USCCB In Liturgy Damage Control

The CARA priest survey on MR3 has hit the Catholic News Service, at least in a small news bit today. The executive director for liturgy at the USCCB was in damage control mode. Msgr Richard Hilgartner concedes “divided opinion” among his brother priests. But he also acknowledges the bishops have no plans to revisit the matter.

(H)e cautioned that the survey leaves many unanswered questions. For instance, he said, it’s impossible to tell from the data released whether respondents object to the more formal style of the translation overall or to specific words chosen. He also raised questions about whether the number of responses represent a meaningful sample of sentiment about the translation.

Let’s take those two points in turn. The problem isn’t “formal” style so much as a problem with intelligibility and a lack of artistry in the English texts, especially the collects. Vocabulary isn’t a serious issue, despite what one or two bishops have said. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, uses a formal style. And we all know what it means. Numerous liturgists, language scholars, and priests have raised specific problems with specific prayers. It’s time for the USCCB to listen.

MR3 apologists were also questioning the sample size at PrayTell the other day or two. Here’s  how statistics work with the sample size used. There is a 95% chance that the 52-42 disapproval is within 4.6 percent of the actual ratio among active Roman Catholic priests in the US. It might be 48-46, a slim majority. It could be 56-38, which in political terms is a landslide. Is it likely that a majority of priests favors MR3 and CARA got it wrong? That’s possible. But it’s about as likely as a two-to one or greater ratio of priests disliking it.

If I were a bishop, I might ask my diocesan clergy what they really, really thought of the translation. And what action I might take, if any.

What the CARA survey has exposed is a deep rift among priests. That might be a generation gap. That might be a liturgist/non-liturgist gap. That might mean an action/contemplation gap. But there’s a gap. What are the bishops going to do about it?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to USCCB In Liturgy Damage Control

  1. Paul Connors says:

    “There is a 95% chance that the 52-42 disapproval is within 4.6 percent of the actual ratio among active Roman Catholic priests in the US.”

    As someone at the PrayTell site also points out, that conclusion is wholly predicated on the 10% response rate not having any kind of bias. That assumption wasn’t verified in any way and is, I think, rather unlikely. Just like reviews on Amazon, it would not be unusual (e.g.) for the response rate to be biased towards those who were unhappy about something.

    • Todd says:

      As Liam said, the promotional machine has been running strong on behalf of the change. Some of my colleagues might think that if the poll had any bias, it was in favor of the Missal translation, not against it.

      That said, CARA has been doing professional surveys for decades. Time to call in Nate Silver, or is he too biased also?

      • Paul Connors says:

        I agree; there are all kinds of possibilities, and it’s hard to say what the bias might be. That’s a common problem with any survey on a controversial one-off topic. If the response rate is low, the results can be hard to interpret. Not much CARA can do about that.

      • Todd says:

        It seems some aspects are easy to interpret. A slight majority of priests oppose various aspects of the English MR3. There’s about a 2% chance that more priests like it than oppose it. All the controversy likely means that there are fewer people in the middle who don’t care one way of the other. The bishops have 3/4’s of their clergy, including people who like the idea of MR3, thinking that it needs more work. If 75% isn’t enough, what is?

  2. Ray MacDonald says:

    Our archbishop is a member of Vox Clara. Enough said.

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