Survey Reactions

Bishop Robert H. Brom comments on the 2013 New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsBishop Robert H. Brom
Bishop of San Diego

I am not at all surprised at the results of the survey conducted by the Godfrey Diekmann Center at Saint John's university.

In October of last year, I met with representatives of Presbyteral Councils from throughout Region XI who regularly gather in San Diego. Here are some of their observations on new English translation of the Roman Missal:

  • Especially difficult are many of the Collects and Prefaces and parts of the Eucharist Prayers as well as the nuptial blessings.
  • Too many prayers or parts of them begin with a dependent clause which is not the way we usually pray.
  • Complicated and awkward phrasing and a strange vocabulary does not make the prayers sacral, but is aggravating.
  • The new missal is more of a burden than a blessing and should not be the basis for other liturgical rites or rituals.
  • We need good tools to do a good job; this is not a good tool.

While we don't want to "throw out the baby with the bathwater," the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay. The views of priests must be taken into consideration.

Fr. Anthony Cutcher comments on the 2013 New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsFr. Anthony E. Cutcher
President, National Federation of Priests' Councils (NFPC)

The Eucharistic liturgy and the ability to celebrate it well is at the core of a priest's identity. As priests, we desire nothing more than to bring the faithful to the Lord. We also strive to live out our promise of obedience to our bishop and by extension, the magisterium. In reading the results of this survey, it is clear that America's priests want to preside well and provide a meaningful experience of the sacred, but archaic language and unintelligible syntax have greatly hampered our abilities as presiders and effectively made that impossible. With the promulgation of the Third Roman Missal, we priests have been placed in an untenable position - forced to choose between fidelity to the magisterium and feeding our people. Precisely because this edition is seen as a "top-down" project, many priests feel that the magisterium has not kept faith with them, so they feel no compunction to be faithful to magisterium. Our input to the process, through our bishops et al to ICEL was ignored. There are many highly-educated men in our ranks who are acknowledged scholars in the areas relevant to such an endeavor, and yet few were consulted. And so we wait in hope that the Spirit who ‘desires to draw all people to himself' will inspire those in authority to rethink this revision before it can become entrenched in practice.

Fr. Edward Foley comments on the New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsFr. Edward Foley, Capuchin
Professor of spirituality, liturgy, and music at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; former president of the board of "We Believe"; founder and originating member of the executive committee of the Catholic Academy of Liturgy.

As one who exclusively employs the new translation when celebrating the Eucharist, I do not find these results surprising. The texts do strike me as consistently awkward, too formal for "American" ears, and exceedingly difficult to render intelligibly. The most disappointing result of this survey for me is that most priests doubt that their views about the translation will be seriously addressed; on the other hand, this too is not surprising since they were never consulted in the first place.

Liturgy is a verb, an action, an event: not simply texts in a book. Those who prepared this translation gave virtually no attention to its performability by clergy - including the significant number for whom English is a second or third language. Similarly, there appeared to be little care for the people of God who are hoping to make sense of these texts, also through a multitude of cultural and linguistic filters. Moving forward with any similar translation for the other sacraments or public worship is a potentially alienating gesture both toward the clergy who preside at such worship and for the faithful who, as credible data demonstrates, are often going elsewhere to have their ritual needs met.

Dr. Peter Jeffery comments on the New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsDr. Peter Jeffery
Professor of medieval studies and theology and co-director of the Master of Sacred Music program at Notre Dame University; author of Translating Tradition: A Chant Historian Reads Liturgiam Authenticam (Liturgical Press, 2005), a study of the 2001 Vatican document calling for retranslation of all the liturgical books.

 Let's see, 32 dioceses out of 178 is 17.9%. In 2012 there were 38,964 priests in the U.S. The 1536 priests who responded to the survey would be 3.9% of that number. So my first question is: why did 82.1% of dioceses decide not to forward this survey to their priests? Do they think it is better not know what priests think?

The other statistic that really stands out could be the reverse side of the same coin: 855 priests disagree or disagree strongly with the statement "I am confident that the views of priests will be taken seriously in future decisions about liturgical translation." Discouraging. For even if this survey is completely unrepresentative, that is 855 too many. No priest should feel that way.

Fr. Michael G. Ryan comments on the 2013 New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsFr. Michael G. Ryan
Pastor of Saint James Cathedral, Seattle; founder and initiator of "What if we just said wait?

There is no surprise in these results. I anticipated this reaction back in December, 2009, as did the 23,000+ signers of, hundreds of them priests. How telling that after the huge amount of time, money, and energy expended to get us to embrace the new texts, not only did the Missal fail to win over a significant majority of priests, but 15% of those who looked forward to the new Missal have ended up disliking it!

The high level of dissatisfaction among priests should be a grave concern for the bishops, assuming they care about what their priests are thinking and feeling. (It's sad to note that only 32 dioceses chose to participate in the survey while 146 opted out. Does this mean that 82% of the bishops don't want to hear what their priests think on this subject?)

These results are a far cry from the way priests and people reacted when the Mass in English was first introduced in the late 1960s. A survey taken at that time indicated that 85-87% of Catholics ("and especially parish priests") preferred the new Mass to the old (Mark Massa, SJ, Worship 81 (2007), p. 122).

I said the results didn't surprise me. With one exception. Fully half of those who say they like the new Missal (39% of respondents) also find it "awkward and distracting" (80% of respondents). You do the math. Something doesn't add up here.

Most Reverend Donald W. Trautman comments on the 2013 Survey of US Priests on the New Roman MissalMost Reverend Donald W. Trautman, STD, SSL
Bishop Emeritus of Erie

 It is an undisputed fact that the overwhelming majority of priests responding to recent surveys are not in favor of the new missal translation. Their comments, publicized in connection with the Godfrey Diekmann Center for Patristic and Liturgical Studies, reveal strong pastoral dissatisfaction. They cite unintelligible and non-proclaimable texts, faulty English grammar, lengthy sentences and stilted, awkward expressions. The new missal has made people spectators again at the Eucharist.

What worries me the most are the comments that show the priests do not find the new translation prayerful. Our priests and our people are not being fed spiritually by these flawed texts. Survey after survey has documented the same results. We have a clear collegial expression of the pastoral and spiritual concern that needs to be heard.

This is no longer just a liturgical problem, it is an ecclesiological problem. The priests have spoken; the bishops need to listen and act. When 80% of priests in the most recent survey find the missal translation unsuitable (awkward and distracting), the bishops must take that to heart. It is wrong to move ahead with the translation of the Liturgy of the Hours and other Sacramental Books using the same misguided principles that gave us the new missal.

If we really believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is the most important activity of the Church, then we will give priority attention to the views of our priest-celebrants.

Jeffery Tucker comments on the 2013 New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsJeffery Tucker
Managing Editor, Sacred Music Journal; founder of The Chant Café blog

These survey results initially surprised me. But I'll admit my bias: I'm far happier with the new translation. I'm frequently moved by the new language. I'm friends with many young priests who fully agree.

Why would some priests disagree with this assessment? The survey lacks demographic data, but I suspect a generational split is at work here. It shouldn't really be surprising that some priests of an older generation are annoyed. They came terms with one way, received vast amounts of catechesis along these lines, and developed a more casual liturgical style to go with it, and now they are told to do it another way. This creates a real tension: am I supposed to speak in the language of the people or not?

What is the purpose of liturgy? Is it primarily a community gathering centered on the needs of the people or is it a formalized prayer that strives to reach out of time and into eternity? The existing resources for liturgy do not fully agree on this crucial matter. The answer to this instability is to get to work on the remaining options and bring them into line with the new understanding and ethos.

One point that emerges here should serve as a warning sign. We find in this survey an intense suspicion about the process of translation itself, all stemming from excessive and pointless centralization and secrecy. Every process of revision could benefit from a more open approach.

Mgsr. Andrew Wadsworth comments on the 2013 New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsMgsr. Andrew Wadsworth
Executive Director, International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL)

It is important to establish the parameters of a survey in assessing its significance. Although there was a high response among those asked, the 1536 priests who responded may represent less than 3.7% of priests in the US (41,606 at Aug 2011) - a significant fact in determining just how representative this consultation can be considered to be.

Despite this, some interesting indications emerge, even if the accompanying commentary is at times selectively negative in interpreting the data. The new translation clearly has a different voice and the survey shows that some priests do not like it. Whether they are representative of wider opinion is not ascertained by this survey. These views have to be seen in contrast to the genuine identification of problems within the text. For this reason, I am surprised that less than 20% of respondents make specific comments on matters of grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

Underlying criticisms concern Liturgiam authenticam, its principles and process, together with issues regarding the relationship between the consultation process and the final text as established by the Holy See. We are still young in our experience of vernacular liturgy and its implications - it frequently has as much to do with ecclesiology as with translation.

Fr. Mark Wedig, OP comments on the New Roman Missal Survey of PriestsFr. Mark Wedig, OP
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Chair and Professor of Theology at Barry University in Miami Shores, FL; head of the leadership team of the Catholic Academy of Liturgy.

I affirm the value and good work of this survey. The areas of inquiry in the survey itself help to break down the issues related to its translation. Overall one can see that carrying out formal equivalence over dynamic equivalence in the method of translation has resulted in overlooking the signficance of enculturation as one of the fundamental tools of evangelization in the contemporary church.