First Scientific Poll on New Missal: Mixed, Rather Positive Results

Here is the press release on the CARA study on reception of the new English Missal in the US.

70% agree (50%) or strongly agree (20%) that the newly translated Missal is a good thing. 23% disagree, 7% strongly disagree, which makes for 30% disagreement.

The more regularly people attend liturgy, the more they support it. What do you suppose that means? How do people who “rarely or never” attend Mass form their rather negative opinions on the new Missal? I get the impression – I’ve had the same thought when pollsters ask Catholics to rate the Pope, the bishop, and their parish priest – that people are more or less answering “how much I like being a Catholic” rather than the question posed to them.

This is interesting: the more people notice changes in the text, the less they like the new text. The more they think that little has changed, the more they like it.

Now here’s another poll I hope someone takes: What do priests think of the new Missal?

Anyway, we have this and it’s valuable information. Go, read. Discuss among yourselves.


  1. Fr. Ruff, I agree with your assessment. The 70% are saying, “I love being a Catholic. (So we have a new Missal -let’s get on with it.)”

  2. Here is my scientific study… We use a weekly printed worship aid and the Gloria is printed in it. For some reason, it was not there last weekend and the result was stunning… 500 or so people mumbling, many of them staring at their worship aid, as if staring (I did it too!) would make the words appear. As someone deeply involved in the life of the church, I realized, I better get my stuff together and memorize this. But will most people do that? Will they be able to let go of those worship aids?

    And if they don’t know what they are saying, then how do they know if they like it or not?

    For me it is those collects. Yiiiiiiii, I cringe so often.

    I know – a rant, not a study. Mea culpa!

  3. I was fascinated by the wording of the item  “The words of the prayers recited by the priest and people make it easier for me to participate in the Mass.” Easier than what? This item was used before the change in translation, so it’s not easier than the old translation…

  4. Fr. Ruff, a minor correction: according to the survey, a majority of those who rarely or never assist at mass still agree that the new missal is a good thing. 63% agreeing (59% + 4%) that the new missal translation is a good thing is not “rather negative”, is it?

    Certainly they agree less than the 84% (37% + 47%) of those who go every Sunday, but their opinion seems negative only in comparison, not in an absolute sense.

  5. I think these data give us a lot to process. Michelle makes a good point that the wording of that question raise some doubts about what’s being measured, as Fr. Anthony makes a good point that the internal data pose some pregnant challenges to the top-level conclusions. But we shouldn’t evade the stark fact that this respected and independent public opinion researcher has 70% of Catholics accepting the new translation.

    For reasons like those Michelle and Fr. Anthony identify–and others–I still ask what that means. It is a metric of success. There are, arguably, others that matter more. George Weigel, OSV, and others argued that the new translation will be an effective tool for the new evangelization. A more authentically ritualized liturgy will appeal to believers. That idea is built on the lex orandi argument, and the arguments of LA about the nature of liturgical language. The question of whether our churches are fuller today is at least as valuable as these opinion data. Probably that will take longer to measure.

  6. Overall, I think the new translation of the Mass is a good thing

    This is a poorly worded question since it gives no basis for making a judgment or comparison. It did not ask people to either rate the old translation or to compare the new translation with the old translation.

    When people are asked to rate anything without a comparison you get the Lake Wobegon effect in which the average student, the average professor, the average pastor is above average.

    I would read Strong Agree (20%) as an A, (Excellent)
    Agree (50%) as B, (above average but really average)
    Disagree (23%) as a C, (average but really below average)
    and Strongly Disagree (7%) as a F.(total failure)

    If one thinks of a B as the default answer (a polite way of saying average i.e neither exceptionally good or bad) then the new Missal got 20% above average and 30% below average.

    The problem is that usually when these ratings are done, on either a 4, 5, 6, or 7 point scale, people will use only the positive end of the scale. So you really have to compare an item’s response distribution with the response distribution of other items.

    For example in the Vibrant Parish Life Study almost all of the scores for the Mass as being important were at the 3 positive end points of a 7 point scale, i.e. ratings of 5, 6, and 7. It got ranked as number one in importance because a high percentage of people gave it a 7, and few used a 5 or 6 and that put it at the top ranking of items in importance.

    When it came the question of the Mass being well done, again most of the people used the 5, 6, 7 positive side of the scale, except that in this case there were a lot of 5, and 6’s (the equivalent of C’s and B’s) which put it half way done the list of being well done.

    People in the parishes did not take the Vibrant Parish Life study seriously because they used the absolute numbers rather than the relative ratings. In other words everything was on the well done side of the scale. That is trivial information. The real important data was the buildings were much better done (mostly 7s) in comparison to the Mass.

    This questions and its responses tells us little or nothing. We don’t know how they would have rated the Old Missal two years ago, or even how they would rate it if they were asked the same question Overall, I think the Old Translation of the Mass was a good thing

    A random sample does not save research from poor questions. This is a poor question

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #7:

      During the lead up to the implementation, I often said the perceived familiarity leads to liking and unfamiliarity or strangeness leads to disliking

      31 percent said the language of these prayers had remained the same, for these people 23% disagreed that the new translation was a good thing.

      40% said the language of these prayers changed to a small extent, for these people 22% disagreed that the new translation was a good thing.

      23% said the language of these prayers change to a moderate extent, for these people 41% disagreed that the new translation was a good thing.

      6% said the language changed to a great extent, and 65% of these disagreed that the translation was a good thing.

      Sounds like most people really did not see much of a change (31% + 40%) but slightly more than 20% still disagreed that the new translation was a good thing. Sounds like about 16% of the Catholics disagreed with the new translation for other than language reasons. I doubt that it was about process, more likely it was about cost benefit. A lot of cost in time, effort, and money for little experienced change.

      Of the people that did experience language change (23%+ 6% = 29%) almost half of them (13 of Catholics) disagreed with the change.

      Most people did not perceive the language to be that different, and therefore did not react very negatively. Of course maybe people were thinking only about their parts of the Mass which were not that different.

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #9:

        Of the 24% of Catholics that reported they attend weekly or more often, 47% strongly agreed that the new translation is a good thing. These constitute about 12% of all self identified Catholics

        It is mainly the strong agreement of those who attend Mass weekly that is important rather than the disagreement of those who attend less frequently.

        Some of their strong agreement may have resulted from increased familiarity.

        However since 70% of the overall respondents said there was little or no change in the language of the Mass, it is unlikely that increased familiarity is the big factor.

        The 24% who attend Mass weekly were more likely to agree with the following propositions in both the CARA 2011 and 2012 surveys (no difference before or after the Missal change).

        The prayers of the Mass recited by the priest and people inspire me to be a more faithful Catholic in my daily life.

        The prayers of the Mass recited by the priest and people help me to feel closer to God.

        The words of the prayers recited by the priest and people make it easier for me to participate in the Mass.

        I have a good understanding of the meaning of the prayers recited by the priest and people at Mass.

        We know that people often overestimate their church attendance (e.g. weekly when they go a couple of times a month) because they want to communicate they are good Catholics. I would say the answers to all the above questions as well as the “strongly agree” answer to the new translation of the Mass all tells us little about Mass translations. They are all merely different ways of saying “I am a good Catholic.”

        My conclusions based on this study would be that the New Missal had little or no perceived language impact on 70% of Catholics.

        That for about 12% of Catholics who are weekly Mass goers the introduction of the New Missal was well received because they think of themselves as good Catholics.

        That about 16% of Catholics disagreed with New Missal for other than language reasons.

        And that about 13% of Catholics noticed a language change and did not like it.

    2. One of the strengths of this study is that it makes a comparison of perceptions before and after the introduction of the 2010 translation. I am inclined to think that the report could be misleading to the general public in that it reports change as within the margin of error. To the tutored eye this means no discernible change, and to my mind should be the claim that is made.

      Overall I would think it better to read the study as being concerned with the role of the texts in supporting “full, conscious and active participation” (to use the earlier translation). Other variables in the life of the church are likely to play a role here (including the manner of celebration and recitation of text as well as the printed words themselved) and I think it would be very difficult to isolate the change of text sufficiently to draw any valid conclusions are regards the effects of the new translation.

      I think what the data really says is that the new translation is no better and no worse in supporting active participation than the old translation. Very little can be said on the basis of the data about the effect of the change.

      1. @Jonathan How – comment #15:
        My parish is an eclectic mix of people from all over the USA and the world and judging from them, the CARA statistics are right on, although in my parish I would say that those who are dissatisfied are negligible. It would be helpful if the age of those surveyed was included as I suspect there is some stratification based upon that and those who actually remember the immediate effects of Vatican II and those who don’t and only know it from history books.
        I think the same could be said of the clergy. I suspect the older clergy would be a bit more critical compared to the younger clergy. That in and of itself would be a good sociological study and survey.

  7. Two observations on why people who attend less often show a less positive reception.

    1. Psychologically, people tend to like things with which they are familiar. When a new song comes onto the top 40 charts, I may or may not like it. But after 100+ hearings, it grows on me and my opinion of it increases. Even if I didn’t like it at first, I find myself turning up the radio because of sheer familiarity.

    2. More importantly, those who attend Mass infrequently are unaware/less aware of the changes in their spoken parts. At a family wedding a few weeks ago, when more than half of the congregation said the old words, the priest started speaking the new parts loudly into his microphone, and soon any participation in spoken or sung prayer was silenced. People were embarrassed by their faux pas. Whether he meant to or not, the priest conveyed, “all right, you fallen-away Catholics, I know who you are!”

    If we care about welcoming these people and encouraging them to return to Sunday Mass, this presents a problem. On one hand many Dioceses are mounting ad campaigns for Catholics Come Home (to the church you know and love) while on the other hand inadvertently sending the message, “you’ve fallen behind, you’re out of touch, this will be harder than you thought.”

    This is why my parish has complete Order of Mass booklets available at the entrances, and people at weddings/funerals/C&E are encouraged to use them. This helps, but I still believe we are alienating our fallen-away brothers and sisters upon their return.

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #10:
      “This is why my parish has complete Order of Mass booklets available at the entrances, and people at weddings/funerals/C&E are encouraged to use them. This helps, but I still believe we are alienating our fallen-away brothers and sisters upon their return.”

      This is one of the justifications we’re using for ordering new hymnals: it will have the new order of mass.

      Your point is well-taken about the danger of alienating those who are fallen away. An unfamiliar translation could be a barrier to re-entry (to coin a phrase). Surely this is an important aspect of how the New Evangelization gets fleshed out in a concrete parish setting.

  8. It seems to me (I do say, ‘seems’) that those of you who do not at all like the new translation rather anxiously assert that the overwhelmingly positive response illustrated by this poll is owing (therefore) to faulty questioning, and insistently rationalise some negating factors into the voice of those 70% (!) who were favourable and very favourable. I dare say that you wouldn’t be bestowing such dispersions had that balance of votes gone the other way. Your bias is glaringly transparent. Further, the concern here seems to be the saddeningly familiar one for those ever present spoilers who ‘don’t like’, or are ‘leaving the Church’, rather than for those who do like and are supporting the Church. Yet more strife brought about by the minority ‘don’t likes’. Too, if these poor poor souls frequented a Church that they don’t seem to care that much about more often, the new translation would not be strange to them. (And, bravo to the priest who insisted on the congregation making the correct responses.) Just think of all those very young Catholics who are experiencing the new translation as something normal up with which they will have grown, the language of which they will have absorbed and learned to comprehend! Why, (good for them!) they might even learn to think that way.

  9. I guess we’ll just have to wait a little longer for the fulfilment of all those prophecies from those on PrayTell who foresaw the uprising of the whole people of God against this oppressive, awkward translation foisted on us by old, out-of-touch men in Rome; yea, for this shall surely come to pass. Or not.


    On a more serious note, how it seems to M. Jackson Osborne (#12) is also how it seems to me. Had only the slimmest majority of people been dissatisfied in this poll, I daresay a few regular PrayTell contributors would be a lot happier.

    @Fr Ruff: How do people who “rarely or never” attend Mass form their rather negative opinions on the new Missal? Perhaps the rather negative coverage in the secular press has something to do with that?

  10. Why re-invent the wheel? My posting on the Weigel thread serves this discussion as well.
    Yes, it has gone better than many expected. But don’t let us presume that is a reflection on the quality of the translation. Many haven’t noticed and others are not really bothered.
    After the earthquake, the seismograph records aftershocks for a while and then returns to flatline. Maybe the expectation is that we will experience a similar outcome and all the fuss will be forgotten. But at what cost, with what great disappointment on the journey ?
    And sometimes a second ‘quake follows the first. What then?

  11. M. Jackson Osborn : …experiencing the new translation as something normal up with which they will have grown…

    MJO, for the avoidance of doubt, you are not obliged to follow the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam in comments here.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #17:
      JD –
      For a similar avoidance of doubt, your reply is received in all good will and will have caused no rancour between us. I am curious, though, about your mention of Liturgiam Authenticam in connexion with my comments here. It may surprise you and others that my familiarity with LA is pretty much limited to the grinchly comments about it on this blog. That my speech or writing style should be compared to it is puzzling. I (probably like you and others) write in the manner in which I think: hence, my feelings about the lamentable, even comedic, Dick and Jane translation which, for a year now, has been history; and, why I consider the new one a preferable, though somewhat inept, attempt at normal thought and interesting, engaging language. Do you really believe that we should be faulting the new translation on account of complex or lengthy sentences, or getting bent out of shape over a so-called ‘imposition’ of Latin syntax onto our tongue, or a word here and there that isn’t in ‘everyday usage’? (So what!) Its faults are none of the above, but a rather general lack of poetic rhythm and instinct, an absence of Cranmerian mastery.

      1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #29:
        ” I (probably like you and others) write in the manner in which I think”

        This is something about which I’ve often wondered. My own hypothesis is that something happens to cleanse or filter – and stentorify- my thoughts as they make their way to my tapping fingers: my thoughts, often enough, are a swirl of emotions, many of them unworthy.

      2. @Jim Pauwels – comment #30:
        JP –
        I suspect that that ‘something’ which happens in tapping your thoughts into print (or [maybe] speaking them to others) is a self-conscious awareness learned from negative reactions by others against what is, for you, normal speech. It is difficult to keep the upper hand (and the upper grammer) in our plebian milieu, but keep it one must. And, true, swirls of emotions, ‘many of them unworthy’ are elements which many of us deal with as we strive to express only those noble movements of emotions, to communicate what is fine and to discard the dross. As is much evidenced on this blog, legion are those who pretend that complex sentences are in no way interesting, but are unintelligible. This doesn’t really say much for their literary accomplishments, nor for their very literacy itself, does it? As a youth, my mind was shaped largely by reading scholarly XIX. century history books, art and architecture theory books, Beethoven and music theory.. and the Book of Common Prayer. I experienced ‘other stuff’ as stange, wondering very often why most people didn’t speak English. (I still do, most of the time). Even School boys’ writing of a hundred and fifty years ago would make their XXI. century peers look like utterly illiterate bumpkins. Soldiers writing on campaign 150 ago wrote lucid and literate compositions in praiseworthy grammer and vocabulary which would be beyond the literary immaturity and inadequate vocabulary of the soldiers on campaign today. Then, you mention your ‘swirl of emotions, many of them unworthy’. This is, I’m afraid, concommitant with the human condition. It is the discovery and invention of those things that AREN’T unworthy and skillfully treating upon them that separates the sheep from the goats. Ply on, Jim Pauwels, ply on.
        It is little wonder that some are challenged by the new translation: the very ones who tout the ’98, though it would have left the people still singing a savaged Gloria, Creed, and Sanctus… + also with you, + …..

  12. The wording of many of the collects is awful. In many cases all you have unintelligible mumbling. The wording of the collects should have been one of the most important jobs of the Vox Clara committee that supervised the translation. The collects should be clearly worded, they should contain only one idea per clause, and they should sound good to an adult native speaker of English. The collects fail on all these points.

  13. What I would like to see is a survey that could quantify how many left the Church with MR3 being the final straw.

  14. “We know that people often overestimate their church attendance (e.g. weekly when they go a couple of times a month) because they want to communicate they are good Catholics. I would say the answers to all the above questions as well as the “strongly agree” answer to the new translation of the Mass all tells us little about Mass translations. They are all merely different ways of saying “I am a good Catholic.””

    My interpretation of these numbers is that the more people are exposed to the mass, the more the mass has a positive spiritual effect on them. The mass is transformative. That a new translation didn’t change that basic dynamic seems to me to be a reason to rejoice.

  15. It would be interesting to see how these responses break out by age group. My own impression is that there is a “back to the future” aspect to the new translation, as it is similar in style, and in some specific wording for the people’s parts, to the interim English translation that prevailed until 1969-70; and I believe that interim translation itself may have been rooted in English translations that appeared on the printed page in personal missal booklets during the days of the Latin mass. For people of a certain age, the experience of the new translation may not be one of complete novelty.

  16. I too have conducted some research. Whilst in Lourdes this year with my diocese (Shrewsbury) working as one of the pilgrimage doctors I decided to do an impromptu survey of 33 of my fellow pilgrims. Participation was voluntary and the questions provoked a lot of quite deep discussion with a number of people. The three simple questions were on the new translation and involved all age ranges from 16 upwards.

    1) Do you like the new translation? 2) Does the language make God seem closer or more distant? 3) Did you know of the existence of the 1998 translation?

    Some were glad I had asked these questions. I think they hoped something might be done about the translation. One felt we just had to accept what Rome was saying as Rome knows best. It seems unity trumped every other concern. To those that hesitated on the second question I sometimes gave an example of what I was getting at. (From the third Eucharistic prayer: “To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom,” versus “welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters, and all who have left this world in your friendship”).

    The results didn’t favour the new translation:

    1) Like: 6; Dislike: 22; Ambivalent: 5.
    2) A closer God: 3; A more distant God: 26; No change: 4.
    3) Knowledge of existence of 1998 translation: 7.

    The younger generations generally disliked it. The older generations who remember the Latin had more people that preferred it. Selection was random, but I did include one person with a T-shirt ‘Just say no to the new missal’ (worn with the permission of his bishop it transpired).

    1. @Mark Coley – comment #23:

      Where can I get a similar T-shirt?

      For the survey-takers: I’ve gone from weekly attendance to a couple times per month, thank you wretched language new Missal. I’m not quite out the door, but a whole lot closer; the new translation is about the last straw but not the only issue for me. It IS the one most in front of my face on a regular basis, though, and a year’s experience hasn’t made it any better for me.

      Recently a friend told me she was glad her father’s funeral fell before the new translation was imposed. She drew comfort from the old words, where the new ones just don’t land well on the ear in so many, many places. FWIW. . .

      1. It is not smart to miss Sunday Mass — which is required — because you don’t like the Mass translation. Please reconsider this decision. Don’t throw out Christ because you don’t like the wrapping!

  17. Allan, few people in your parish are going to take exception to your well defined views regarding the liturgy.

    I had one inter-church couple (Methodist/Catholic) who were both physicians and both phenomenally generous for whom the new translation was the last straw. As the Catholic party put it: I was having a difficult time trusting bishops in the wake of the sexual abuse coverup. It didn’t make me feel any better that Catholics are forbidden to even discuss the prospect of female or married priests. Being told that the way I had been praying was somehow not good enough and had to be replaced by a form of English which sounded stilted to me, that was all I could take. She concluded that she would not impose this kind of thinking and praying on her teenaged daughters.

  18. I do believe most parishes have fully implemented the changed parts for the people. However, I know that there are not an insignificant number of presiders who take editorial liberties with the presidential prayers. There is no way in this data to correlate responses with the level of implementation in the people’s parishes.

    I agree that a survey of the clergy regarding their experience as well as whether they actually follow all the prayers of the Missal or not would be quite enlightening.

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