Sunday Mass attendance: crunching the numbers | Michael Pace Ross

Accompanying people in their daily lives, in their joys and sorrows, in their struggles during their life of faith, has always been the ultimate mission of the church

The preliminary findings of a Sunday Mass attendance census carried out by the Church’s research institute (Discern) at the start of this liturgical year were eagerly awaited for by the general public. When Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna commissioned the census last year, together with a faith survey, he was looking forward to the holistic results that would emerge and use them as a basis for devising a pastoral plan for the coming years. This week the Archbishop’s Curia published results of the studies, providing the Archdiocese of Malta with a timely reality check.

Census: an overview

A total of 987 Masses was recorded on Census weekend, down from 1,039 in 2005. Almost a third of these Masses were celebrated in the northern harbour localities, which is the most densely populated region. On the other hand, 120 Masses were recorded in south eastern parishes, where the average attendance for each Mass was higher than the national average of 123. The number of places of worship, mainly churches, increased to 329 from 318 in 2005.

Just over 60 per cent of all Masses were celebrated on Sunday morning, 28 per cent were recorded on Saturday evening, and the remainder on Sunday evening. Almost 56 per cent of church-goers went to Mass on Sunday morning, 30 per cent on Saturday evening, and 14 per cent on Sunday evening.

Preliminary estimates indicate that approximately 38 per cent of the eligible resident Catholic population went to Sunday Mass. The census does not count the attendance of those baptised who have not yet received their first Holy Communion. Those who could not go to Mass due to illness or hospital stays, or were abroad, were by definition ineligible to participate.

When the Census results are finalised later on this year, the Archdiocese will also have an accurate picture of those church-goers who frequented the sacrament of Holy Communion. It will also study how the mobility of church-goers from one parish to another is affecting the demand for Masses, and whether the increasing rate of priests in retirement age would affect the number of Masses celebrated.

A quarter of Catholics reported that they did not go to Mass at all. Mass attendance rates were higher among the elderly.

Faith survey: a first for the Archdiocese

A scientific study commissioned immediately following Census weekend revealed that 92 per cent of the Maltese population are Roman Catholics. This result was corroborated by the MaltaToday survey results published a fortnight ago. In south eastern localities this figure stood close to 96 per cent, while in southern harbour localities those who identified themselves as Catholic were just below 90 per cent.

The survey asked respondents how many times they went to Mass the previous month. While 40 per cent responded that they go to Mass every Sunday, 11 per cent said they went twice or three times a month, and a further seven per cent once a month.  However, seven per cent replied they went to Mass daily, and another 11 per cent said they went to Mass frequently. A quarter of Catholics reported that they did not go to Mass at all. Mass attendance rates were higher among the elderly.

Asked to state why Catholics did not go to Mass, a fifth replied that they did not agree with what the Church teaches or what the priest preaches, and a substantial amount replied that they do not go to Mass due to laziness or lack of time. Others mentioned their health condition or caring for their young children as reasons for not going to Mass.

Catholics were also asked, among other things, how often they pray. A third stated that they pray several times a day and 42 per cent said they pray daily. 17 per cent replied that they do pray but not daily, while eight per cent said they never pray. The frequency of prayer increases among older respondents as well as among women. Respondents that have completed post-secondary or tertiary education are likely to pray less frequently.

Way forward

It is not a coincidence that the preliminary findings of the census have emerged during Eastertide – a period of renewal for the Church. These results should spur all Catholics to face the challenges they present while acknowledging the opportunities for the Church to proclaim the Good News in the heart and in the peripheries of our society. Accompanying people in their daily lives, in their joys and sorrows, in their struggles during their life of faith, has always been the ultimate mission of the Church that was entrusted to her by the Risen Christ. Archbishop Charles J Scicluna has already stated he will be setting up a pastoral team so that, with the help of experts, they would advise on the way forward in the light of these indicators.

 

Michael Pace Ross is the Administrative Secretary of the Archdiocese of Malta

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