Survey Says…

I was curious how various translations of prayers might be received, so I decided to use the choristers of the National Catholic Youth Choir (here now for summer camp) for an unscientific experiment. I read aloud three translations of the Collect and the Prayer Over the Offerings from last Sunday, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I did not tell them where the prayers are from. I asked only this question: “As you listen to these prayers, which do you prefer as the best wording which helps you to pray?” I then read the 1974 (current) translation, the 1997 (approved by the bishops, rejected by Rome) translation, and the 2010 (forthcoming) translation. Then I read each series a second and a third time.

1973 came in first 67% of the time and last 18% of the time.
1997 came in first 22% of the time and last 30% of the time.
2010 came in first 11% of the time and last 52% of the time.

The choristers, all Catholic, are going into grades 10, 11, and 12 this fall. They are a unique group of young people: 48% attend Catholic (or Christian in one case) school, 15% are home schooled, and 37% attend public schools. Virtually all of them come from families of practicing Catholics. Homeschoolers, by the way, do not differ from the others in their preferences, and they were no more likely to prefer the forthcoming translation.

Here are the choristers’ comments about the current translation:
Simple but pretty. Easy to understand. To the point. Too bland. Easy to understand. Short and sweet. Repetitive. Simple but peaceful. Refreshing. Great message. Do this, do that, too much like a list. Not too much being said. I like the simplicity – it gets to the point. The words are easily understood, so prayer comes more easily. Short words. Very well worded – kind of original but still the best. Sounds more heartfelt. Most prayerful. To the point, and gives due respect to God.

Here are their comments about the 1997 translation:
Not too bad, but has some awkward structures. More flourish, but easy to understand. A little too wordy. Nice language, reflective. Right in the middle between the other two options. I kind of got lost because of the wording. You can comprehend it. Easy to get into. I think that the wording is the best. I get lost. Empowering and deep. Less confusing [than the third example]. More poetic, makes the prayer personal. Very descriptive and poetic. I don’t like the sentence structure – too complicated – but I like the word choice, though. Uses the politically correct “humankind,” but I prefer “mankind” (from a female). It’s beautiful without being pompous. Seems too wordy, hard to follow, confusing. A little bit confusing, but after you listen and reflect you can understand it. Could be better but good enough.  Too wordy. I got it after I heard it twice; I have to analyze it first. Makes me feel energized and strong.

Here are their comments about the forthcoming translation:
Too complicated. Too wordy. The language flows nicely. Too many words that are not absolutely necessary. Words get confusing. Got bored – sounds too much like a huge compound sentence. Too long and really big words. Too difficult to relax and pray. Hard! The way it is worded sounds weird. More feeling. Too many big words. Easy to follow. I don’t know what some words mean. Thoughtful. Confusing. “Grant, we pray…” gets confusing. More imagery, very poetic. It is real, people can relate to it. Has words I would never use. It beats around the bush. Way too complicated and wordy. I stopped listening half way through. A bit wordy, but still understandable. Just too long. Very confusing. Does not sound like it is from the heart. A little too hard to follow. I don’t think everybody can connect to these words. Seems kind of scholarly.

Finally, one chorister wrote this: “The simpler a prayer is, the easier it is to pay attention to. At the same time, some flourish makes it more interesting and different from everyday conversation, which can be a good thing.”

FWIW!

awr

34 comments

  1. About your “unscientific” pool:

    It is very difficult for a researcher not to bias his audience. The reader should be someone unfamiliar with the question, preferably a non-Catholic.

    It is better for the items to be read in random order, too.

    We know that repetition (mere exposure) leads to liking. So the familiar will be preferred. We can only compare unfamiliar versions of the prayer. In other words the only way we could compare the present version would be with non-Catholics.

    I really like the comments. Actually opened ended comments are much better research than multiple choice questions, or rating scales. All those ways lose information.

    We want to begin to understand the different ways and dimensions that people use to approach these prayers. That is why is a good idea to have them compare various versions that they have not heard. Because as they hear various versions they are beginning to understand how they are processing these, and actually becoming more sophisticated in listening and praying.

    The initial response may not be the final response. It would be interesting to see what happens over a period of several weeks to people hearing these prayers. What they like in the beginning (simple) might not be what they like at the end (interesting and different). Again all the cautions about influencing the results by having the data gatherer know what this is all about.

    So while you violated a lot of protocols, the comments suggest you might be on to some good research.

    1. Jack, I’m not a trained social scientist, so I appreciate your comments and cautions. I think the survey accomplishes something different than some of the goals you seem to propose. It doesn’t tell us how neutral non-Catholics would judge the prayers, it tells us how bright and attentive Catholics who are used to the current translation might receive the new translation. It doesn’t tell, nor was it intended to tell, nor could it tell, how they might like it after 6 months or 6 years of familiarity with it. I think the rather narrow question here is, “How might attentive Catholics recieve the new translation when they first hear it?” – nothing more. And we’re all concerned about how the roll-out goes.
      awr

      1. I believe that you have accomplished that!
        I was delighted to hear of this “un-scientific”
        experiment and it’s results. THIS is exactly what we are going to be up against when the time comes. Thank you!

  2. How the roll out goes depends in large on how the priest prepares his flock – if he bellyaches about the forthcoming unwelcome imposition from Rome, well, he’ll no doubt be gratified if his flock reacts negatively. To be a Catholic is to be in communion with Rome – once this is decided to be implemented, it is in all our interests to make it a success.

    1. Confirmation bias is a huge issue generally for human beings; church folk are far from immune to the problem of emphasizing data that confirms one’s own perspective, and discounting data that does not.

      I do see the initial phase of this rollout as a 5 year thing, based on my memory of past changes.

  3. One chorister wrote this: “The simpler a prayer is, the easier it is to pay attention to. At the same time, some flourish makes it more interesting and different from everyday conversation, which can be a good thing.” This is actually a very good way of putting the Berlyne Principle which says that we like moderate levels of complexity but are bored by the simple and repelled by the too complex. Most of the comments fall into this pattern.

    The current translation comes out simple and liked in most of the comments, except several say it is too bland. We don’t know whether it is liked because it is simple or because it is familiar to Catholics. If a group of non-Catholics find it simple and likeable that would say that the present translation may be the best! Wouldn’t it be interesting if after all this fuss, the present translation is the best.

    The 1997 translation comes out both complex and disliked in about ten comments; only a few simple and nice. It also has about an equal amount of good comments that do not fall into my complexity scheme. So something else may be going on with it. Maybe the “poetry nice” comments are really acceptable complexity, and therefore it could be the best in the long run.

    The forthcoming translation has about 20 both complex and disliked comments. That says that initially it is too complex. People might get used to it. Would not take years to find out. Somebody who tried this in a summer course could probably find out.

  4. Loved the comments. Out of the mouths of babes!

    I think this is a true sample, and there is nothing to be done. The rollout won’t be changed by catechesis because, frankly, nobody comes to adult catechesis. It won’t be changed by putting an upbeat priest in charge because, in the end, the texts stand or fall on their own.

    Without totally changing the psychology of a congregation to make obedience more important than experience (which can’t be done) there’s no way you can program this to get the positive, enthusiastic, joyous reactions you want.

    It will be what it is. The choristers said it: “Too complicated, too wordy, too long.”

    I think one can only be honest and accept whatever happens.

    1. Not all the choristers said “Too complicated, too wordy, too long.”

      If we go by the majority of their votes (and a good portion of their comments), we shouldn’t change the translation at all!

  5. I am still surprised how aware and articulate high school students can be. This reminds me that we need to be attentive to everyone in the pew and that high school students will have some helpful and insightful observations. O how I miss teaching high school!

    1. Thanks for this comment, Timothy! Yes, I’d hope we’d be aware of this age group in our pews. I don’t have a lot of contact with teens, but I just went to a high school graduation this past weekend (my goddaughter) and was reminded of just the sort of things you say here. They are sharp!

  6. Rita – catechesis will have to come from the pulpit. And perhaps the discipline of obedience needs to be relearned. Without obedience, you wouldn’t have an NO Mass today.

    1. Ceile, how much catechesis do you think is likely to be given from the pulpit? 5 weeks of preaching? 10? I’m curious.

    2. And perhaps the discipline of obedience needs to be relearned. Without obedience, you wouldn’t have an NO Mass today.

      This is the kind of comment that is simply not helpful. Today’s Catholics have learned to think for themselves. They no longer submissively accept what they are told. They want to know why we do what we do when we do it. Because a group of six lonely staffers at the CDW say so is, I’m afraid, no longer a sufficient reason.

      And I have no idea what you mean by not having a reformed liturgy of the Mass today without obedience.

      You obviously don’t accept how avidly the faithful welcomed the reformed liturgy, in the vernacular. They didn’t need to be ordered to accept it under pain of holy obedience. They could see its merits for themselves.

      You obviously don’t realize how reluctant they are to ditch it in favour of something which is, let’s be honest, not the vernacular, but something which will serve to obfuscate and turn liturgy into the preserve of the elite rather than the work of the people.

    3. My Latin isn’t great, but doesn’t the word obedience come from the Latin meaning “to listen,” which implies relationship. At least that’s what I was taught in religious life. Blind obedience ins’t helpful or healthy in my expereince.

      1. Yes, ob- + audire. To obey means to listen for real, “listening to someone’s counsel or will, in order to do what he demands.” Yes, there is a “relationship” between the one speaking and the one hearing, but I’m not sure where you’re going with this line of thought.

        Could you elaborate?

  7. O.M.G. – how they would loathe the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and the Maronite Mass …. every criticism of the new translation could be applied to those Catholic parishes and their liturgies.
    Based on some of the comments seen here I suppose we should pretend that millions of Catholics don’t already worship with this kind of language including the repetitions and lengthy sentences.

    1. I notice that as well. Many advocate we should be more like the East. Eastern Catholic liturgy is beautiful. But when advocating for the East, often left out are the following: “strange languages” or “hard to understand translations” of the vernacular, almost exclusively chant, no extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, receiving Holy Communion exclusively on the tongue…

  8. This comment about the 2010 version stood out for me: “Does not sound like it is from the heart.”
    What’s the use of prayer, if not heart speaking to heart?

    On reflection, all of this ‘grant we beseech thee, pray to deign to’ makes us come across more like brown-nosers than anything else.

  9. Rita – in answer to your question above, I don’t know but I agree most people won’t go to adult catechism class. If not in the pulpit, it won’t come from anywhere. That is true regardless of whether one favors or opposes a particular change.
    Paul – we differ on that one. I can see how the new liturgy may have been a breath of fresh air at first. But I am old enough to know the confusion that followed as people watched the many additional changes that followed, even if not forming part of, the revised liturgy.
    Anyway, I want to look forward not back – the point is what are priests going to do to help the faithful adjust to the translation. Sit back and tell parishioners “heck, I didn’t vote for it. It’s a mess. Serves Rome right if you never come back”? Tell them, “the changes are perhaps not what I would have wanted but let’s make the most of it – it’s still the same Mass – the original Latin text remains unchanged”? It’s all very well to propose and oppose when policy is still up for grabs but what about when, rightly or wrongly, the decision is made and parishioners come for advice?

  10. Cathy – that is very disrespectful language for the liturgy. We all may or may not like particular translations but the visual imagery you chose is distressing. Perhaps we should list our demands to God and threaten to go on strike if He does not meet them. Perhaps we’ve prayed for too long instead of taking. No one could accuse us of the words you chose then.

  11. Thank you for doing this! I have been asking major catechetical publishers where the materials are to catechize children and teens about the new translation – but besides promises to reprint texts or issue downloadable supplements with the new resopnses anywhere the wording changes in their textbooks, there are no immediate plans for materials to help kids understand what the new wording means. Personally, I think this is short-sighted. Thanks for giving me more evidence to support this need.

  12. Father, thanks for doing this. I would have predicted about those results as someone who works with exactly this age kid as a math teacher. About the same proportion would say that congruent triangle proofs are too long, boring or difficult to understand…towards the beginning of the chapter, BEFORE they learn how to do them. Six months later the proportions are usually reversed, as we have gone through some more difficult material. Many would prefer to go back to them compared to Pythagorean theorem problems or Trig.

    For three years now I have been praying the collect of the day as an opening prayer in my classes. I have often flashed the Latin up on the screen, given a literal translation and then the 1973 version. Because it’s a college prep school, some kids know about a third of the Latin words, and even they can see something missing, to the point where they ask “who translated this?” (About the 1973 version.) Of course I know I am influencing them greatly, but it shows that people especially young people, can be influenced and helped to appreciate more elaborate texts by people they like.

    One thing they have NEVER asked is “why should we pray in union with the whole rest of the Church?” Maybe they see the advantage of using time-honored prayers that the rest of the Church is praying Though some may be “turned off” by elevated language, most quietly accept and are transformed. (OK, that’s my wishful imagination there 🙂 but hey it could happen!)

    1. Hi Ben – This is a great comment and an excellent report. Thanks. Providence Academy is a truly special place – where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average” – at least the last part is true – and not only because you’re in Minnesota.
      awr

  13. The education of children about their Catholic faith has been absolutely appalling these past forty years. The results are that only 30% or so of them even bother to attend Mass on Sundays.

    It would be interesting to survey the members of the National Catholic Youth Choir to see what they do know about their faith.

    These same children have been used to hearing the crude translation that was intended to be temporary when it was first published.back in the 70s. The missalettes came about for that reason, rather than proper missals.

    Why would I want children to determine for us the wording of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

    1. Sorry, flag on the play. Nobody knows whether the low Mass attendance is a “result” of anything. Just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean that one caused the other. Some uneducated medieval peasants had high Mass attendance and extremely poor understanding of the most basic truths of the faith. There are so many things in the broader culture affecting Mass attendance, and in the face of these, I wonder whether making everyone know the right doctrines would have much effect. I’m all for good Christian education. But I’m against lazy thinking and simplistic theories of causalitiy (which is why I’ve written a variant of this comment about 12 times already on this blog.)
      Pax,
      awr

    2. One more point, Ray. I don’t think anyone spoke of children determining anything – I certainly never said that in my post. I think it was about their reaction to the various texts – FWIW, as the post ended.
      awr

  14. How fluidly did you read the more recent prayers? If you stumbled over phrases like “use…such that we may” it is likely that the kids picked up your difficulty with the newest language. (Of course, there are prayers from 1973 that priests still trip over.)

    Which leads me to say that catechesis is needed… for priests. They have to learn how to pray with these forms of language, easier for some than for others. Do they have to learn how to not talk in the ‘exalted’ language, since it is reserved for the liturgy? That is probably near impossible. The style of the new texts will affect how people speak, and especially how priests speak, in everyday situations. That could be good. Could be bad. But it will change speech habits, and anticipating that might be the best preparation.

  15. Jim – you ask a good question. I agree with you on the need for priests to prepare well in order to proclaim the new texts. In fact, at our CCMLA conference in Collegeville next week, I’m doing a talk on exactly that. It will be my homespun manner of doing just enough syntax and grammar to get clear(er) about the structure of the prayer and its main words. This is the key, I think.
    As to how well I read the prayers, I’m probably no model. If anything, I felt I was over-compensating by making the newer prayers as clear as possible (I have next week’s presentation in my mind these days). Then afterward I wondered (because I didn’t want to introduce bias if I could help it) whether this made it clearer, or whether it sent the subtle message that the speaker has to work hard to get it across. I think I can assure you, though, that I didn’t stumble over anything.
    Hope that helps.
    awr

  16. If anyone wishes to broaden Fr. Ruff’s research, I suggest the following:

    Chose collects from six Sundays Administer the three translations in the following six orders 1,2,3; 1,3,2; 2,1,3; 2,3,1; 3,2,1; 3,1,2. Each translation occurs equally at each position. Identifying translation by position is nixed. Six examples will show both translation and personal patterns better.

    Have reader be someone with little interest or knowledge of the subject but a good speaker, e.g. a non-Catholic spouse.

    Try reading each triplicate only twice, ask people after second reading if they are finished commenting and ready to rank. This is about hearing not study.

    A sample of 20-30 is sufficient. Preferably randomly chosen from: parish registry, or members of parish who attend regularly, or list of people active in parish groups, or who have recently participated in large parish events. Avoid sign ups, or choosing solely from people involved in liturgical ministries.

    Have two people independently rate each comment as positive or negative; have committee resolve discrepancies. Total up positives and negatives separately.

    Have two people identify comments about simplicity or complexity or neither. Total up four categories Positive & simple; Negative & simple; Positive and complex; Negative & complex. I think you will find simplicity/complexity explains a lot.

    Appreciate better the prayers and the diversity people bring to prayer. Bring fresh comments to this blog.

  17. Anthony – thanks so much for doing this.. what a great idea… while obviously, as you said it is not “scientific” and open for different interpretations, this certainly gives us a snapshot into some trends of reactions to things. What I also like about what you did, is that it was a reaction to how the prayers were “heard” not looking at them in written form and doing a comparative criticism. How these prayers will be “heard” will be a major factor in all of this… with the “Music Ministry Alive” program that I lead this summer, I am going to try something like this as well with some of the youth who attend. If it happens, I will share my findings.

    Rita – I think you are right – these prayers will stand and fall on their own.. we can have our opinions one way or the other… but doing this with teens is great… because they are the generation that will grow older with these new translations/texts over the next 30 years or so…. they (and even the younger ones) will be the community of believers that will be the stewards of these texts, while most of us within the next 20-40 years will be using our walkers, or sipping our medications out of a straw in nursing homes!

    Anthony – again – many thanks… great idea… and it brings forth some fruit to chew on.

  18. Re Comments #30 and #31: Only now has it occurred to me how difficult it might be for foreign-born priests whose first language is not English to learn the new English texts and use them effectively among native English speakers. Hope these priests’ needs are considered and that they are treated mercifully by their fellow priests and by their parishioners.

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