Saturday 1 February 2014

The Butler Affair

With my usual journalistic flair (and regular readers will know how highly I esteem that profession), I have obtained a leak: a copy of the letter from Fr Butler to the Tablet in its entirety, as opposed to the somewhat abridged version they actually published (and for once, I have some sympathy for their editorial approach).

Given that it was intended for publication, I do not think that it is out of order to publish it.

Brace yourselves: I quote it in full, with my pithy and pertinent comments interpolated in red (I will try not to be as prolix as Fr Butler).

Dear Sirs,

                        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.

I am Chairman of our Diocesan Commission for Liturgy and have had much discussion with clergy, both within the diocese and without. Most 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. 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’! All is not well indeed, when members of the clergy tamper with the liturgy on their own authority: cf Sacrosanctum Concilium §22.3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. Strangely, given his later appeal to SC, this does not seem to trouble Fr B.

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.” Yet I do not hear Fr. B. complaining that we do not use Latin in the way SC mandated (§36.1).

This prompted me to turn to Sacrosanctum Concilium to see what it was that referred particularly to matters of translation (Articles 34 and 36): This is rubbish. §34 is not about translation at all. It is about the revision of the Sacred Rites.

*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. How odd that he omits 36.1: Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

            #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. How odd that he puts a full stop there, when the sentence actually continues: 'their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See.'

            #4: Translations from the Latin text intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent local authority

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’; Again, he quotes selectively to make his point.  The full Lewis and Short entry includes Native, domestic, indigenous, vernacular, i. e. Roman (the class. signif. of the word) 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. 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. Both his etymology and his reasoning are flawed here, including his arrogating to himself, and away from the competent authorities, the right to decide what the text means.

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. An unsubstantiated assertion.

The document had the intention of creating a specific and recognizable language for the Liturgy – somehow a language set apart – 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. And that is what the new translation uses: rather more richly than he likes, it would seem. Dewfall, oblation and consubstantial are all found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Whether he is ignorant of, or deliberately ignoring, the whole notion of hieratic language for formal worship, I don't know. But he is unwise to pose as an expert without addressing it.

‘Liturgiam Authenticam’, therefore, is a Latin document that should be quietly removed from the Vatican bibliography and never spoken of again. ..because I don't like it, he could have added.

The notion of ‘competent local authority’ is a subject that is being given much attention these days by the Bishop of Rome, 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. The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority (to use the phrase actually used in Sacrosanctum Concilium) is precisely the authority he is defying: it was that authority that said that this translation is now the only one authorised for use in this territory: cf CBCEW’s Decree of Publication For England and Wales which states ‘From this date forward (27th November 2011) no other English language edition of the Roman Missal may be used in the dioceses of England and Wales’. Signed: Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Rev. Marcus Stock, General Secretary. (H/T Protect the Pope blog)

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). In the meantime, I feel that it is legitimate to use our previous Missal, 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), and it was not born of  the competent local authority (and therefore lacks any authority). This is more rubbish.  'I feel' is no grounds at all for such disobedience. He has not shown that this translation 'neglected to follow' any rules at all. Nowhere does Sacrosanctum Concilium say a translation must be 'born of  the competent local authority.' This translation rests on the authority both of the Vatican and the CBCEW.

I add a footnote, by way of a quotation from Father John O’Malley’s “What happened at Vatican II”: ‘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 ofSacrosanctum Concilium, and Paul VI then promulgated it. The final vote was even more of a landslide: 2,147 in favor, 4 against.’ Given that, I suggest Fr B. read the whole thing, including the bits he doesn't  like...

The current Revised Translation of the Roman Missal has already been labelled a failure; it is also illegitimate. More rubbish.

I remain, Sirs, yours very sincerely, but very mistakenly...

(Rev. Michael J Butler)
Liturgy Commission, Diocese of Brentwood This is very troubling: it makes it look as though this letter were written ex officio. However, I have heard that his Bishop, +McMahon, has made it clear to all his diocesan priests that that was not the case, and that (as we know) the bishops' decree that the new translation be used exclusively for vernacular celebrations of the Mass remains in full force.


Ttony said...

There are two further things: you are right to point out that he sent a copy of his letter to each of the priests in his Diocese as Chairman of the Liturgical Commission: but hidden behind the misuse of authority is his assumption that not many of the priests in his diocese read The Tablet.

The other point is that he has stated his case in public and is therefore in error in public. At least the error (if not the errer) should also be corrected formally in public, not by private email that one of the diocesan priests has leaked.

Ben Trovato said...

Ttony, You are right on both counts. The fist point I had missed, but the second was one of the reasons I chose to publish this, even though I am not fond of leaking in general.

Ben Trovato said...

To be fair to +McMahon, he has refuted this full letter by writing to all the recipients. Let us wait and see if he refutes the published letter by a letter to The Tablet.

I quite agree that the public scandal needs public rebuttal.

umblepie said...

Thanks for this excellent post.

Patricius said...

Excellent post. What was the man thinking? That a few grumpy souls of his own acquaintance represented the mind of the Church throughout all the parishes and dioceses of the English speaking world? Strange too that he did not consider consulting his bishop.