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New Missal Survey Shows Most Priests Dissatisfied

The closer you get, the worse it looks.That seems to be the takeaway from a collection of surveys over the past year intended to gauge the response of Catholics to the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The controversial new English translation of the Roman Missal had its debut at the end of 2011, amid doubts of its ability to gain wide appeal. Give it a chance its advocates advised, youll get used to it.

A year later, when a CARA survey reported that 70% of lay Catholics in America agreed with the statement that The new translation is a good thing, it seemed these predictions were justified. To say that the translation is a good thing might seem to be a rather lukewarm endorsement, but these results were positive enough to be encouraging. Online polls conducted around the same time however revealed a more troubling picture, showing considerably more negative opinion, especially among priests, who arguably have the greatest investment in the new translation because of their role in the daily celebration of the liturgy. They use the Missal every day, and know its pluses and minuses better than anyone.

  • The Tablet found that clergy gave the new translation very negative marks. Of the 1189 clergy who participated, 70% were unhappy with the translation and wished to see it revised. In a strange twist, considerable numbers of respondents who preferred the Extraordinary Form (which is in Latin) took the survey. 94% of them approved of the new translation. But 57% of those who preferred the Ordinary Form disliked it.
  • US Catholic polled more than 1200 priests in a reader survey, and found that 58% agreed with the statement: I dislike the new translations and still cant believe Ill have to use them for the foreseeable future. 49% of Catholics in the pews also registered unhappiness with the translation whereas only 17% said they enjoy them as much as or more than the old translation.

Observers have taken the more critical Tablet and US Catholic results with a grain of salt. Yes, they indicate dissatisfaction, and especially strong dissatisfaction among clergy, but how reliable are these polls?

The results of a new study, released today, sets our knowledge of the opinions of priests on a firmer footing.

The survey is narrowly focused on the opinion of priests in the United States. It shows that priests are sharply divided, with a clear majority disliking the new translation and calling for its revision.

The specific findings are striking. 59% of priests do not like the new translation, compared with 39% who do. An overwhelming 80% agree that some of the language is awkward and distracting. 61% think the translation needs urgently to be revised. In what is perhaps the most timely element, 61% of priests do not want the rest of the liturgical books to be translated in the same manner. The process of retranslating the Liturgy of the Hours and the rites of the Sacraments is currently underway.

Jeffrey Tucker of Chant Caf, who likes the new texts and was initially surprised by the results, speculated that a generational split might account for the negative opinions: "They came to terms with one way, received vast amounts of catechesis along these lines, and developed a more casual liturgical style to go along with it, and now they are told to do it another way. This creates a real tension: am I supposed to speak in the language of the people or not?"

Other commenters, however, felt that the negative evaluation was not so much fueled by resistance to change as by resistance to making the prayers of the Mass more awkward. Fr. Michael Ryan of Seattle, founder of the website What if we just said wait? noted that the proportion of discontent revealed in the Diekmann survey contrasts sharply with reactions to the introduction of English into the Mass following Vatican II. "These results are a far cry from the way priests and people reacted when the Mass in English was first introduced in the late 1960s," Ryan said, A survey taken at that time indicated that 85-87% of Catholics (and especially parish priests) preferred the new Mass to the old (Mark Massa, SJ, Worship 81 (2007), p. 122).

A preconceived bias against the texts also would not account for another interesting finding: 15% of those who had looked forward to the new Missal ended up disliking it. By comparison, only 10% grew to like it through the process of using it.All 178 Latin Rite dioceses in the US were invited to participate in the survey and, of these, 32 from all geographical regions of the country chose to take part. A total of 1,536 priests (diocesan and religious) responded, a response rate of 42.5%.

The survey was conducted under the auspices of the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at St. Johns University School of Theology-Seminary, in Collegeville MN. The project manager was Chase Becker, assisted by Audrey Seah and Christine Condyles, and advised by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, with the aid of Dr. Pamela Bacon, a professional consultant.

More than half of the respondents submitted written comments, a total of 799 comments. These covered a wide variety of subjects, including aesthetics, grammar and syntax, reception by their people, translation principles, ecclesiastical process, vocabulary, theological content, book format, and music. In these comments, critique of the Missal outweighed affirmation by a four to one margin. The full text of the comments can be found here.

Two questions about process, unique to this survey, also showed sobering results. More than half (55%) of the respondents are not confident that priests views of the translation will be taken seriously. Nearly half (49%) do not approve of the role of the Holy See in bringing the new translation about, compared with 39% who do.

Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin, professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, said, "The most disappointing result of this survey for me is that most priests doubt that their views about the translation will be seriously addressed; on the other hand, this too is not surprising since they were never consulted in the first place." Peter Jeffery, professor of medieval studies and theology at Notre Dame, asked: "Why did 82.1% of dioceses decide not to forward this survey to their priests? Do they think it is better not to know what priests think?" Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL questioned the representative value of the responses, pointing out that the respondents constitute less than 3.7% of priests in the US. Without some indication of selection bias, however, the sample size would not seem to indicate that the survey is weak. The CARA survey concerning the Missal, for example, had 1,239 participants, a much smaller fraction of the total Catholic population which the survey is presumed to represent.

For those priests who are well satisfied with the new translation, its daily use has been rewarding. For the majority, however, it has been a burden and a source of discouragement. On an even deeper level, the conflict they experience has serious ramifications. As Fr. Anthony Cutcher, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils observed: "The Eucharistic liturgy and the ability to celebrate it well is at the core of a priest's identity. With the promulgation of the Third Roman Missal, we priests have been placed in an untenable position, forced to choose between fidelity to the magisterium and feeding our people."

When a majority of priests are unhappy about something as important as the Missal, the situation calls for creative leadership and constructive responses. It is not clear, however, whether those in positions of authority are either ready or willing to respond. Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, director of the office of the BCDW at the USCCB, declined to comment for this story, as did Bishop Gregory Aymond, chair of the BCDW, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, incoming chair of the BCDW. Not replying to a request for comment were: Bishop Arthur Seratelli, former chair of the BCDW and current chair of ICEL; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB; Cardinal Francis George, former USCCB president under whom the implementation date was set; Cardinal George Pell, chair of Vox Clara; Msgr. Jim Moroney, executive secretary of Vox Clara; and Fr. Dennis McManus, advisor to Vox Clara. Reactions to the survey were provided by Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego, Father Anthony Cutcher of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Peter Jeffery of Notre Dame, Fr. Michael Ryan of Seattle, Jeffery Tucker of Chant Cafe, Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth of ICEL, Fr. Mark Wedig OP of Barry University, And Bishop Donald Trautman, retired bishop of Erie. The full text of their comments is available here.


Commenting Guidelines

dont understand. Are you saying that a survey is true, or scientific, when it rings true?

No, I meant that claims of generalizability are frought with difficulty. We can be embroiled in a lot of methodological issues as a result. I am not saying that this is not important. Very few studies claim generalizability for this reason. You select your representative sample. However, getting results, for a variety of reasons is not always possible. And even if you do, there is often criticism of the way questions are asked, etc.I think, in this instance, what occurred is appropriate. Publish your results, the sample, respondents and results and let other make inferences around the reliability of the survey in terms of how accurate it is.One way to do that, is to hold a focus group (even a virtual one) like is being held here on this site and maybe even on conservative sites. If you don't hear people saying, gee that seems counter-intuitive to what I experience, then there may indeed be a problem. If you hear people, like Fr. K, surprised that so many like the translation and other priests criticizing specific selections, then you can conclude, I think, that the results are fairly reliable and accurate.I am not saying true or accurate or valid in a social science sense but accurate, true and reliable in terms of assessing clergy's general view of the missal.The point is that the leadership of whoever is responsible for the translation and promulgation is going to have to do some re(thinking) or at least respond in some fashion. Maybe it is just an issue of people getting used to it, maybe it is an issue of difficulty with change, maybe it is an issue with the translation itself or all of the above.At any rate, I don't think that attacking the methodology of the survey or calling it into question is really and honest response. I think, instead, acknowledging that, not withstanding whatever methodological issues you may have, it is more or less an accurate reflection.It is a judgement of the data as presented.

"The new translation is not good. What does it mean that lay Catholics mostly find that the new translation is good? It reveals that theyre not listening. That may be the takeaway message. Of course, at some level we knew that"Right. It may also reveal that the laity view the text of the mass differently than liturgical or linguistics specialists. It may also reveal that some of the objections to the new missal are overblown. That collect for this coming Sunday that I typed into a comment above - it may not be Shakespeare, and it may not be 100% theologically sound, but really, for someone with a reasonable command of English* it's not insurmountably difficult to read or understand - or speak. To be sure, it requires more effort and concentration than the previous version, which was broken up into shorter, simpler sentences. So the new translation is harder. Still, my observation is that it almost always comes off without a hitch.* Quite a few priests in the US have a fairly tenuous grasp of English, and the long and complex sentences in the new translation do them no favors. We have a guy whose first language is Spanish; and I've noticed that there are some texts that pair "inheritance" and "heirs". What to do with the "h" in that pair of words gives him trouble.

George D,I still don't understand. Why bother making the survey? Wouldn't focus groups be easier? And if they are the criterion by which you judge surveys, more accurate?

I realize that we are moving on two tracks here: the survey itself and the collect for Trinity Sunday.The thread on the "Pray Tell" site (linked by Jim) has an interesting discussion. In the course of which the translation that was made in 1998 and did not receive Roman approval is given:"God our Father,you revealed the wonderful mystery of the Godheadby sending into the worldthe Word who speaks all truthand the Spirit who makes us holy.Grant that we may proclaim the fullness of faithby acknowledging and worshippingthree Persons, eternal in glory,one God of majesty and power."

Fr. Imbelli, now after living with the new translation for some time, I certainly find the full stop in the middle of the prayer jarring.

Its not accurate to say that the laity who approve of the translation of the new Roman Missal are simply not listening. I heard Anthony Esolen, a professor of English at Providence College, deliver a talk on the new translation in December of 2011 just before the changes were to take effect in parishes. Dr. Esolen, who has translated Dantes "Divine Comedy", Lucretius "De rerum natura", and Torquato Tassos "Gerusalemme liberata", vigorously endorsed the textual changes in the liturgy. Here is Esolen speaking about the new Missal in First Things:

"The real question to be pondered is why they havent done exactly that."Susan: one could offer any number of answers to your question but most likely no bishops want to appear to be unhappy with or even questioning the translations imposed on them and us by Their Ecclesiastical Betters.As far as dealing with the US bishops specifically: when's the last time you have seen or heard any of them speaking up (before retirement, that is) and challenging ANYTHING that emenates from the Vatican? In that respect, the European bishops are light-years ahead of their US brethren.

"As for the first point, do you mean that the Church is so different in different dioceses that her priests think differently about things as basic as the missal? I find that to be a stretch."Tom: I suspect in dioceses such as Rockford, Lincoln and Arlington, the priests may be VERY different in this respect than their counterparts in the rest of the US.But I still agree with you in principle regarding your comments to Wasting Time.

" ... perhaps worshipers are not listening. Maybe, too, they have tuned outReminds me of when I was a kid in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Btw, I see that Rita's post has made the Real Clear Religion list today - congratulations to Rita and dotCom. And Luke has a piece on the Boston Archdiocese that was listed yesterday - congrats, Luke and Commonweal.

Bernard,thank you for the recommendation. I had read the talk, but seeing him gives it an added dimension. As you say, a 38 minutes well spent.

The new translation is going fine in our parish; California San Joaquin valley. The priests do well with it and I have not heard anyone comment that they dislike it.

I concur with Jim's kudos to Luke Hill for his piece on the Boston archdiocese.

Kathy:The survey can capture information from a wider range of participants than focus groups. Additionally, responses can be quantified and correlations drawn between degree of satisfaction with the translation and age, region, religious order affiliation, etc.Due to the return rate some of these may not be available or it may have been an issue with distribution. A survey can quantify and capture a larger sample. Ethically, all one should do is report the findings accurately and completely.The value of focus groups is that they can add a useful qualitative component to the quantitative findings. So, for example, we read this survey and Rita reported that "59% of priests do not like the new translation, compared with 39% who do. An overwhelming 80% agree that some of the language is awkward and distracting. 61% think the translation needs urgently to be revised. In what is perhaps the most timely element, 61% of priests do not want the rest of the liturgical books to be translated in the same manner".This prompted the discussion on this post and people (clergy) forwarded specific examples of awkward and distracting translations. This is not possible in a survey format but is in a smaller open ended focus group format.

George D,Do you think participants on the Commonweal blog are representative of American Catholics as a whole?

Kathy:No, it is obviously a more informed and educated (in the sense of actively engaged) than most North American Catholics.As was said one time in one thread some time ago, liturgy is probably the only thing that is more controversial than sex in Catholic circles. I think most American Catholics would agree. A common experience of most Catholics leaving mass is commenting on the drive home on quality of the mass, whether that is the homily, the music, whatever. Everyone is a critic!!!But I think that the clergy and religious representation is probably accurate. The survey revealed that 70% were unhappy with the translation. But, who knows, that would probably still be the case if the angel Gabriel whispered the translation to the committee!!!

Leaving doctrine aside, I think some of the prayer's linguistic perplexities originate in the Latin and are only carried forward, perhaps slightly worsened, in translation.Look at this line: et Unitatem adorare in potentia maiestatis. From the perspective of a person in a pew, or even of the celebrant, what does "to adore Unity" mean? It sounds more Pythagorean than Christian. No doubt the author wanted to balance Unity and Trinity in a prayer on Trinity Sunday, but the object of adoration is the One God, not a numerical abstraction, and it would be easier on everyone if the prayer said so. That would also automatically fix the "your" problem in English.When the Latin was first written, earthly monarchs wielded real power and inspired awe. The "power of majesty" meant something then that it no longer means. Anyway, the Trinity is being celebrated on this day, not divine omnipotence. The phrase looks like something tacked on just to fill out the line.Lastly, in admirabile mysterium tuum hominibus declarasti, the verb declarasti, which means to make clear or manifest, seems an odd word to use in connection with a doctrine that the wisest heads in Christendom have always told us cannot be made clear or manifest. In this case, the English is actually a slight improvement, being less assertive.

John Prior, Thank you. My incoherent mutterings have been rendered into intelligent words by someone who knows whereof he speaks. Especially, thank you for "something tacked on just to fill out the line." I have suspected Latin of having a lot of that sort of thing ever since my decades-ago bouts with the ever "pius Aeneas." Thanks for it all.

Some readers might be interested to know that a major study of the composition of the orations after the Council is coming out this summer, Dr. Lauren Pristas' Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons before and after the Second Vatican Council.

Kathy,Am I correct?: this has nothing to do with vernacular translations but with the composition of the Latin collects for the Missal of Paul VI and the changes from the previous Missal (I believe issued under John XXIII).

One more time. Why should the English-language liturgical texts be translations from some other language (Latin, Greek, Urdu)? There is no "sacred" language. Yes, there is a Latin Rite tradition that provides guidance. But the guidance it provides is in HOW it expresses what it says, not in the fact that it is Latin. As there is some stylistically good English and some stylistically poor English, so too is there some stylistically good Latin and some stylistically poor Latin.But the main point is that there is no sacred language. Just some "sacred cows."

"But the guidance it provides is in HOW it expresses what it says"Bernard, does not the guidance include WHAT it says: the content of the mystery of the faith?

Here is the collect as it appeared in the Roman Missal before the Council:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,qui dedisti famulis tuis, in confessione verae fidei,aeternae Trinitatis gloriam agnoscere,et in potentia maiestatis adorare Unitatem:quaesumus; ut, eiusdem fidei firmitate, ab omnibus semper muniamur adversis.Almighty and everlasting God,who have given your servants graceby the confession of the true faithto acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinityand to worship the Unity in all its power and majesty,grant that by steadfastness in the same faithwe may be kept safe from all adversities.

And here is the translation from the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTYE and everlastyng God, whiche haste geven unto us thy servauntes grace by the confession of a true fayth to acknowlege the glorye of the eternall trinitie, and in the power of the divyne majestie to wurshippe the unitie: we beseche thee, that through the stedfastnes of thys fayth, me may evermore be defended from all adversitie, whiche liveste and reignest, one God, worlde without end.

Fr. Imbelli, yes, that is correct. Dr. Pristas' research along these lines has been published in the Thomist, Communio, et al.

Fr. K. has shown, I believe, that "Worship the unity" is in fact the liturgical prayer. Since that's challenging, to me anyways, what do I do with the challenge? Am I right? Is the prayer right? Who should be learning from whom?

Fr. Imbelli,Two comments.First, please look at both the English and the Latin of the Collect Fr. Komonchak has cited above. Then look at the English version of the Collect and Prayer after Communion for Pentecost. I don't have the Latin for these. Note the clarity and simplicity of the former and the fussiness and wordiness of the latter. I grant that not all the orations are as bad as these Pentecost ones are, but many, many of them, are anything but elegant.Second, and more to the point. You ask: "Does not the guidance [to be gotten from the tradition of Latin Rite liturgical texts] include WHAT it says: the content of the mystery of faith?"Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: But that guidance is not tied to the Latin language as a language. I'm confident that when you and other competent people teach and preach here in the U. S. you do not feel the need to produce a Latin text which you proceed to translate into English before delivering it. There is no loss of the content of the faith because you don't start with a Latin text. Why then insist that liturgical texts have to start with a Latin version? Frankly, I can conjure up some lousy reasons for the treatment of Latin as a sacred language. I can't come up with any good ones for doing so. Sacred cows are expensive to maintain.

Mr. D.,we may be communicating past one another.I'm not sure of your first point. I agree that the English translation of the pre-conciliar collect for Trinity Sunday reads much more clearly than the present collect for Pentecost. But what does that say other than that the first translation, as translation, is superior in style to the second -- a point with which I agree. Am I missing something?With regard point two: I am not maintaining that Latin is "sacred" (whether language or cow), only that the Latin prayers are the carriers of the West's liturgical tradition. Must they not then be the starting point of our translation of the liturgy? -- not because they are in Latin and Latin is sacred, but because the Latin collects etc. bear the heritage of the faith passed down from our ancestors. If your point here is that we ought to create new collects, prayers after communion etc., not dependent on previous models in a literal sense, then that opens (at least to my mind) a different field of discussion.

Mr. D.,I think we are understanding one another. But I presume you meant to write "shouldn't" in the second sentence above.

As an aside: it appears that several comments have disappeared in what I assume was the cut-over from the old blog software to the new blog software.

To our collection of alternative translations, this one is the one that was composed by the current ICEL and approved by the English-speaking bishops in 2008, who sent it to Rome for the recognitio, apparently with the impression that this is the text that would actually end up in the missal we're using today (but Rome reworked it):  


God our Father,
by sending into the world the Word of truth
and the Spirit of sanctification
you made known to humankind your awesome mystery;
grant us, in professing the true faith,
to acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory,
and adore the Unity, powerful in majesty.


(Thanks to Jonathan Day on the Pray Tell blog for providing this text.)


Speaking of individual revisions, I am so grateful for the priest who says, "For us... and for our salvation..." There is no discernible sound for "men" that I can hear from him, though the congregation says it. 

One appreciative experience when visiting my daughter for Easter: I joined her at her Episcopal church where grandson is in the choir. They used the prior text we Catholics have lost. I failed to appreciate how much I miss "one in being with the Father" etc. until I heard all those responses again.

And a woman was even on the altar. No wonder there is a coterie of former Catholics there. Sniff.


The "men" in the creed refers to mankind (emphasizing the sacrifice of a divine being for mere man), not to the male sex, right?

How about using "women" to refer to humankind?  If not, why not?

The ECUSA may have lost the few, the proud and the grumpy to the Orneryariate, but the RCC in the US has lost scads of people to the ECUSA, particularly women and now married priests.

Methinks that the exchange has been heavily in favor of the ECUSA.

Style.    Do we fault Jesus for saying man does not live by bread alone?   Do we think he implied that women can?

The word in Greek is "ho anthropos", which like "homines" in the Creed, refers to humanity not to man or men (which would be "ho andros" and "viri" respectively). Hence the NRSV translates it as follows: "One does not live by bread alone."

The word in Greek is "ho anthropos", which like "homines" in the Creed, refers to humanity not to man or men (which would be "ho andros" and "viri" respectively). Hence the NRSV translates it as follows: "One does not live by bread alone."

The word in Greek is "ho anthropos", which like "homines" in the Creed, refers to humanity not to man or men (which would be "ho andros" and "viri" respectively). Hence the NRSV translates it as follows: "One does not live by bread alone."

Msgr Bruce Harbert has picked up Kathy's defense of the mistranslated collect:

"Since very early times, there has been a strong contrast between the trinitarian theology of East and West, the East focussing more on the threeness of Persons and the West on the oneness of God. The western insertion of the ‘filioque’ in the Creed is a symptom of this, and a major cause of division. The western emphasis has led theologians to stress abstract speculation about the immanent Trinity at the expense of reflection on the Trinity’s revelation in history. At its best – in Augustine and Aquinas – this is magnificent. But it can degenerate into excessive abstraction.
The liturgical texts of the Roman Rite exemplify this western tendency – just look at the quantity of abstract nouns that they contain.
Many theologians have felt that the West needs to learn from the East in order to develop a more balanced presentation of trinitarian theology so that, as John Paul II said, the Church can breathe with both her lungs.
These are the considerations that, I would suggest, led to the revision of the Trinity Sunday Collect."


This sheds interesting light on the theological incompetence of the new translators.

Joseph--   I do not take issue with your Greek, I take issue with your English, and the meaing of man/men.   "One does not live by bread alone" is no different than "Man does not live by bread alone."   "For us men and for our salvation" is no different than "For us men and women (and children?) and for our salvation,"  except that it's infinitely less clunky, hence closer to God.

Yes, you may dislike inclusive language, and I certainly dislike the distortions it has created in the NSRV; but you should not invoke Jesus as an authority, because we have his sayings only in Greek and the problem does not arise, at least in the text you quoted. Masculine pronouns attached to anthropos might be argued to be non-inclusive, but that would be to forget the difference between grammatical and biological gender; in any case feminine gender often attaches to male persons in languages with grammatical genders, as when Christ as "la victime du Calvaire" is called "Elle". Christ calls himself the Truth and the Life in John 14:6, both nouns are feminine.

Off topic, this story confirms what I have said a million times: beware of antipedophile witchhunts:

When you say that "feminine gender often attaches to male persons in languages with grammatical genders," you are making my point.  If I've made anything clear it's that I love inclusive language expressed elegantly, such as "man" or when the Church is referred to as the "bride" of Christ.   

What I dislike are childish responses to such inclusive language.

" it may not be Shakespeare, and it may not be 100% theologically sound "

 Shakespeare I can live with or without.  But theological soundness ....?

Is "OK theology" a gift of slavishness to the original Latin?



And if the arbiters of style were women rather than men .....