The results are in for the latest count of Mass attendance in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and they show a sobering though incomplete picture of who is — and is not — coming to church on Sundays.
The “October Count” is a head count of all people attending Mass each week in that month because it does not include holidays or major Catholic solemnities like Christmas and Easter, skewing the count higher or lower. It is thus roughly representative of Mass attendance in the 214 parishes of the archdiocese.
That figure represents a significant drop in attendance from previous years, as does the percentage of registered Catholics attending Mass, 12.5%. That is about half the percentage it was in 2008, at 24%.
Over the past 20 years, the October Count has declined precipitously, from 378,794 Mass attendees in 2001 — down 66%.
One caveat in making recent comparisons is the fact that in 2020 there was no October Count due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions on in-person Mass attendance occurred that spring and the obligation to attend in person only was reinstated in August 2021.
During that time many Catholics stayed home and watched the Mass livestreamed from their parish or another church. In some cases this remains the practice of people who rely on that experience for continuing health reasons, or simply for their preference.
The number of people who viewed the Mass online in October 2021 and in the present is unknown.
Therefore the 32% decrease in Mass attendance from 2021 to 2019 (the last year of such figures) — 129,990 in 2021 and 212,984 in 2019 — should be considered in context. Likewise the percentage of registered Catholics going to Mass in person, down from 19.4% in 2017 and 17.6% in 2019.
Another factor is the total registered population of the archdiocese — not counting those Catholics who attend Mass but are not registered in the parish they attend — dropped from 1.1 million Catholics in 2017 to 1.038 million in 2021.
One bright spot of the most recent figures is the continuing sign of cultural diversity in the church. Of the 861 Masses celebrated, 49 were in Spanish and 770 in English. An additional 42 Masses were celebrated in 21 other languages reflecting people’s homeland, including a new entry this year: Q’eqChi for those from Central America.
The languages include American Sign Language, Cantonese, Creole, Filipino, French (AKA Francophone), Igbo, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Latin, Liberian, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Q’eqChi, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu and Vietnamese.
After the Spanish language, Vietnamese had the most Masses offered, at eight.
While the October Count shows a decrease in attendance in all languages, the drop was most severe for Masses in English. There were 58,114 fewer attendees and 62 fewer Masses offered weekly in 2021 from 2019.
The report from the Parish Services Office concludes with a study of the times that Catholics go to Mass in person. Not surprisingly, Sunday morning remains the norm, with 61% of Catholics attending then, and 8 a.m. the most popular, followed by 9 and 10 a.m.
The Saturday evening vigil Mass comes in at 24% of Masses celebrated, with 5 p.m. the leading time.
Currently the archdiocese is compiling a new census count of Mass attendance in parishes, conducted on a voluntary basis, during the month of April 2022.
Administrators hope to assess changes in attendance since last October now that people are joining more social activities as concerns over COVID infection wane, activities including worship in person.
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