US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Words matter: The missal mess that won't go away

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As English-speaking Catholics now complete two years of use with the "new" translations of the Roman Missal, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate is conducting a wide-ranging survey of U.S. Catholic leaders about the reception of the new missal. (U.S. Catholic did its own decidedly unscientific survey after a year of use; the CARA survey is a repetition of one created by the Diekmann Center and funded by a number of groups, including several liturgical publishers.)

CARA's preliminary findings as reported by the PrayTell blog are decidedly mixed, with a 46 percent to 46 percent split on whether respondents "like" the new missal, though three quarters agree that some of the language is awkward, and 58 percent do not like the more "formal" quality of the language. Just over half think the current translation is in urgent need of revision, and only 41 percent see the current translation as an improvement on that of the previous (1970) translation.

Perhaps the most interesting response is that only 23 percent of those surveyed agree that the views of priests will be taken into account regarding any further translations, which is significant since 84 percent of those surveyed are "clergy" (though we don't know how many are parish priests). Clearly, clergy feel shut out of the process, but I also wonder how the results might shift if large numbers of lay people were included. Do most Catholics care?

Still, these numbers indicate that wide disagreement remains about the quality of both the translations and the way they were prepared and implemented; sadly, the liturgy, the "source and summit" of Catholic life and unity, is still a source of division. It's hard to tell what the path forward is; unlike Germany, which seems insistent on resisting a similar type of new translation, U.S. parishes and publishers have already sunk substantial resources into printing and promulgating these texts. I hardly think parishes would be willing to dump all those pew cards and new missals and hymnals to go back to the old ones.

Nevertheless, the lack of commitment to these texts is telling; I suspect in the years to come we will begin to see more and more blends of the new translation and the old one until we can generate the will to attempt another effort worthy of the people of God.