The results of a new, broad-based study, released today, have provided a clear and detailed view of the opinions of priests concerning the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The survey reveals that the opinion of priests in the United States is sharply divided, with a clear majority disliking the new translation and calling for its revision. The survey will be an important milestone in establishing what priests really think of the Missal translation.

The 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 re-translating the Liturgy of the Hours and the rites of the Sacraments is currently underway.

The survey was conducted under the auspices of the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at St. John’s 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. Every Latin Rite diocese in the US was invited to participate in the survey (there are 178), and of these, 32 from all 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 full results are available here.

More than half of the respondents submitted written comments as well as filling out the questionnaire. Their comments spanned a 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. Full 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, commented: “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.”

Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego was not surprised by the critical assessment of the new translation. “While we don’t want to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater,’ the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay,” he said, “The views of priests must be taken into consideration.” Fr. Michael Ryan of Seattle agreed: “The high level of dissatisfaction among priests should be a grave concern for the bishops, assuming they care about what their priests are thinking and feeling.”

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 absolute number would not seem to indicate that the sample is unrepresentative. 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.

“The survey results initially surprised me,” said Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of Sacred Music Journal and founder of The Chant Café blog, who is far happier with the new translation than he was with the old. “The survey lacks demographic data, but I suspect a generational split is at work here.”

The use of the Missal is a subject of high importance to priests. They are the ones who must lead prayer using it, and who must navigate the complexities of the language in ways that will bring forth meaning for their people. For those who are well satisfied with the new translation, its daily use will be rewarding. For the majority, however, it seems to have created obstacles and a burden. 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. … [I]t is clear that America’s priests want to preside well and provide a meaningful experience of the sacred, but archaic language and unintelligible syntax have greatly hampered our abilities as presiders and effectively made that impossible.”

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 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 NFPC, Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin of CTU 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. 

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