The Odour of Desperation

Most of the anglophone Church has settled into the use of the revised English missal. Priests are getting to grips with sentences more than a few words long and containing some commas and subordinate clauses, and are doing what we always should have been doing (though sadly some didn’t), namely reading ahead and preparing those parts we have to say. This development has allowed many more people to relax with the new missal, as the mis-readings die off in light of clerical comfort and familiarity with the new, more accurate texts. No doubt most can see that, notwithstanding a few areas that could be improved, this missal is vastly superior to the previous paraphrased one, and brings the verbal content and meaning of our liturgical texts into closer and more obvious unity with the rest of the Church.

However, some people will not give up. Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, they will never accept the revised missal. So they change the texts to suit their own understanding of liturgy, manifesting at the very least sheer disobedience, and perhaps even an attempt at a type of social engineering. As they get more desperate that they cause is not prospering, they resort to subterfuge to foster the appearance that it is prospering.

The latest instance is the reporting of yet another survey of priests and their opinion of the revised missal. Leaving aside the whole issue of church governance by opinion poll, a little light delving into the reporting of the survey reveals that the dissenters’ emperor has no clothes. The worst offender is the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), which headlines its article “Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy”. Oh my goodness! How ominous. Patrick Archbold has done what many readers will not do, and read all the way to the end of the article and taken note of what is passed over in silence.

The NCR reporting is alarmist in the impression it gives, though observant readers will see what is going on. An example:

 … 75 percent of respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.” Forty-seven percent answered “strongly agree” to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “the new translation urgently needs to be revised.” 33 percent answered “strongly agree” on that statement.

Now someone who is not reading carefully will not take in the full significance of the word respondent. In light of the misleading headline, they might have the immediate impression that pretty much 75% of US clergy are of the opinion that the missal’s language is “awkward and distracting”, to take one example.

But Pat has read through and discovered the most salient fact of all: 6000 parishes were surveyed, only 539 responded. That is a response rate of less than 9%! So the 75% who do not like the linguistic register of the missal represent only 6.7% of the 6000 actually surveyed. “Wide rejection”?

However Pat seems to have missed one further point. Only 444 of the 539 respondents were actually “US clergy”; the other 75 were “lay leaders”. So it is not even 9% of clergy that is the real survey pool; it is actually only 7.4%. Alas, there is no breakdown on how many clergy responded negatively as distinct form the “lay leaders”, who are likely to have been predominately negative. So, allowing the dissenters their best case scenario, the highest possible percentage for clergy dissatisfaction they can claim on the basis of their survey is 7.4%.

Somehow a 7.4% negative response rate equates to “wide rejection”.

The active opponents of the revised missal may be very loud but they are very few in number. They shout loudly and often, to make one think they are many. They are not many, but their sly fudging of their own statistics reveals that they are increasingly desperate.

The Pray Tell blog, which is partly responsible for the survey, did not even bother to include reference to the dismal response rate to the survey, and thus the tiny portion of clergy it represents, and posted an even more misleading headline. Desperate indeed.




15 thoughts on “The Odour of Desperation

  1. Father, not only is it a dismal response rate, the respondents would have been self-selecting, which adds an extra level of potential bias.

    It speaks volumes that over 90% of parishes evidently didn’t think it worth their time to respond to something that looks like it would barely take 5 minutes to fill in. There is also a conspicuous lack of basic demographic information, such as the age of the respondents. One wonders why…

    The summary results of the questionnaire can be found here. (For what it’s worth!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are quite right about the extra level of bias. To have started speculating on that would have been counter-productive. Far better to use their own best-case scenario against them.

      Thanks for adding the link to the survey summary results. Can I face it?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If only it was just a question of exposing opinion poll gerrymandering. The opponents of the new missal are resorting to all sorts of liturgical tricks to stymie the reform. In many parishes, the Confiteor and EP 1 have vanished without trace since the new missal came into force. Admitting that we have “greatly sinned” or that Jesus had “holy and venerable hands” is just too much for the 1970s brigade! There has also been a sudden shift to using the Eucharistic Prayers for Special Occasions as a kind of escape mechanism; at my parish these novelties are now upstaging EP’s 2 and 3 in terms of frequency of use. There is now a very strong case for completely suppressing these ghastly accretions — the definition of “special occasion” is not “whenever the priest feels like it” or “as a gesture of protest.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed I agree with you about the dissenters’ tactics. Their refusal to use certain elements in the missal will morph into a circular logic thawer some might not see: we don’t use it because it does not work for us, and since it does not work for us we don’t use it!

      The proliferation of Eucharistic Prayers is very troubling, as many of them seem to embody an excessive focus on man rather than God. The basic four are plenty, if not too many. In a better world we would have only EPs 1 and 3; in an ideal world, only EP1.

      Any better churches nearby you could get to?


      Liked by 1 person

      1. One thing I regret is the widespread replacement of the Nicene Creed with the Apostles Creed, although this is an issue more with the new GIRM than the translation, although avoidance of the supposedly horrible “consubstantial” may be part of the reason for the replacement. Catholics should know the Nicene Creed, and where are they going to learn it if not at Sunday mass? They can always learn the Apostle’s Creed from saying the Rosary. I fear that a lot of people will know even less of their faith if the people forget or never learn the Nicene Creed.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is, I agree, to be deplored that the Nicene Creed, a much fuller exposition of the essentials of the faith, is being usurped by the Apostles’ Creed in the Mass, and so often out of socio-linguistic politics. IN Advent and Lent we do use the Apostles’ Creed, for variety’s sake and no other, and still we sing it. That said, the Nicene Creed is the true creed of the Mass.



  3. The involvement of PrayTell makes it suspect to begin with, as they have an axe to grind. They don’t want a translation of the Latin, they want their own, made up, theologically tendentious, happy-clappy, ‘justice’n’peace’ sound-bites in Newspeak. (Luckily Almighty God blunts their axes by reducing their congregations, as in the ancient times, but this time without foreshortening any lives.)

    It occurs to me that – united as the dissidents are on what they do not want (which happens as so often to be exactly what they have 🙂 they will never agree on exactly what to replace it with.
    The sterility of this bickering suggests to me that, as the laity had always suspected, modern English – the flattened technical international language of contemporary communication, excellent though it is for that neutral purpose – can never be a liturgical language on a par with the “sacral or hieratic language” of church Latin so brilliantly developed in the early centuries. Like the epic Greek of Homer and Hesiod, church Latin is an “artificial, stylized language” – and superbly expressive in the same way. Those quoted terms and the comparison with Homeric Greek come from Mohrmann (yes, her again!). As she wrote in ‘Liturgical Latin’ (1957, Chap.I):
    “Under the influence of positivism, people are still inclined to regard language as pure communication, as a utilitiarian instrument, as a means of social intercourse….People thus tend to forget that language as expression…is certainly just as important a phenomenon[…]
    In prayer, considered as expression…the dialogue no longer lies on the human plane. We are here concerned with the transcendental contact between the praying individual and the divine being. For this reason the dominant element is no longer that of intelligibility, as in human dialogue. This is replaced, at least in part, by more subtle elements, partly spiritual, partly affective, which can be crystallized in the rhythm, the tone of delivery or the style.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good report and fair assessment of what is going on in some places. Our chaplain insists on using the word “I” when he invites the congregation to pray, giving the impression that this is “his” mass and we are just the spectators. He also omits words and phrases he doesn’t like as well as using his own rendition of other prayers and the dismissal rite. But one can’t say anything because we don’t have another priest. And the last thing the bishop wants to hear is a complaint about one of his priests. It is, I think, the Francis Effect. We are told repeatedly that Pope Francis isn’t concerned about the rules so we shouldn’t be either. What can you do?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there is one word I cannot stand in the mouth of a priest at Mass, save when he is reading scripture or the words of the rites, it is the perpendicular pronoun. All too often it is not authentic teaching you will hear with it but personal opinion or self-advertisement. When a priest goes further and changes the words of the Mass, he is imposing his will on the congregation and (attempting to do so) even on God. You are right – bishops with few priests feel unable to rock the clerical boat. And so the churches empty even more…

      Frankly, it may be better to lose a priest to a hissy-fit than continuously lose faithful. Have the shepherds forgotten the judgment that awaits shepherds in particular? Or can they not think beyond this life and this world?

      It is, I think, the Francis Effect. We are told repeatedly that Pope Francis isn’t concerned about the rules so we shouldn’t be either. What can you do?

      **Sigh** Probably all too true.



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