US Catholic Faith in Real Life

They love the missal, they love it not: Two decidedly different reactions to the new translation

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint |

Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has some interesting data on their blog today about the reactions of Catholics to the new Roman Missal one year after it was implemented in U.S. parishes. Survey says: The vast majority really like it. Seventy percent agree with the statement, "Overall, I think the new translation of the Mass is a good thing," 20 percent of whom strongly agree.

The approval rating is even higher among Catholics who are weekly Massgoers, of whom 84 percent say the new translation is a good thing. And based on a comparison between 2012 and 2011 polling data, there's no evidence that Mass attendance has greatly dropped off. In other words, those who attend Mass regularly aren't just praising the missal because they're the only ones who haven't left over it--whether they like the missal or not, most Catholics have continued their usual Mass-going habits.

If you've read our December 2012 issue, you know these findings don't quite match our own Reader Survey on what Catholics have to say about the new missal. Among our readers, 49 percent say they dislike the new translation and are unhappy about having to put up with it for the foreseeable future. The sample sizes for the two polls were about the same: We had just over 1,200 readers take our survey while CARA had more than 1,000 responses to theirs.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why CARA might come up with different results than we did. For one thing, they are top notch researchers who conduct scientific studies. Our poll, on the other hand, is never meant to be scientific--we allow any and all visitors to our website to complete the survey, only weeding out spam and duplicate responses. You can say our surveys are "for entertainment purposes only" in that we ask sometimes offbeat questions and look for interesting comments to print in our magazine, rather than getting true polling data.

Still, I wouldn't completely dismiss what our readers had to say. Having read through many of the responses (and those we received in our similar survey of what priests think of the new missal) I was a little surprised that the comments were so heavily negative. But more than being negative, the thing that was most clear in those comments, and in the feedback we received since the surveys were published, is that people had a very strong, emotional response to the changes in the Mass.

Those who took the time to complete our survey and write out thoughtful commentaries on the new missal were deeply affected by the change and, in many cases, just needed an opportunity to vent. It often seems easier to get people to offer feedback when they're unhappy about a topic than when they are pleased. (How many people do you think call the number on those "How's my driving?" signs to report on how much they appreciate the driver of the truck in front of them?)

So then, which survey is more accurate? I'd tend to believe CARA's finding that most Catholics are doing fine with the new translation after having used it for a year. But those who dislike it (and were thus more likely to volunteer their opinions to us) are clearly very passionate about the matter. We--including the church's leaders--should continue listening to folks on both sides of the aisle to learn more about what's behind each group's feelings. I'm sure this conversation is far from over, and I don't think that's a bad thing.

Flickr photo cc by gbcarmelite