Poll: Catholics Strongly Support New Mass Translation After First Year

Seventy percent of U.S. Catholics view the changes in a positive light, according to a September 2012 CARA survey.

WASHINGTON — One year after the Church introduced revisions to the English-language liturgy, an overwhelming majority of Catholics continue to view the changes in a positive light.

A new poll finds that 70% of U.S. adult self-identified Catholics agree with the statement, “Overall, I think the new translation of the Mass is a good thing.”

The poll, conducted in September 2012 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, sought to gain an understanding of how adult Catholics perceived the third edition of the Roman Missal that went into use on Nov. 27, 2011.

The overwhelming majority of respondents either agreed — 50% — or strongly agreed — 20% — that the new translation is a good thing.

Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week were most likely to approve of the revised liturgy, with more than 80% agreeing that it was a good thing. However, even among those who rarely attend Mass, more than 60% approved of the new translation.

Respondents who said that they had noticed great changes in the Mass were more likely to view the new translation in a negative light, compared to those who had noticed moderate changes, small changes or none at all.

Commissioned by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, the survey asked participants whether they have a good understanding of the meaning of the prayers recited by the priest and people at Mass and if the words of those prayers make it easier for them to participate in the Mass.

They were also asked whether those prayers of the Mass help them feel closer to God and inspire them to be a more faithful Catholic in their daily lives.

In each case, at least three-quarters of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. Catholics who attend Mass more regularly were more likely than others to strongly agree with each statement.

Among weekly churchgoers, there were no significant differences between the responses to these questions in the September 2012 survey and a similar study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in 2011 before the revised liturgy was in use.


Analyzing the Results

The results of the new survey were first presented by Father Anthony Pogorelc of The Catholic University of America at a Nov. 9 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association in Phoenix.

“This is a preliminary study,” Father Pogorelc told Catholic News Agency, adding that various follow-up projects could be conducted to explore why people have responded in various ways.

Those who do not see the changes to the Mass as a good thing may have a poor understanding of the new texts, he explained, or they may think that it is better to translate the liturgy using a method of “dynamic equivalence.”

This method, which was used in the previous edition, sought to translate the Latin into the ordinary “language of the people.” However, it was replaced with a more literal and accurate translation in the third edition of the Roman Missal in order to restore some of the theological meaning that may have been lost.

While every generation included in the survey demonstrated a positive view of the new translation, Father Pogorelc said that age difference could have an impact on how different groups are reacting to the changes.

For example, while they overwhelmingly believe the changes to be a good thing, members of the pre-Vatican II generation, born before 1943, may find the new liturgy challenging, struggling to remember the new responses due to their age, he said.

The millennial generation, born in 1982 or later, shows the highest rate of dissatisfaction with the new translation, although even among this group nearly 60% approve of the changes.

While the reasons for this are not clear, Father Pogorelc suggested that it might be tied to findings in other studies that this younger generation is less affiliated with religion and churches in general.

In addition, he said, social factors could influence this group of Catholics. For example, the decline of the family meal could be leading to a weaker understanding of “ritual” in connection with the Mass.

“It would be interesting to explore this a bit more, now that we have this basic data,” Father Pogorelc said, observing that perhaps focus groups could be assembled in the future to better assess people’s understanding of the liturgical changes at a deeper and more thorough level.

In the meantime, he suggested, it is good for priests to continue preaching on the texts of the Mass, particularly when they fit in closely with the readings.

Much of the Mass references Scripture, he observed, and “integrating some of the texts of the Mass into the preaching” can show the people the close connection between the two.

Said Father Pogorelc, “I think that kind of thing can be very helpful.”