The pessimist sees a glass half empty; the optimist, a glass half full. The person of faith works and prays to fill the glass.

The analogy applies as one looks at the numbers of people occupying pews for Sunday Masses with despair. The data on Mass attendance in archdiocesan parishes analyzed by Lou Baldwin in this week’s Catholic Standard and Times shows that less than a quarter of registered Catholics here attend Mass on a given Sunday. {{more}}

A closer analysis reveals that more than 282,000 Catholics are joined in prayer to God on a Sunday in the churches of this Archdiocese. Also, some parishes welcome many unregistered college-age persons and transient Catholics. This means the practice of their faith means a great deal to them, itself a good sign, even if they undervalue formally joining the faith community, for whatever reason.

Another discovery in the “October count” report, which takes its name from the headcount of people attending Mass each Sunday of October last year in every parish in the Archdiocese, is that high church attendance has less to do with economic or geographic advantages and more to do with a stress on evangelization.

Communities large and small, wealthy or of humble means, may realize a relatively high percentage of parishioners filling the pews. It often depends on building a climate of welcome among parishioners for each other and for visitors; an emphasis on well-prepared liturgies; and a willingness to reach out and invite people who may not attend regularly to come together in word and sacrament – to praise almighty God in the Sunday liturgy.

Telling others about our faith in Jesus Christ and sharing it in the Mass is one way to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Another is through the corporal works of the Church.

The annual pastoral and financial report of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in this issue gives insight into the magnitude of that service to the community, to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Professional social and health care services, dedicated Catholic education from cradle to grave and social outreach by parishioners in the Archdiocese all are indicated in the report. It also details the funds expended for these and other outlays, along with a careful accounting of the financial support and revenues received.

The two reports featured this week prod us to consider how, with the help of grace, the proverbial glass of water may be filled to the brim with others who will pray with us and work with us for the greater glory of God.