Roman Catholics and the Latin Mass

Yet another opinion poll has been published in the run-up to the state and pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland and England between 16 and 19 September. But this one is different, since it is about the liturgical predilections of British Catholics and not about papal popularity!

It is one in a series of surveys commissioned by Paix Liturgique, a movement of Roman Catholic laity based in France and dedicated to the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite. Other national surveys have been conducted in France in 2001, 2006 and 2008, Italy in 2009, and Germany and Portugal in 2010.

The current Pope stated in a motu proprio of 2007 that the Mass can be celebrated both in its modern or ordinary form (i.e. in the vernacular, with the priest facing the congregation and Holy Communion received standing) and in its traditional or extraordinary form (i.e. in Latin and Gregorian chant, with the priest facing the altar and Holy Communion received kneeling).

The purpose of Paix Liturgique’s polling is to ascertain how far the Catholic laity is aware that the two forms of the Mass are permitted, and how much demand potentially there is for the extraordinary form, or Latin Mass.

Fieldwork in Britain was undertaken online by Harris Interactive France between 21 and 28 June 2010, among a sample of 6,153 adults aged 18 and over. From these were filtered 800 professing Roman Catholics.

Details of the poll are contained in a 10-page report from Harris, which can be downloaded from:

Paix Liturgique’s commentary on the survey can be found in its Lettre, 246 of 3 September, which has been translated into English and posted on the Protect the Pope website at:

A short article about the poll also appears on the front page of the Catholic Herald of 3 September, which can be read at:

The following summary is derived from a combination of all the above, together with a two-page five-nation comparison of Paix Liturgique’s polling kindly supplied to BRIN by the organization’s press officer.

24% of Britain’s self-identifying Catholics claim to attend Mass weekly and 8% monthly, the combined figure of 32% being in excess of France and Portugal (19%) and Germany (10%), albeit lower than Italy (51%). The remaining British Catholics attend on holy days (10%) or occasionally (46%), with 12% never going to Mass.

39% of all Britain’s Catholics are aware that Mass can be celebrated in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, which is less than in France, Germany and Italy. The other 61% do not realize this. However, among weekly and monthly Mass-goers awareness stands at 63%.

45% would consider it normal for both forms to be celebrated regularly in their own parishes (rising to 55% for weekly and monthly Mass-goers), with 21% regarding it as abnormal and 34% having no opinion.

Given the chance to attend Mass in the extraordinary form in Latin, but without it replacing the ordinary form in English, 16% of all Catholics say they would attend the traditional Mass weekly and 11% monthly.

When the same question was put to the regular (weekly or monthly) Mass-goers alone, 43% say they would attend the extraordinary form every week and 23% once a month. The combined figure of 66% is higher even than Italy, as well as far more than in France, Germany and Portugal.

Unsurprisingly, Paix Liturgique concludes that the poll is a ringing endorsement of its cause and emphatic proof of the ‘astounding deficiency’ of the British Roman Catholic hierarchies in promulgating knowledge of the motu proprio.

Paix Liturgique’s letter ends on an interesting methodological note. Because of the relatively small proportion of Catholics in Britain (13%), Harris had to poll a much larger number of adults than in Catholic countries. Consequently, at €10,000, this has been Paix Liturgique’s most expensive survey to date.

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