. The letter he sent to all his priests this morning made it quite clear that Fr Butler acted without his knowledge or approval. With a few crisp words the Bishop has refuted Fr Butler’s verbose and incoherent arguments – as surely as if he had used a pin to burst the balloon of an over-inflated ego. Which is in fact what he has done.’

‘Apparently he acted even faster than you! My contacts tell me that he sent an email to all his priests this morning (30th January 2014).

I would very much like to see that!

Fr. Z Kudos to Bp. McMahon!



A priest friend alerted me to this at the site Protect The Pope:

Fr Butler sends his Tablet letter to every priest in Brentwood diocese telling them it’s OK to dump the new Roman Missal

Fr Michael J. Butler, the chairman of Brentwood’s diocesan commission for liturgy, has sent his letter in The Tablet [Wouldn’t you know that RU-486 (aka The Bitter Pill) would be involved…] to every priest in the diocese telling them it’s legitimate for priests to ditch the new translation, and use the previous missal. [Which is, of course, a lie.] Fr Butler has sent his brother priests the full version of his letter which the Tablet significantly edited for reasons that will be obvious as you read it.

I think everyone should see this.

Dear Sirs, [meaning, editors of The Tablet]

Re: Revised Translation of the Roman Missal

‘It doesn’t get better’ is a very apt heading for Martin Redfern’s letter (9 November 2013) on the Revised Translation of the Roman Missal. [Alas, I don’t have access to the full, online edition of The Pill. Anyone wanna share their access with me?]

I am Chairman of our Diocesan Commission for Liturgy and have had much discussion with clergy, both within the diocese and without. [He didn’t contact me. Did he talk to the bishop?] Most priests [Oh? Perhaps the priests with whom this guy associates with.  Which would be “few priests”.] have got on with it but grumbled about it. Not only grumbled but also changed or avoided some words and phrases that they found somewhat difficult to say with meaning. [Maybe the priests he hangs with aren’t very smart.  Hey!  It happens!] Some avoid words like ‘dewfall’, ‘oblation’, ‘consubstantial’, ‘many’ (and prefer ‘all’), some refuse point blank to use the Roman Canon ever again. Others reject the Sunday Collects and have returned to the previous translation’s Book of the Chair. Another has said that he has returned fully to the previous translation ‘in order to preserve his sanity’ – clearly ‘all is not well in the state of Denmark’! [That’s not the proper quote, but let that pass.]

What has gone wrong?

At the end of Vatican II in 1965, there was a final statement from the Pope’s Apostolic Letter, In Spiritu Sancto, read out to the assembled Bishops by Archbishop Felici, declaring the Council closed and enjoining that “everything the council decreed be religiously and devoutly observed by all the faithful.”

This prompted me to turn to Sacrosanctum Concilium to see what it was that referred particularly to matters of translation (Articles 34 and 36): [NB: He will avoid the texts that require that Latin be preserved, that pastors are obliged to make sure that people can respond in Latin, etc.]

*34: The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity, they should be short, clear and unencumbered by any useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.

*36, #2: The use of the mother tongue is frequently of great advantage to the people in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments and other parts of the liturgy, the limits of its employment may be extended.

#3: … it is for competent ecclesiastical authority mentioned in art. 22,2 to decide whether and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used.

#4: Translations from the Latin text intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent local authority… [As if that somehow lessens the authority of the Holy See….(not).]

The above quotations from the same document contain the words ‘mother tongue’ and ‘vernacular’, both of which are rendered as ‘vernacula’ in the Latin document.

If we consult Oxford’s Lewis and Short (Latin Dictionary) we find that the word ‘vernaculus,a,um’ is translated as ‘of or belonging to home-born slaves’; in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary we find ‘vernacular’ defined as ‘the native language or dialect of a particular country or district; the informal, colloquial, or distinctive speech of a people or community. Now also, homely speech.’

‘Vernacular’, therefore, does not mean choosing the variety of English that is of scholarship and academe. [HUH?] I think that it would be closer to the reality if we were to think of the English that we learned from our mothers’ knees rather than the high flown, scholarly, Latinate vocabulary with which the Revised Translation of the Roman Missal is now unhappily afflicted. [LOL! THAT’s an argument?  Moreover, what Father doesn’t understand is that the ancient liturgical Latin was decidedly not “homely”.  It was stylistically elegant and replete with specialized vocabulary, references to Neo-Platonic and Stoic philosophy, etc.  It was the vernacular, yes, but it was not the language of people in the street.]

Of course, it is not the fault of the translators that brought about this sorry mess. It is ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’ that is at fault: a document that is now a laughing stock among academics and scholarly linguists. [Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.  Some scholars, perhaps.]

The document had the intention of creating a specific and recognizable language for the Liturgy – somehow a language set apart [as in sacred for the sacred liturgy] – but, of course, we already have a language that is suitable for Liturgical discourse, it is known as the Queen’s English with its enormous vocabulary, capable of describing all things to all men.  [Is he under the impression that the obsolete ICEL version was somehow a good example of “the Queen’s English”?]

‘Liturgiam Authenticam’, therefore, is a Latin document that should be quietly removed from the Vatican bibliography and never spoken of again. [Good luck with that.]

The notion of ‘competent local authority’ is a subject that is being given much attention these days by the Bishop of Rome, [An interesting title, among many, to choose.  It signals something about this fellow’s starting points.] so there is no need to discuss it further. [Doubtless, when we next have the excitement of translating Latin documents into English that is ‘understanded of the people’, it will be Anglophones who undertake the task. [I am not sure I ‘understooded’ that. But, hey… I’ll let typos slide. No wait, that’s a reference to Article XXIV of the Articles of Religion of the Church of England of 1549.  In real life, however, people whom Father thinks might want the obsolete ICEL will see “understanded” as a typo.  There are two in my column in the Catholic Herald this week.]

I do hope that we can make use of the 1998 Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales translation (at least for a trial period and perhaps in paper-back form). [Here we go….] In the meantime, I feel [good word choice… since the thought here is thin…] that it is legitimate to use our previous Missal, [No.] since what we currently have was conceived in error (neglecting to follow the rules from Vatican II’s Sacramentum Concilium and the type of English to be used), [No.] and it was not born of the competent local authority (and therefore lacks any authority). [No.]

I add a footnote, by way of a quotation from Father John O’Malley’s “What happened at Vatican II”: [Good grief. Him?] ‘On November 14 (1962) Cardinal Tisserant, the presiding president of the day, put Sacrosanctum Concilium to a vote on whether to accept the schema as the base text. … The outcome of the voting astounded everybody – a landside in favor, 2,162 votes, with only 46 opposed. .. The next year, on December 4, 1963, the council overwhelmingly gave its approval to the revised text of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Paul VI then promulgated it. The final vote was even more of a landslide: 2,147 in favor, 4 against.’ [So?]

The current Revised Translation of the Roman Missal has already been labelled a failure; [By a few whingers.] it is also illegitimate. [No.]

I remain, Sirs, yours very sincerely,

(Rev. Michael J Butler)


Liturgy Commission, Diocese of Brentwood


First, the Congregation for Divine Worship has its competence and authority from the Roman Pontiff. The Congregation can develop its own translations and promulgate them.  However, in the case of the 2011 translation, the Congregation used the work of ICEL and the Vox Clara Committee.  The Council’s document did not diminish the authority of the Roman Pontiff to delegate tasks to dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Second, the writer’s claim about what “vernacular” is is simply goofy.

Third, the fact that this priest took it upon himself to write this and actually distribute it in public is scandalous.  In my opinion he should be swiftly called to heel and should be obliged, under obedience, to issue an apology for what he did.

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  1. JamesM says:


    Bishop McMahon acted very quickly and wrote to every priest in the diocese repudiating this letter.

    I believe this was the same day!

  2. JamesM: I would love to see a copy of that letter.

  3. midwestmom says:

    These cute little displays of clerical pride are so unoriginal. What would happen if parishioners randomly practiced such arrogance, making up our own responses during Mass? Ask an offending priest sometime if he’d have a problem with that. I gotta warn you, Father, my version of The Lord’s Prayer is twice as long as yours!

  4. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Fr Z – I found this link to the original letter in the Tablet published on 9th November

    I’m surprised anyone took any notice of that letter: to write ‘At present, those of us who love both the Mass and the English language have to go to an Anglican church’ suggests the writer has rather naively forgotten that what goes on in Anglican church, however similar it may look and sound, is not and can never be ‘the Mass’.

    [Romanorum coetibus!]

  5. Vecchio di Londra says:

    PS – ‘Understanded of the people’ is one of those ‘insider’ phrases often used by Anglicans talking about the book of Common Prayer. It’s a quotation from Article 24 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, as promulgated by Elizabeth I in 1563 – they attempted to define the doctrines of the Anglican Church and highlight their distinction from both the Roman Catholic Church and Calvinism.

    So by quoting the phrase, Fr Butler is placing himself in the sixteenth-century, virulently anti-Roman Catholic doctrines and polemics of the Church of England.

  6. iPadre says:

    That generation of priests don’t get it. Empty & closing churches, vanishing Religious, closing seminaries, generations of un-catechized Catholics, plus the multitude of those who have fallen away all the fruit of their failed experiment. Before people start accusing me of attacking Vatican II, I will explain. The failure is their great secularization. They failed to evangelize the world, they were evangelized by the world and it won!

  7. Charles E Flynn says:
  8. I have a degree in English and a Juris Doctor, and a license to practice law. A lot of other people in the pews also have degrees. Many own and operate their own businesses, which they couldn’t do if they were morons. I’m tired of having liberal priests assume we haven’t got brains enough to understand ceremonial English.

    If they don’t like the new translation of the Roman Missal, let them use Latin.

  9. pseudomodo says:

    Fr. Butler is the chairman of the liturgical commission. He’s not just some flunky…. He is the Bishops very own right hand flunky!

  10. The Masked Chicken says:

    “If they don’t like the new translation of the Roman Missal, let them use Latin.”

    If they don’t like the new translation, let them use Klingon. After that, they will, quite willing, use any English translation.

    The Chicken

  11. Unwilling says:

    Astounding! Like 1970 again.
    Possible interest might be the Bishop’s decent thoughts on translation in 2011.

  12. Joan M says:

    So. Is he still the Chairman of the Liturgy Commission? Is he still a member of the Liturgy Commission? The Bishop needs to chuck him in the wood shed!!

  13. acardnal says:

    It’s my belief that one of the principal reasons for the decline in Sunday Mass attendance since the Novus Ordo missal was promulgated in 1970 is poor liturgical celebrations and the “dumbing-down” of the language used in the missal. The liturgy is suppose to raise,/i> our hearts and minds to God! That can’t be done with mundane and banal words and rubrics.

  14. Unwilling says:

    The “feeling” or “thought” or “conviction” or whatever that
    “it is legitimate to use our previous Missal”
    by use of the word “legitimate” synonymously “licit”
    appeals to what authority?
    Neither Papal, nor Curial, nor Local.

    There is something devious going on here.

  15. Legisperitus says:

    Vecchio di Londra:

    At least the Book of Common Prayer has better-sounding English than what he wants!

  16. chantgirl says:

    The laity have the whole week to slog through the common, the mundane. When we are able to assist at Mass, let there be beauty, let there be signs of a better and higher existence in the next world. It is a cruel form of clericalism for a priest to decide that the laity have no need of beautiful language, music, or physical surroundings at Mass. Let there be light in the midst of darkness!

  17. Joseph-Mary says:

    The Anglican-Use liturgy is beautiful. Would not mind more of that sort of thing but that is not what is happening here. We have a retired priest who fills in sometimes and brings his old sacramentary. He said from the pulpit that consubstantial is a 75cent word and where did it come from. He ad-libs the Mass and I avoid his Masses as far as possible. I cannot imagine what much have been taught to these priests back in the 70s to have embraced such attitudes. Another retired priest also ad-libs through the Mass. I guess no one ever mentioned that the Holy Sacrifice is no one’s personal property to them.

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Fr. Butler said: “clearly ‘all is not well in the state of Denmark’.”

    So even Shakespeare needs a dynamic translation. I guess the word “rotten” is too hard for us pew people to understand.

  19. truthfinder says:

    I could not believe how Anglo-centric and even imperialist this sounded with his going-on about Queen’s English and the like. It makes it sound like some historical text from the British empire in an earlier century. Usually the “liberals” attack the faithful for institutionalism and the sort, and yet, not quite ironically, he manages to do the same thing by calling for the destruction of both the beauty of the Mass and even true Queen’s English (as if it were the only form of ‘real’ English).

  20. “Fr. Butler is the chairman of the liturgical commission.”

    And how, PrayTell, does a wacko dissenter like this get to be chairman of a diocesan liturgical commission. (Just a rhetorical question; don’t anybody waste your time attempting a sensible answer. I already know about the dregs floating to the top.)

  21. Simon_GNR says:

    I’m pleased to learn that Bishop McMahon has acted swiftly and decisively to deal with the aberrant Fr. Butler. Let us hope he submits obediently to the authority of his Ordinary. Reading Fr. Butler’s letter, I get the impression that he is a self-important, arrogant little twerp. It is further to be hoped that he will be removed forthwith from his position as Chairman of the Diocesan Liturgy Commission.

  22. BobP says:

    >What would happen if parishioners randomly practiced such arrogance,<

    The only thing in common among these various English camps is their insistence not to have Latin. That's arrogance enough from where I stand.

  23. frjim4321 says:

    The dear priest’s letter seems rambling and incoherent.

    I think it can be argued convincingly that textual excursions can be illicit. Clearly textual excursions would have to be almost unimaginably extreme to result in invalidity.

    In all fairness I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised that the prayer over the gifts Sunday from the Vox Clara 2010 product was pretty good (a rarity).

    I think it is much better and easier and perhaps more defensible to a presider to make occasionally improvements/corrections to the VC 2010 rather than to pull out the ICEL1973. The ICEL 1973 was never meant to last forever.

    For those of us who have copies of the ICEL 1998 I would suggest that it’s better to use those orations than the ICEL 1973 ones. [A better text, but equally as wrong to use.]

  24. Rachel K says:

    Hmmm, the tail wagging the dog? I hope Bishop McMahon sends this priest out to pasture somewhere; a nice, quiet retirement in the country…
    I have heard nothing but praise for the new translation among all “types” of Catholic in my parish and beyond. We all took a while to get used to it, but I have not come across any priest refusing to enact the change of texts.

  25. JonPatrick says:

    Interesting that this priest uses Sacrosanctum Concilium to defend his actions. That could set a dangerous (for progressives) precedent.

    Imagine if priests start using the Latin Language, banish the guitar and favor the organ, and require there congregations to sing the responses in Latin using Gregorian chant. Not what he had in mind I suspect.

  26. rappingdaddy says:

    @Joan M. Yeah, agreed! Take him out of power.

  27. robtbrown says:

    I noticed that the Brentwood bishop is closing in on 78 yrs of age. Perhaps the delay in naming a new man is a consequence of the reputed machinations of ret Cardinal Murphy O’Connor.

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