In August 2011, CARA released results of a survey that showed only about one in four adult Catholics and nearly six in ten of those who attend Mass weekly were aware of the changes to the English-language liturgy that would begin during Advent 2011. Now more than a year later, CARA has revisited the revisions to the Mass in a new survey that replicated some of the questions we asked in 2011. As far as I am aware this is the only “pre and post” national data examining Catholic reactions to changes in the liturgy (although note that these surveys use two different random samples, the same individuals were not interviewed in both polls). CARA conducted this research for Rev. Anthony J. Pogorelc, S.S., M.Div., Ph.D at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. He constructed the framework and questions and has presented the results for the study at the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association in Phoenix on November 9. Here is some of what we found…
In September 2012, nearly a year after the changes took effect, seven in ten U.S. adult self-identified Catholics agree that the new translation of the Mass is a good thing (with 20 percent agreeing “strongly”). Nearly a quarter “disagree” (23 percent) and 7 percent “strongly” disagree with this statement.
Catholics who attend Mass weekly are among the most likely to agree that the new translation of the Mass is a good thing. Eighty-four percent responded as such (47 percent “strongly” agree with this statement). By comparison, 63 percent of those who rarely or never attend Mass agree with this statement (only 4 percent “strongly” agree).
Regular Mass attendance levels remained the same in the 2012 survey compared to 2011 with both polls estimating that about a quarter of adult Catholics (24 percent) attend Mass weekly or more often (weekly Mass attendance levels of have been steady since 2000). However, there was a slight decline in the total percentage of Catholics saying they attend Mass monthly (i.e., once a month or a few times a month) from 25 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2012. However, this difference is just within the surveys’ margins of sampling error and thus may be due to random variations between two samples. CARA will continue to track Mass attendance in its polls to see if a new pattern is emerging. It is also the case that there have been no statistically significant changes in the numbers of Americans who self-identify as Catholic in the last year either. Thus, there was no identifiable exodus from the Church that could be related to the changes in the liturgy.
Respondents in the 2012 poll were asked, “During an average Mass, would you say that you have noticed that the language of the prayers that are said during Mass have (1) remained about the same, (2) changed to a small extent, (3) changed to a moderate extent, or (4) changed to a great extent?” Four in ten respondents (40 percent) said they had noticed the language of these prayers had changed to a small extent and 23 percent said these had changed to a moderate extent. Only 6 percent said they noticed changes to a great extent and 31 percent said that the language of these prayers had remained about the same as far as they noticed. Those who have perceived less change are those most likely to agree that the new translation is a good thing. Among those who feel the language was changed “to a great extent,” a majority disagree that the new translation is a good thing (65 percent). However, this group makes up only a small number of respondents (6 percent).
A series of agree or disagree questions were asked of respondents in both the 2011 and 2012 surveys. These are compared in the table below which shows the 2012 results and the percentage point change in agreement from 2011.
Respondents were less likely to agree with all statements in 2012 than in the 2011 survey. However, in most cases, the differences between the surveys is within the margin of sampling error. In one instance, respondents are discernibly less likely to agree at least “somewhat” with the statement: “The words of the prayers recited by the priest and people make it easier for me to participate in the Mass” (79 percent in 2012 compared to 86 percent in 2011). This shift may represent the learning curve some Catholics have experienced with the revisions.
Catholics who attend Mass more frequently are more likely to agree with all four of the statements regarding the Mass in 2012. It is also the case that among weekly Mass attenders there are no significant differences in responses to these questions between 2012 and 2011.
If there is one note of caution for the future in the data it is in generational differences. As shown in the figure below, Millennials (adults born after 1981) are more likely than older Catholics to “disagree” that the new translation is a good thing and less likely to “strongly” agree with that statement. These differences are beyond margin of sampling error. At the same time it is also the case that significant majorities in each generation agree with that the translation is a good thing.
The 2012 survey was completed by 1,047 self-identified Catholics who were 18 years of age or older resulting in an overall sampling margin of error of ±3.0 percentage points. Sixty-seven percent of the GfK Custom Research (formerly Knowledge Networks) panel members invited to take the survey completed it. The survey was in the field from September 10 to September 18, 2012. The 2011 survey included 1,239 self-identified Catholics who were 18 years of age or older resulting in a sampling margin of error of ±2.8 percentage points. Fifty-seven percent of the Knowledge Networks panel members invited to take the survey completed it.
…On an unrelated note I apologize for having been on a mini-sabbatical from the blog of late with work, travel, and even a bit of vacation. I spent Election Day in Disneyland, which I hear may have been more of a “real” experience than watching what could be seen on MSNBC or Fox News that evening (...or thereafter)! Glad to see some voices recently calling out these networks for what they are (Wash Post, Huff Post, NY Times). I'll have more analysis of the changing Catholic electorate and a bunch of new CARA data on other topics to post here so be warned that the blog may take on a bit of an Advent calendar quality in the days ahead.