Dec 11, 2012

Catholics find new Mass translations to their liking, study finds



(CNS photos/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A wide majority of Massgoers are satisfied with the new English translation of the Roman Missal introduced a year ago at Advent, a survey showed.

Seventy percent of Catholics responding agreed that the translation is a "good thing," according to results of the survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Half of respondents agreed with the assessment while 20 percent strongly agreed with it, the survey found.

That still left three in 10 Catholics saying they disagreed with such an assessment. Seven percent said they strongly disagreed that the translations were good for the Catholic Church.

Sulpician Father Anthony Pogorelc, a staff member of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, which commissioned the survey, said the findings were not surprising. "The (Mass) actions have not changed, the words are not as big a change to people," he said.

The institute conducted a similar survey in 2011 prior to the introduction of the new missal to establish a baseline on how Catholics responded to the eucharistic liturgy and had the results were similar then, Father Pogorelc said.

The latest survey revealed that the acceptance of the new language was higher among Catholics who attended Mass weekly or more often than those who worshipped less often. Worshippers who like the translations said the new wording inspired them to be more faithful in daily life, helped them feel closer to God and make it easier to participate in Mass.

The findings were based on responses from 1,047 self-identified Catholic adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The results were gratifying to Msgr. Richard B. Hilgartner, executive director of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Divine Worship. He said the findings in the CARA study reflected the "positive feedback" his office had received in the year since the translations have been used.

"What we've found .... is that where catechesis was done well and preparation was done well, there's been much more acceptance and embracing of it," Msgr. Hilgartner told Catholic News Service. "I think now is the time to start asking questions about what people understand about the new texts. Now it's not different and unfamiliar, but it's starting to get a little bit comfortable on several levels."

Msgr. Hilgartner acknowledged that he and bishops across the country have heard complaints about the translations, but that they have been in the minority.

Some priests, he said, have struggled with the new language found in the Mass prayers. Some worshippers, he added, have told him the new language is too formal and hinders their worship.

Msgr. Hilgartner compared some of the concerns about the changes today to those that emerged when the Missal of Paul VI was approved in 1969 that adopted the intentions expressed in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy ("Sacrosanctum Consilium") that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. In 1970, he recalled, some Catholics were offended by the less formal vernacular language of the then-new missal translation.

The current translation of the Roman Missal was issued in 2001. It took the International Commission on English in the Liturgy nearly a decade to translate the changes into English and gain Vatican approval after what were, at times, contentious discussions.

"Pope Paul VI said in 1965 to a group of translators that the language of the liturgy can't be the language of the street or the marketplace because the words of prayer have to inspire us and evoke something and move us to worship and praise," Msgr. Hilgartner said.

"In the end, the liturgy doesn't belong to us. That formula of St. Paul is in the First Letter to the Corinthians: 'I receive from the Lord what I now hand on to you.' The liturgy is something we receive and hand on. We don't invent it and make it up for ourselves. It's not just the product of one local community, but it belongs to a larger church," he said.

As the CARA survey showed, not all Catholics like the translations.

U.S. Catholic, a monthly magazine published by the Claretians, took a nonscientific survey of its readers, and their responses show both Catholics in the pews and clergy expressing dismay with the new wording.

Two-thirds of respondents said they dislike or "don't particularly like" the new translation. In contrast, 17 percent of respondents said they enjoyed the translation; 6 percent said they were unsure.

In addition, 70 percent of U.S. Catholic respondents disagreed that the new translation has had a positive effect on participation in the Mass and/or prayerfulness during Mass.

Among priests, 58 percent dislike the translation and another 17 percent "don't particularly like" the new wording. Four percent of priests said they were unsure of voicing the new prayers but that they have since become accustomed to them.

The magazine said 1,231 priests and 1,208 visitors to its website responded to the survey.

Scott Alessi, U.S. Catholic's managing editor, said the responses from clergy surprised the magazine's staff.

"It was a lot more overwhelmingly negative and critical than we thought," he said.

Several priests responding expressed concern that they were not consulted while the translation was being discussed by ICEL and the USCCB and that the U.S. Catholic invitation was the first time they were asked by anyone for their opinion on something as significant as a revision of the Roman Missal.

Alessi said the survey was meant to be a discussion starter among readers and nothing more.

"We take a survey every month for the magazine. We like to get opinions from people, just to put it out and generate conversation. We think it's a good way to continue conversation on topics within the church that people have a lot to say about," he said.