Vernacular in the Liturgy: Views of Clergy in England on the Eve of the Council

In May 1960, the Committee of The Vernacular Society of Great Britain decided to undertake a survey of priests to ascertain their opinions on the further application of the vernacular in the liturgy. The Society existed to “promote the use of the vernacular in the liturgical worship of the Catholic Church in Great Britain” and hoped the results of the survey would inform the prepatory work of the upcoming Ecumenical Council. Due to a lack of resources, the Society opted to confine the survey to one diocese — the Diocese of Portsmouth — and received the permission of Archbishop John Henry King to send a questionnaire to the clergy (both secular and regular) of that diocese.

The questionnaire was sent in July 1960 to a total of 302 priests — 137 secular and 165 regular — and replies were received from 122 priests (40%), of whom 60 were secular priests and 62 were regular.

The findings were published in the appendix section of the Clergy Review, April 1961, and are reposted below, preceded by the questions.

The questionnaire is prefaced with the observation that “the reform of the liturgy, initiated by St Pius X and continued under his successors, especially Pope Pius XII, is likely to be completed at the Second Vatican Council. In view of the interest aroused by suggestions that the Church should make greater use of the vernacular, at the expense of Latin, in the liturgy, The Vernacular Society of Great Britain, with the gracious permission of His Grace the Archbishop-Bishop of Portsmouth, has prepared this questionnaire, in the hope that the findings may assist in the prepatory work of the Council.”

PART I — Prepatory Questions

(1) If you are generally in favour of some use of English in the Mass number the following reasons in the order of their importance:

(a) The People would be made one with each other in Christ, and so formed into a community, more effectively, if they could pray aloud together and hear the Word of God in a language they understood.
(b) The liturgy would better achieve one of its own purposes, which is to teach people to know and love their Faith.
(c) In the Dialogue Mass, the people would be able to pray with their minds and hearts and not just in a mechanical way.
(d) It is more fitting that the Word of God should be proclaimed to the People of God in their own language.
(e) The Mass would be made more interesting and attractive, not only to our own people, but also to non-Catholics.
(f) The English language has its own dignity and beauty.

(2) If you are generally against any use of English at Mass, number the following reasons in the order of their importance:

(a) It would be detrimental to the unity of the Church.
(b) The Mass would no longer be so impressively the same everywhere.
(c) Such a change would be disloyal to the traditions of our martyrs in penal times.
(d) There is no popular demand.
(e) It would destroy the valuable element of mystery.
(f) It is difficult to make a fitting translation of the Latin.

PART II — The Mass

I would like to see the following parts in English:

(1) The Liturgy of the Word of God — The Fore-Mass

(a) the Kyrie. Yes/No
(b) the Gloria. Yes/No
(c) the Collect. Yes/No
(d) the Epistle. Yes/No
(e) the Gospel. Yes/No

(2) The Eucharistic Liturgy — The Holy Sacrifice

(a) the Secret. Yes/No
(b) the Postcommunion. Yes/No
(c) The Preface. Yes/No
(d) the Sanctus. Yes/No
(e) the Pater Noster. Yes/No
(f) the Agnus Dei. Yes/No

PART III — The Liturgy of Holy Week

I would like to see the following parts in English:

(a) the Passion. Yes/No
(b) other Scriptural lessons. Yes/No
(c) the Collects. Yes/No
(d) the Hymns. Yes/No

PART IV — The Divine Office

(a) I would like the Divine Office, when publicly celebrated, to be in English. Yes/No
(b) I would like to be able to recite the Divine Office in English. Yes/No


Posted on August 16, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I am very interested in this post but unfortunately all the important details contained in the survey results are blurred and unreadable. Can you enlarge these please, or is there a way of doing this from my end? Thanks. Brian.

  2. Brian, thanks for letting me know. Unfortunately the images had to be expanded — which decreased the resolution. I’ll email you a PDF later on today of this which will allow you to zoom in and out.

  3. The survey shows what I recall in Ireland: there was no great clamour for the use of the vernacular. A majority of the priests who answered the questionnaire were in favour of the vernacular for the readings, which made sense. Sometimes on Sundays the priest read the gospel in the vernacular, facing the people, after he read it in Latin at the altar.

  4. Very interesting Father, though I suspect a survey of priests in Ireland would have showed an even more conservative result. One thing that stands out for me is that curates were more open to the vernacular than parish priests, presumably because the latter were older and more set in their ways. There’s also broad support for more vernacular in the liturgy of Holy Week, which is interesting as Holy Week had been reformed a few years before that survey. Missionaries are also more supportive of the vernacular; most mission lands had already been given liberal permission for use of the native tongue.

    Clearly many of the claims made for the vernacular at the time have not been realized.

  5. “Clearly many of the claims made for the vernacular at the time have not been realized.”

    Try telling our local monsignori that and observe their reaction. It’s a total waste of time talking religion with any of them. Most conciliar priests enjoy their role as holy social workers cum summer camp entertainers.

  6. Isn’t it most revealing that 60% of the priests didn’t even answer?

    The questionnaire is clearly biased in favour of the vernacular, and it seems to me that 60% of the priests actually showed that they didn’t care.

    The idea that the V II reforms would be the “completion” of the reforms of Pius XII seems, with the benefit of hindsight, a rather cruel joke.


  7. Yes, the questionnaire is indeed biased. It lumps in with the vernacularists (“some use of English at Mass”) those who favour vernacular only for the readings (the standard practice on the continent).

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