U.S. Priests Still Not Loving the New Missal

Almost two years after its Advent 2011 introduction, the new Missal is still generating unhappiness among U.S. Catholic priests, according to a new survey which found "widespread skepticism" about the litrugy revisions. According to the study, 59 percent of the 1,500 priests surveyed "do not like" the new text. By a nearly identical margin (57 percent to 36 percent), the survey found that priests do not like the more formal style of language, with over one-third (35 percent) strongly disliking the new language. The survey was conducted by the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at Saint John's University School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota. The survey found that more than three in five priests (61 percent) think that the new translation urgently needs to be revised, with 43 percent strongly agreeing that it urgently needs revision.

More than two-thirds of the 372 respondents who commented were critical of the "aesthetic expression" of the new Missal. Respondents described prayers as "stilted," "awkward," "difficult to proclaim," "contrived, not sacred," "clunky," "lacking a lyrical beauty," "cumbersome," "distracting," "awful," having "no poetic feel," etc.

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Over 90 percent of the surveyed priests who spoke of reception by the people expressed concerns that the language was "difficult to pray" and "difficult for people to understand." Commentators said the prayers were distancing the faithful from the priest and God, did not engage them, "do not resonate with the ears/hearts of the faithful," "made no attempt to include the people," are "inaccessible," do not allow true full and active participation, and are fueling a "return to passivity" in liturgy. Laity have voiced dissatisfaction and dislike for the Missal, but some seem to have "reluctantly accepted it" or are "enduring it remarkably well" (to which one priest calls "a tribute to their faith and desire to worship"). Many priests also claimed to have been approached by laity to explain certain prayers and words.

The few who perceived a positive reception from Massgoers said the new translation has "not been problematic" and that some "like them very much"; the Missal has made people "think and reflect more deeply," presented a "wonderful opportunity for catechesis," and made Mass "more reverent."

The vast majority of those who commented on the Missal's grammar and syntax were critical. Many expressed concerns that the Missal's English is not idiomatic, breaks too many rules of English grammar and employs the Latin rather than English syntax, so much so that the Missal is simply "not English." Commenters wrote unfavorably about the "many dependent clauses," "run-on sentences," "many commas" and "awful phraseology" that left one "tongue-tied." Twenty-four comments singled out the Missal's collects, calling them "horrendous," "overwritten" and impossible to diagram. One noted that the difficult phrases were challenging to render into sign language when he celebrates Mass for the deaf.

The survey also reports:

• Only 35 percent of priests think that the new translation is an improvement on the old one, against 56 percent who do not think it is an improvement. Over one-third of priests (34 percent) strongly disagree that the new Missal is an improvement.

• Priests overwhelmingly think that some of the language is awkward and distracting—80 percent agree with this statement, with nearly three out of five (59 percent) agreeing strongly with this negative appraisal.

• Similarly, more than three in five priests (61 percent) do not think work should go forward translating the Liturgy of the Hours and other sacraments in the same style as the new Missal, with 43 percent strongly disagreeing with this work continuing. Only slightly more than three in ten priests (32 percent) would like to see translation work continue in the same style.

• Most priests (55 percent) are not confident that priests' translation views will be taken seriously, with less than one-quarter of priests (24 percent) confident their views will be taken seriously.

• Nearly half of all priests (49 percent) do not approve of the Holy See's leadership in bringing about the new Missal, with nearly three in ten priests (29 percent) strongly disapproving of the Holy See's role. Less than two out of five priests (39 percent) approve of the Holy See's leadership on the new Missal.

You can read the full report here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Vince Killoran
4 years 11 months ago
Our parish priest--a young, conservative guy--stumbles over translation each & every week. It's probably the one thing upon which we agree.
Jim McCrea
4 years 11 months ago
Let these priests stand in line after the large numbers of laity who simply ignore so many of the changes.
Bob Baker
4 years 11 months ago
Only 1500 priests? The sample rate seems very small. As the missal is translated from Latin, then it is only appropriate that it reflect what it says. The unfortunate translation from 1973 was more concerned with how sloppy our English is, not how it should be. The answer to all this is found in Vatican II - Latin.
Vince Killoran
4 years 11 months ago
The sample size is fine. At that number the margin of error is 3%

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