CARA Preliminary Results: Clergy and Lay Leaders Skeptical of New Missal

Preliminary results of a scientific study on the attitudes of clergy and lay church employees toward the newly-translated Roman Missal show widespread skepticism about, and even rejection of, the controversial new liturgical book. The new missal was introduced in Catholic parishes and communities in Advent 2011.

The large-scale study of U.S. Catholic parishes is being carried out by the highly respected Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), with a special set of questions on the new missal commissioned by The Diekmann Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at Saint John’s University School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, MN. The final results of the study are expected to be released in January, 2014, and the Diekmann Center is now releasing preliminary survey results with CARA’s permission.

Among the preliminary findings:

  • Clergy and laity responding to the survey are divided on whether they like the new missal, with 46% disliking and the same percentage liking it. The highest percentage (36%) state that they were apprehensive before the missal was released and still don’t like it.
  • 58% do not like the more formal language of the new missal, while 40% do.
  • 75% agree (44% strongly) that some of the language of the new missal is awkward and distracting, with only 23% disagreeing (8% strongly).
  • Only 41% think the new missal is an improvement on the previous one, with 53% disagreeing (26% strongly) that it is an improvement.
  • 51% state that the new translation urgently needs to be revised, with 44% disagreeing with that statement. The largest number – 32% – strongly agree that the new missal urgently needs revision.
  • 33% like the new missal’s chant settings, while 27% do not. (The largest group – 34% – do not have an opinion.)
  • Only 41% agree that translations in the same style should be done for other rites such as marriage, confirmation, and the Liturgy of the Hours, with 52% disagreeing (36% strongly disagreeing) that other rites be similarly retranslated.
  • 47% approve of the role of the Holy See (Rome) in bringing about the new missal, while 45% do not.
  • Only 23% agree (6% strongly) that views of priests will be taken seriously in future translation decisions, with 60% disagreeing (32% strongly) that priests’ views will be heard.

These preliminary results largely corroborate an earlier non-representative survey of priests in 32 U.S. dioceses carried out by the Diekmann Center, but with slightly more support for the new missal, and slightly less rejection of it, than the earlier study. For the sake of comparison, the same questions were asked in both studies. The earlier study found that 59% dislike the missal and 46% like it, and that 60% think the new missal urgently needs revision. The more recent study shows slightly greater skepticism about whether priests’ views will be heard, with 60% thinking they will not be heard and 23% thinking they will be, compared to 55% and 24% respectively in the previous study.

The preliminary results are based on responses from 250 representative parishes across the U.S. Mary Gautier, senior research associate at CARA, emphasized that the final results of the survey will not be known until next year. “These are preliminary data only, so we cannot yet construct a confidence interval around these statistics,” she said. “They are suggestive of what we are likely to find in the final report, but not yet conclusive.” 84% of the respondents to the CARA study are clergy, but CARA is not providing a breakdown at this point of the views of clergy compared to lay employees. CARA and the Diekmann Center will release final results, with all numerical data, at the conclusion of the study, including a breakdown of the views of clergy and lay employees.

The Diekmann Center funded the missal portion of the larger CARA study with the generous support of the following organizations: The National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC), The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP), The Church Music Association of America (CMAA),  The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), Liturgical Press, along with several anonymous individuals.





11 responses to “CARA Preliminary Results: Clergy and Lay Leaders Skeptical of New Missal”

  1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky




    I have always maintained that if liturgists studied liturgy scientifically that everyone would have to adjust some of their thinking.

    It looks very much like there is an even split on the NEW MISSAL. I don’t think it matters much if the final numbers go 40%-60% one way or anothers. So everybody was right and everybody was wrong. I think if you have 30%-40% that want a missal they should have their opportunity.



    I Wish it were not so late in the day or I would pour out a glass of wine and raise a toast to social science.


    And thanks to the Diekmann Center for nudging this all along.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #1:

      Even if this idea were somehow to be embraced, it only works if the people in the pews get to decide this, rather than the priests (the Missal already gives priests many choices; this one should be the people’s, not the priest’s). A lot of people live in places where they can’t vote with their feet…

  2. Adam Chapman Avatar
    Adam Chapman

    The missal will be changed every few decades. That’s the problem with having the Mass said in a modern/living language. It’s always changing!!!!!

  3. Graham Wilson Avatar
    Graham Wilson

    Adam Chapman : The missal will be changed every few decades. That’s the problem with having the Mass said in a modern/living language. It’s always changing!!!!!

    Adam, I respectfully disagree: the language in the new missal translation is not modern, nor is it living. It’s about as dead and goofy-sounding as you can find.

    If only it were in modern, living English. But the Vatican’s translation rules do not allow it.

  4. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    If we want to gauge support for the New Missal and its translation principles among priests and lay employees putting the following numbers together may help:

    41% think the new missal is an improvement on the previous one
    44% disagreeing that the new missal needs urgently to be revised
    41% agree that translations in the same style should be done for other rites
    40% do like the more formal language of the new missal

    Forty percent seems to be a good ballpark figure. Although CARA is reluctant to put a scientific confidence interval from the data they now have, my general experience with surveys says the final number is unlikely to be above 50% or lower than 30%, and most likely to be somewhere between 45% and 35%. If there were a lottery on the final number I would choose 41%.

    We don’t have the priest vs. lay employees breakdown, or an age breakdown. Of course now that Francis is Pope we can no longer assume that future people who are attracted to the priesthood will be in the JP2 B16 model. So the idea that time will resolve this in favor of the New Missal no longer holds even if current younger priests favor it.

    The key question is how important is all this for the laity, and I think that can only be resolved by a controlled scientific experiment (i.e. use of the OLD Missal vs. the NEW missal) in randomly chosen parishes around the country in which people would be given the opportunity to vote with their feet over the course of a year. Shades of “what if we just say wait.” And if we were to do that experiment we might as well include a third condition, the 1998 Missal which would be very helpful in interpreting the data.

    In whatever we do, the new norm for consultation in the church should include a scientific survey of priests (deacons) and lay employees, and a scientific survey (an experiment If necessary) of people in the pews (plus some people who are no longer in the pews).

    Remember that these surveys are not polls in the voting sense. We are not going to continue or discontinue the NEW Missal depending upon a majority of votes of priests and/or laity.

    We should use the data to make pastorally wise decisions which include accommodations to minorities . I think it would be pastorally wise to submit the OLD vs. NEW missal to an experiment even if only 30% of the priests support it. However if the experiment showed that less than 30% of the people support it then it would seem wise to abandon it as a mistake and try something else.

  5. Victoria Gaile Avatar

    Demographic data really needs to be collected and included in the analysis. I’m a first-generation Vatican II Catholic, and with a few small exceptions, I intensely dislike the new translation. My godmother loves it, because it is, she says, essentially the same English translation she had in her missal prior to Vatican II.

  6. Frank Agnoli Avatar
    Frank Agnoli

    Not sure I would call it “scientific” or broadly generalizable.
    Of 178 dioceses, only 32 participated. In those dioceses, only 42% of priests responded. So “widespread skepticism”? based on 42% of priests from 18% of dioceses?
    I think we need to take the results with a grain of salt: did only those with strong feelings (especially negatively) take the time to respond? Is there selection bias here?
    I know we have raised this question here before when other like studies have been reported. I am not suggesting that we should ignore these results, but let us also not give them more weight than they deserve.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      @Frank Agnoli – comment #7:
      Frank, what study are you talking about??

      This post refers to a still-in-progress CARA study which is of course scientific and broadly generalizable. The preliminary results of this scientific study were only released yesterday.

      The earlier Diekmann study was of 32 dioceses and “only” a 42% responses rate (very high for studies of this type). There is selection bias in most any study, and one uses available means to try to reduce it. In the case of the Diekmann study, the only way we saw to reduce it was that the invitation in almost every diocese came from a diocesan official, with encouragement to reply, rather than from the Diekmann Center. I don’t think the Diekmann study has the scientific heft of the more recent CARA study, but as to whether to take it with just “a grain of salt,” you might also consider the opinion of one social scientist, “Credibility and Limitations of This Study” by Jack Rakosky:

      But again, this post isn’t primarily about the earlier study, it’s about the more recent scientific CARA study.


      1. Frank Agnoli Avatar
        Frank Agnoli

        @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #8:
        Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, Fr. Anthony. My apologies for reading too quickly and conflating the two studies. My comments would therefore refer to the earlier study (and, in that light, thanks for pointing out Dr. Rakosky’s article). I would simply want to be careful not to give too much (OR too little) weight to these studies.

        It will be interesting to see the final CARA report – not just the results but also the questions and how they were asked… and see if there is any data to suggest the reasons behind why they “like” or “dislike” the new Missal. If 46% like and 46% dislike, that is very interesting… does it correlate with other divides in the Church? Again, my thanks and my apologies.

  7. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    In the end, the exact percentages do not matter, and the “weight” of the surveys is comparatively unimportant. It is quite clear that by any form of measurement a considerable proportion of Catholics think that the new translation is not an improvement on the former one, and this fact should give the bishops serious pause for thought. Even if the proportion were only 25% instead of in the 40s and 50s, this still ought to be a major cause for concern.

    The fact that the proportion seems to be even higher among clergy should demand immediate action, as Bishop Brom suggested (and Bishop Matano brushed aside).

    If we cannot feel united by the texts that are supposed to nourish our prayer-life, then we have a real problem. Just how many more surveys will it take before bishops’ conferences take notice of what is happening at the grass roots?

  8. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Since “Only 41% agree that translations in the same style should be done for other rites such as marriage, confirmation, and the Liturgy of the Hours” the bishops need to call a halt to their current way of doing things.

    Since “58% do not like the more formal language of the new missal” and “75% agree (44% strongly) that some of the language of the new missal is awkward and distracting” the problems with the New Missal are more than just disagreements about style and translation principles. Many people who supported the basic ideas behind the New Missal were not completely happy with the results they got.

    But the big item which says that the bishops need to do things differently is that some 60% say the priests do not think their views will be taken seriously in the future.

    The bishops need a completely new process that involves trial use of new translations in parishes before they are finally approved by the bishops. They simply should not submit a translation to Rome that has not be pre-tested in the parishes, with evidence that it has the support of priests and people.

    If Rome then makes substantial changes, the Bishops should simply put the “Roman” version though the same pre-testing to see how it stacks up with priests and people in comparison with what the Bishops have approved.

    Why should we continue these very lengthy processes that are far removed from the priests and the people, only to find at the end of the process a high level of dissatisfaction among the priests who have to live with it.

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