While it may do little to end disagreements among liturgists over recent changes to the Roman Missal, a survey conducted in September, nearly a year after controversial revisions of the English language Mass took effect, found that seven in 10 Catholics agree that the new translation of the Mass “is a good thing” (20 percent agree “strongly”). Nearly a quarter of the Catholics surveyed (23 percent) disagreed, however, and an additional 7 percent “strongly” disagree with the view that the changes were for the better.
Catholics who attend Mass weekly were the most likely to be satisfied with the new translation, according to a report prepared for the Catholic University of America by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Eighty-four percent said that the revised Mass was a “good thing.” Just over 60 percent of self-identified Catholics who rarely or never attend Mass, however, were not positive about the changes. The new survey also found that regular Mass attendance levels remained the same, compared with a similar study conducted in 2011. Both polls estimated that about a quarter of adult Catholics attend Mass weekly or more often. Last year’s survey reported that only one in four adult Catholics were aware of the then-impending changes to the English-language liturgy, which began to be used during Advent 2011. This is part of the reason why this year’s apparent level of general satisfaction is of interest.
“As far as I am aware this is the only ‘pre- and post-’ national data examining Catholic reactions to changes in the liturgy,” noted Mark M. Gray, research associate at CARA and director of CARA Catholic Polls in a posting on CARA’s blog 1964 (nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com). CARA found no statistically significant changes in the numbers of Americans who self-identify as Catholic in the last year that might indicate an identifiable exodus from the church that could be related to the changes in the liturgy.
Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., an associate professor of theology at Saint John’s University and School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, Minn., reviewed the findings and said they suggested that “many people get used to ritual language and probably don’t pay real close attention to it.
“Most, not all, people accept the new texts,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean they’re any good; look at how well they accepted the bland texts we used to have.” He added, “Liturgists are glad the transition went well, but they still know mediocre English when they see it, and they’ll continue to call for a better revision with a better consultative process.”
Four in 10 respondents said they had noticed the language of liturgical prayer had changed “to a small extent,” and 23 percent noticed changes to a moderate extent. Only 6 percent said they noticed changes to a great extent. Thirty-one percent said they did not notice any changes. Those who perceived less change were most likely to agree that the new translation is a good thing. Among those who felt the language was greatly changed, a majority disagree that the new translation is a good thing (65 percent). This group, however, made up only a small number of respondents (6 percent).