Lenten Intentions and Other News

With Lent starting next Wednesday, 13 February, our lead story this week concerns what people say they will be giving up this year, but there is the usual miscellany of other religious statistical news items, too.

Lenten intentions

One-quarter (24%) of British adults said that they intended giving something up for Lent this year, when they were interviewed online by YouGov on 16-18 January 2013, about four weeks before the start of Lent. Chocolate (10%) headed the list of forfeits, followed by alcohol (4%), smoking (3%), and meat (2%).

The poll, of 2,222 persons, was commissioned by the Church Times as part of its sesquicentennial celebrations and is published (with the full data table) in the 8 February issue of the newspaper (p. 5). The article is freely available online at:


The proportion planning to give something up for Lent varied by demographics, perhaps most interestingly by age. Whereas only one-fifth of the over-35s had abstinence on their mind, the number rose to 30% for the 25-34s and 35% for the 18-24s. Women (27%) aimed to be more observant than men (21%), and non-manuals (26%) more than manuals (22%). Geographically, Scots were least inclined to make any sacrifices (16%) and Midlanders the most (29%).

It would seem reasonable (if cynical) to assume that many of these good intentions will not translate into reality once Lent begins. Certainly, a YouGov poll on 22-23 February 2012, when Lent had already started, discovered that only 12% had actually given anything up. However, in age terms, it also found Lenten observance peaking among the 18-24s (19%), albeit the most dutiful group of all last year was the self-proclaimed very or fairly religious (28% of whom had given something up).   

Respondents this year were additionally asked to write down, in free text, what they understood Lent to mean. Only 10% had to admit that they did not know what it was. A plurality (49%) described it as a time for giving things up, 43% as the period before Easter, 40% as a Christian festival, and 28% mentioned that it lasted 40 days or six weeks. These answers were not mutually exclusive. Possibly the most intriguing definition to be offered was that Lent is ‘a type of tropical fish’.

Opinion formers and same-sex marriage

An online survey of UK opinion formers (or ‘influentials’, drawn from politics, business, media, academia, non-governmental organizations, and the public sector), undertaken by YouGov in late January 2013, has revealed a division of view about the provisions of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as regards the marriage of sex-sex couples in places of worship. Essentially, the Bill permits most religious organizations to conduct such marriages but on an opt-in basis, the exceptions being the Church of England and Church in Wales who are effectively banned from marrying same-sex couples.

Among influentials, 39% are in support of these provisions regarding same-sex marriages in places of worship, 38% are opposed, and 23% undecided. This spread of opinion was found to be consistent across political party lines. The proportion opposed to these provisions is lower than reject the whole concept of same-sex marriage (27%), perhaps suggesting that many influentials favour same-sex marriage but feel it should be possible to be conducted in places of worship without restriction, and not just in civil venues. Overall, 58% of influentials back same-sex marriage, a similar number to the British public in other recent YouGov surveys.   

Full data are not yet available online, but there is a YouGov press release at:


Catholic MPs and same-sex marriage

Notwithstanding the strong opposition to same-sex marriage of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales, the majority of Catholic MPs voted for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the crucial Second Reading debate in the House of Commons on 5 February 2013. This is according to an analysis by The Tablet (9 February 2013, p. 30). Out of at least 82 Catholic MPs, 57% voted for the Bill, 34% against, and 9% did not register a vote. The figures of Catholic MPs for the three main political parties are:





For the Bill




Against the Bill




Roman Missal

It is over a year since Catholic parishes in English-speaking countries started to use the revised English translation of the Missale Romanum edition tertia, which aimed to offer a more literal rendition of the Latin, replacing the translation introduced after Vatican II, with its emphasis on capturing the sense of the words.

However, ‘Catholic opinion remains split down the middle over the new English text of the Mass, an online survey by The Tablet has revealed. Catholics in the UK and Ireland are more critical of the document than their counterparts in the United States. Overall, 70 per cent of the clergy who responded to our questions are unhappy with the new text and want to see it revised’. The survey ran from 5 December 2012 to 9 January 2013.

A self-selecting (and thus potentially unrepresentative) group of 5,795 persons completed the questionnaire. Virtually all described themselves as practising Catholics attending Mass at least once a week. Of these 2,538 lived in the UK and Ireland.

A summary of the survey by Abigail Frymann and Elena Curti appears in the print edition of The Tablet for 9 February 2013 (pp. 8-9), as well as on the magazine’s website. On the latter will also be found eight detailed reports, of results for: all respondents; UK and Ireland; USA; Australia; clergy; religious and consecrated; those preferring the Ordinary Form; and those preferring the Extraordinary Form. These can be read at:


Focusing on the UK and Ireland data, we find that 63% of Catholics dislike the new translation against just 35% who like it, with 2% not noticing much difference. There has been some changing of minds: before its introduction, 5% were looking forward to the translation but now do not like it, whereas 7% were previously apprehensive but have grown to like the new translation. On the other hand, given the choice, only 22% elect for the new translation, 63% wanting to revert to the old translation, and 15% to the Latin version in either the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form.

Among the more unpopular features of the new text in the UK and Ireland are the ‘obsequious and distracting florid language’ (disapproved of by 64%), the ‘special language’ used to address God (60%), and the more formal style (59%). Three-quarters (76%) report that they always or sometimes see people around them in the pews struggling to follow the text, and 57% that the priest had experienced difficulties in saying the new eucharistic prayers (31% that he continues to do so). Three-fifths (62%) agree that the new translation requires urgent revision. 

Mapping the 2011 religion census

The Office for National Statistics has released a searchable interactive map for the 2011 religion census of England and Wales, which will enable BRIN users to visualize the high-level (nine-category) religious profile of their local areas and to make comparisons with 2001. Go to:


Meanwhile, Alex Singleton (Lecturer in Geographic Information Science at the University of Liverpool) has launched the 2011 Census Open Atlas, utilizing the Key Statistics variables from the 2011 census of England and Wales to generate an atlas of vector PDF maps of the results for each local authority area. The high-level (nine-category) religion variable (KS209EW) is one of those to be mapped in each atlas. For more information, and to download each local atlas (note: the files are necessarily large), go to:



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