Information Bulletin 87

April 2008

This Information Bulletin is also available to download as a PDF: 200804.pdf (82.11 Kb)
Dear Brothers in Ministry

There are many reasons, no doubt, why people have stopped attending Mass over the years. The issues are complex and there is, surely, no one reason for this happening. Probably, a number of factors coalesce in different ways for different people. How-ever, the Pastoral Projects Office's research sheds some light on the matter. That Office, you will recall from Information Bulletin no. 85, listed the seven (7) "Church-based" reasons and the three (3) "Partic-ipant-based" reasons given for the continued decline in Mass attendance. The reasons are plausible and tend to resonate with common experience.

The Australian Council for Clergy Life and Ministry put together a comprehensive response to the Research document. One of its observations is that the Church has a problem, not the least because our culture has a problem. For many, it seems that Mass attendance, in the face of everything else that's going on in their world, is just too much to deal with; so they shelve it. Maybe. But that should not distract us from doing something ourselves about the Church-based reasons! Even if we believe we're not part of the problem, we can begin seriously to be part of the solution.

I have listed here some of our Council's observations and suggestions--a few. Disagree with them if you wish; add others. We need to discuss these issues. The Research Report and our Council's response can be found on the PPO's site:

Best wishes for Pentecost.

Frank Devoy, Director

{slide=Mass Attendance - Some Observations}


Engagement and Welcoming:

"In Parishes where the priest went straight to the Sacristy after Mass, where music was either non existent or a bit non-appealing and there was little real Parish activity, then the lack of a sense of engagement and welcoming added up to low numbers and a much older age profile."

Problems with Liturgical Presentation:

"[The once faithful] are not (entirely) happy with much of the modern liturgy used by some parishes - in many cases they come from more traditional back-grounds and are irritated by anything too different from the ‘standard' celebration of Mass. From time to time, they also might question what the Mass has to offer them and so they begin to miss a Mass or two and before they know it their weekly Obligation ceases."

The Goodwill of non-attending Parents:

"As for the parents, I don't believe that people stay away in droves because of the abuse scandals. Many had stopped before it all surfaced. And when the parents come to things like workshops for sacraments there is general goodwill; this does not however translate into practice."

For the Young, irrelevance; for Older, community:

"As I see/hear people talking about not attending Mass, it seems that younger, more educated people would more often cite ‘irrelevance' or problems with particular Church teachings. Older people would often cite the reason for leaving as ‘no longer finding their place in the community' especially if there has been a changeover of Parish Priest and the leadership style has changed. My observation is that this is particularly so if the change involves movement towards a more conservative and less collaborative/lay participation style."

Homilies, liturgical style and the Young:

"Young people will say that they get little or nothing out of attending Mass. They find the Obligation to attend too regimented; they are tuned off by long and uninspiring homilies (in some parishes of up to 20-25 minutes); their weekends are full of other activities - they like to sleep in - shop - and are generally just not interested.

"Contrary to what many might say and feel, some priests I believe (unwittingly) can be the cause of young people not attending Mass in so far as the type of liturgy used by these parishes in the celebration of their Masses. Some priests, in thinking that such liturgical practices appeal to the youth and thereby will attract a higher attendance at Mass, in actual fact quite often have a negative impact on them even to the point of causing them a certain amount of embarrassment. One does not have to look too far for practical examples of this.

"Young people, in the main, are not interested in all the frills that have crept into so many of our Masses today. If they attend, they want to experience a Mass celebrated in a devout, reverent and holy manner; a sharp, short & meaningful homily on the Gospel and a level of music/singing which does not extend the overall Mass time beyond say 45 minutes."

Welcoming/engaging priests and communities, active music, youth liturgies:

"The reasons given to me over the last ten or so years by non-attending Baptised Catholic parents of Baptised Catholic children applying for enrolment also are reasonably congruent with the Report's findings.

"Over the last year I have probably attended mass at ten or so different parishes and some of those parishes more than once. My observations are that those Parishes with obviously welcoming communities and active music ministries had many more numbers and many more younger people. The congregations obviously felt engaged and welcome. The Priest waited at the door after Mass and thanked congregation members for attending. There were cups of tea etc after Mass and newcomers and visitors obviously felt welcome and engaged.

"Most of these also had a Children's Liturgy where the children were withdrawn for part of the Mass and were actually often featured afterwards by the Priest. On a few occasions I have been lucky enough to fluke a ‘Youth' Mass where quite a number of young people did the Music once a month ... most inspiring and up lifting.

"Many years ago it would be fair to say that a lot of Catholics felt a real sense of guilt, even fear when they missed Mass; this is not the case now. People will not come because they HAVE to but will come if they feel engaged and welcomed. I feel these two words are the keys."

Translating positive school experiences to wider parish communities:

"Reference to points of connection for those not attending Mass at schools, agencies etc. might give rise to some consideration as to the ways in which these agents of the church might be seen to be positive experiences of connection with church. These services etc. are agents of evangelisation - how as church do we ensure that their personnel are well formed and able to represent the church."

{/slide} {slide=Ten Reasons Given in the Research}

The Seven Church-centred reasons

  • The failure of the Church to connect with people's everyday lives
  • Misuse of power and authority in the Church
  • Lack of intellectual stimulation
  • Problems with the priest in the parish
  • Structural factors (e.g., changed Mass times)
  • Concerns related to the parish as a community
  • A sense of being excluded by Church rules

The Three participant-centred reasons

  • Crisis of faith
  • Family or household-related issues
  • Going to Mass simply not a priority
{/slide} {slide=Mass Attendance - Suggestions}


The following are some suggestions that were made by Council members (please add your own):

  • Identify school-based community success and apply these to parishes;
  • Educate and re-educate our young in schools of the spiritual need of Mass and Sacraments and the weekend obligation;
  • Increase the involvement of the young as Altar servers;
  • Engage the young and their parents in properly constructed but relevant youth liturgies;
  • Engage people; they won't come to us;
  • Scrutinise more carefully local liturgical practices to ensure they are not detrimental to those present;
  • Music ministries are critical to good liturgies, as are effective readers etc--these should be looked at seriously;
  • Put in place serious in-service programmes on homiletics to improve the quality and relevance of homilies;
  • Ensure the priest is present to his congregation particularly after Mass, to be a welcoming and grateful pastor;
  • Reduce the length of Mass: it is often too long and too wordy with too little participation by the laity;
  • Baptisms, weddings, and particularly funerals are, in the minds of some, more personal and engaging than weekend Masses--those engaging and personal qualities should be translated to the weekend Masses.
  • Liturgies should always be welcoming and engaging;
  • There is a certain professionalism required of the clergy, as outlined positively and exhaustively in Integrity in Ministry.
  • to be mindful of the requirements in Integrity in Ministry (no. 2.1 ?7) where it reminds them that, on moving to a new parish, they are "talking up leadership and service in a community with respect for the life, customs, history and vision of the persons who already make up that community"--everything should not be reversed the moment they arrive.
  • Serious damage has been done to the Church at large and to the image of priesthood in general because of the abusive actions of a few. There is a serious need to ‘market' the priesthood and religious life, promoting its enriching qualities and the unique gift of such a life.
  • From my parish, deanery, and diocesan experience, the report is right in identifying that when once active Catholics stop going to Mass there are generally a number of factors operating together. It would be interesting to explore whether there is a ‘critical' number of factors after which people feel that they cannot continue and drift away. It would also be interesting to know whether there is an identifiable hierarchy amongst the factors: are Catholics more likely to leave for Church-centred or Participant-centred reasons; and within these categories does any one factor carry more weight than others. Such exploration may lead to targeted strategies to work with what is known.
  • Created: 01 April 2008
  • Modified: 29 April 2009