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Survey shows Catholic priests don’t like Mass changes

catholic mass
Congregants pray during Catholic Mass at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City, Mo., on May 20, 2012. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

(RNS) Nothing upsets the folks in the pews as much as changing the liturgy that they’re accustomed to, and that seemed likely to be the case when the Vatican ordered revisions to the familiar prayers and rubrics of the Catholic Mass.

But now, more than a year after the changes took effect in U.S. parishes, a survey of American priests shows that they are more disturbed by the innovations than their flocks.

catholic mass

Congregants pray during Catholic mass at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Mo. on Sunday, May 20, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

In fact, the poll, conducted by researchers at St. John’s University School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, Minn., showed that almost 60 percent of priests surveyed did not like the new Roman Missal, as the liturgical book for the Mass is known, while about 40 percent approve.

“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,” the Rev. Michael Ryan, a Seattle priest who started a petition to rally opposition to the new translation, told the popular liturgy blog Pray Tell.

The clergy critics also have firm opinions on the matter: one-third of priests (34 percent) strongly disagree that the new translation of the Mass is an improvement, and 80 percent say that some of the language is “awkward and distracting.”

That contrasts with polls from last year, which showed that 70 percent of Mass-goers thought that, overall, the first new translation in 40 years “is a good thing.” The approval rating was 84 percent among weekly attenders. (Polls also showed that most Catholics didn’t notice many changes.)

An online survey in February by The Tablet, a London-based Catholic periodical, found opinions among English-speaking Catholics around the world to be sharply divided about the new Mass, with clergy expressing more negative opinions than lay people.

The new translation, which went into effect in the nearly 18,000 parishes in the U.S. in November 2011, was years in the making but took longer than expected when the process was taken over by Vatican-backed conservatives who wanted to make the language sound more like literal translations of the original Latin.

That resulted in formulations that supporters said were more authentic and expressed a grandeur and mystery appropriate for the sacred rites. Critics said the new phrasings were stilted and often incomprehensible.

For example, where the Nicene Creed once explained Jesus’ relationship to God as “one in Being with the Father,” the new version has believers say Jesus is “consubstantial” with God – prompting comedian Stephen Colbert, a practicing Catholic, to quip: “It’s the creed! It’s not the SAT prep.”

pope francis

Pope Francis issued a powerful call for the protection of the environment and of society’s most vulnerable during his formal installation Mass at the Vatican, while qualifying his papal power as a “service” to the church and to humanity. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

In the previous version, worshippers preparing to receive the Communion host would confess, “I am not worthy to receive you.” Now they say, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

One reason that priests may take a dimmer view of the new translation is that they have to use it every day, and have many more parts to say than lay people. They were also paying closer attention to the translation process, which may explain why many of them said they were just as upset with the way the revision was undertaken and implemented as they were with the end result.

More than six in 10 of the priests surveyed said they wanted a revision of the revisions, and they are not the only ones. “While we don’t want to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater,’ the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay,” Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego told Pray Tell.

Whether anything will happen is unclear. The new pope, Francis, appears to prefer simpler liturgical practices, but it’s also not clear that he would want to reopen this can of worms. And senior church officials in charge of liturgical matters either declined to respond to questions from Pray Tell – which is run by a priest who worked on the survey – or questioned the value of the survey.

More than 1,500 priests from around the country responded to the survey, which was conducted from February to May 2013.


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • The problem with he so-called vernacular liturgies have always been that they are dictated by one group of hierarchy or another, whether is groups using the same language, national groups, or dictates as usual from the Vatican.

    Lay people have never been given the respect of inclusion in any group that determines the language to be used. And no respect is given to those who warm the pews and are expected to listen to that language and use that language.

    There are lay people who are much more learned about language and their vernacular than any clergy. It remains clericalism when the clergy dominate everything that happens in the church. Study your history of the sacraments. Study your history of the liturgy. And for goodness sake, don’t leave out the Middle Ages Mass of the asses with all its braying back and forth between the altar and pews. That was vernacular at its best!

    I am reminded of a relative who called me after her Holy Communion on the first Sunday of Advent, 1911, and asked me, “What the hell does ‘consubstantial’ mean?”


  • Every Catholic priest has a choice: they could celebrate the traditional latin Mass and no one would have to worry about the translation. I am fairly ambivalent about many of the changes but I find the current translation of the changeable prayers a vast improvement.

  • Maybe they should ban English and all the other barbaric languages from the Mass altogether.

  • 1. Which dogmas should we tone down?

    2. Making the Mass more accessible and condensing the Catechism are two very different things. A five-minute catechism would either be very superficial or would only cover a few facets of the faith. I suppose you could start with Luke 10:27, but that leaves the question of HOW one properly loves God and loves one’s neighbor.

    3. You’re making a judgment by saying “Don’t judge — we’re not PROTESTANTS!” And Jesus did not only say “Judge not…”, He also said “Judge with right judgment” (that is, not by appearances) in John 7:24.

  • I find the changes very confusing…For example, the response to : “The Lord be with you” used to be…”and also with you.” Now it is back to : “and with your spirit” the word “Consubstantial” could hardly be pronounced, to say the least, & cannot be understood by children or even adults. The Liturgy is a prayer & that should be simplified & understandable to peoples of all ages who attend our catholic liturgy. It is important that we know what we are saying & that we know it by heart…I also feel that the language of the mass should not be mixed up. Latin & English…The Mass is our best prayer & if we don’t understand what we are saying what is the point.

  • I am for Improvement. However, it should not be beyond the comprehension of the users. the simpler, the better.

  • “Journalist”? Slightly moving the words around but not otherwise examining critically the claims of a press release may win awards. But it leaves one wondering upon how many parties the ingloriousness must be spread. Is journalism only press release regurgitation nowadays?

  • “Pray Tell” — that says it all ! I wonder how many Dr’s complain about using the correct concise latin terms, or even Lawyers ! The former translation needed no prep work to read it. And now the celebrant has to prepare to be sure the reading is correct. Also — the amount of literature out there is incredible when it comes to the why’s and wherfore’s of this transaction. One might take the time to read it to help apprciate the translation.

  • The issue being discussed: which is preferable -the one in use from 1970 to 2011 or the new one in use since 2001? I do not favor the newer translation. But there is anoher issue: church governance. The International Commission of English in the Liturgy -bishops representing English-speaking countries and their translators worked on an English Mass translation from 1983 to 1998; then sent it to Rome for approval. John Paul II, iconic, impressive figure, but known for his passion for control and centralizing the Church in many matters, in 2001 dismissed the bishops making up the
    ICEL and established a new group of bishops and translators, called Vox Clara. This group set up by JPII prepared the new translation and submitted it to the bishops of English-speaking countries. The USCCB quickly approved it, without referring it for discussion and testing as was requested by a large group of priests. Thus, JPII’s new translation was imposed on the faithful here. Many of us disagree strongly with this kind of governance that by-passes the people who will use it. Our US bishops are known for quickly approving anything to which Rome nods its head. So unlike the Japanese bishops at the Synod for Asia in 1998 who forcefully oppossed JP II’s
    efforts to control liturgy translations into Japanese.

  • Although I agree somewhat to the “difficulties” many of our priests are having with the new Roman Missal, it really is necessary to make the changes as needed. Too many priests have taken the Novus Ordo mass as a “show” and start rambling about themselves and other things, thus taking away the whole sacredness of the Mass and why and who is truly being celebrated. The focus is on God, whether facing the altar or the people. It was and never should be about anything or anyone else.

    The manuscript was and has been written, accepted and blessed as the “norm” to be used when Mass is celebrated. Yes, the wording and other translations may be a bit confusing or whatever, but the words are written out in plain english and should be read as is.

    Change shouldn’t be too difficult when we’re handed a script to follow along. Old habits are hard to break, but they can be improved upon with much self effort, dedication and commitment. Such is life in more ways than one. The ship called the Church will continue to sail on, whether we’re on it or not.

    Just read the script as written. It was designed for sacredness and holiness.

  • There are points where I find the new translation infelicitous, but on the whole it is a vast improvement on the previous one in presenting the full meaning of the Latin.

    If there are points which significant numbers of the faithful don’t understand (e.g. “enter under my roof”) the priests should explain them, not grouse about them.

    If the complaining priests were willing to work at their job, there would be far fewer complaints.

    And complaints about the process are, ultimately, beside the point.

  • It would be interesting to see the demographics of this survey: what percentage of priests who don’t like the new translation are over 60 and what percentage are under 60? What percentage of those who don’t like the new translation have been ordained 20+ years, and what percentage have been ordained less than 10 years?

    People generally don’t like change. If you’ve been doing something one way for 20+ years, it’s not likely that change is going to be much appreciated, especially if you don’t feel, rightly or wrongly, that you had much say in what changes were made. Twenty years from now, the new translation will be the old translation, and this debate will have gone the way of so many others that time heals.

    As a layman, I think most laypeople simply want the Mass to be celebrated with due reverance and clarity. Too many priests feel obliged to entertain the faithful, or to bless them with the wonderfulness of their own personalities. They forget, I think, that we have a right to the Mass, to the prayers of the Church, and that many of us are not near as disappointed with the prayers of the Church as they apparently are, or apparently think we are.

    I didn’t find much fault with the old translation. I don’t find much fault with the new translation. What I find fault with are priests who refuse to give us what we have a right to: the prayers of the Church.

  • I still say as loudly as possible: for us HUMANS and our salvation every time I go to Mass because it sticks in my craw to say “for us MEN” … I still use the “old” words when I worship. (I am not one of the uneducated, holding a couple of MAs and a doc.) The truth is, the Church hasn’t spoken very loudly to me in several years but the parish worship community often does. Funny, but the most “verbal” of the parishes seem to be the ones that ignore whenever possible the interferrence of the hieararchy, concentrate on being family to each other, and build active and vibrant and moving liturgies with music and wide particpation. I am one of those folks who still remembers with great longing the years after VCII when there was fresh air and spirit present in so many parishes.

  • I don’t know how much longer I can hang on to a Faith that seems to be ‘out of this world’? The Gospel is needed in this World and is needed now. The Mass is only the Mass because it is a ‘shared belief in a need for the power of God’s love and mercy in our lives and in our world. What God are these learned MEN following? Who are ‘they’ to tell God’s people that we must change our service from a community action to a spiritual fest that burns away the vital human relationship between God and his people.

  • It seems to me like the purpose was to make the English translation more in line with the original Latin. Why that wasn’t done initially has always puzzled me.

  • I have only been catholic 4 years and do not like the new mass or music. Had it been this when I decided to take my family I wouldn’t have gone through RICA. I was very disappointed when it all changed. It is corny some of it now. The music is almost a grand stand tone binging the keys at least at my church. The old deleted songs and prayers to me were better.

  • The recent changes in the Mass are very upsetting to me. It seems as if someone was bored and had to look like they were working, so they made random arbitrary changes to the liturgy. I refuse to say these things. Sometimes the church sounds like the tower of Babel , everyone saying different versions of prayers. These changes are not the work of godly people, the authors of these changes work for a darker master. I seriously think the changes have a very bad effect on people. It is a mess! We try to comply, but it is awkward. If there are religious who need work to do rather than mess with our Mass, there are plenty of people who need help in the world. These random changes are having a very bad effect.

  • I object to the new liturgy because now I am compelled to pick up a silly little blue booklet and try and find my place, when for years I’ve been making the responses naturally, from memory. It’s change for the sake of change. Reading from a booklet is distracting in the 1st place.
    I have my suspicions: they are trying to make the Virgin birth fuzzier, and, possibly more defensible, in my view. Furthermore, when there’s an upheaval like this, look for the money. Some publisher must be making money off this.
    Why doesn’t the church issue a line by line explanation showing the old text, explaining why it didn’t work and then justifying the new text?

  • Nobody likes changes. As for the argument that we now have to learn new prayers, look a missal, etc. , that would have been the case when the standard Latin mass was changed to the NO mass. Everyone had to learn a new way of attending mass. The learning curve. Eventually, everyone knew it by heart. As someone mentioned, the changes were made to bring the language of the mass more in line with the original Latin mass. If anything, I’d like to see a few more changes. A bit more of the priest facing the altar during certain prayers, no more communion in the hand (risk of abuses), and more classical hymns and the use of incense. Basically, more reverence and more engaging of all the senses.

  • Yes I have to agree I don’t like the changes in the mass. I like the words before and the way the mass was done when everyone kneeled and was made humble and reverent. Why can’t we say and also with you? why just your spirit. Consubstantial. Yuck!!!! I feel the Catholic church is making changes that are letting the people fall away even faster. If you pay attention in church half the people look like statues and don’t even participate in mass until communion and that’s it. They don’t have traditional hymns anymore. So sad..

  • I am upset too about some missing but very important words which i recite silently related to Jesus Christ as Son of father instead of Son of Eternal Father and while consecrating the Holy Eucharist the words Eternal Father is missing. I wonder how many important words have gone missing which honors Eternal Father?

  • Welcome to my world. I felt the same when my traditional mass was changed to the vernacular. Every thing you said I have said. See we are not so far apart. God bless you.

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