The Boston Herald reports that Mass attendance in the Archdiocese of Boston is down. According to figures from the annual census taken last October, 50,000 fewer Catholics are attending Mass regularly and only 15 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese go. That’s a decline of 13.5 percent from 2001. (I think. Math isn’t my strong suit.)
It’s not really surprising after all. When the marginal faith of many is shaken by the apparent immoral behavior of their priests and bishops, it is not unexpected that some will fall away. Houses built on sand, and all that. Even the rock-solid faith of some was shaken and what keeps us going forward in the Church is faith in the promise of Jesus Christ that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.
Moreover I would say that the real reason for all the empty pews is not just the Scandal but a failure to live the full truth of the Gospel. While many priests and laypeople of the archdiocese lead excellent examples, we often have received them from others. When you have open and unchallenged dissent from the immutable teachings of the Church by priests and prominent citizens, it is natural for people to wonder whether any of this important anyway. If the bishop doesn’t care enough to fight for it, why should we?, they ask.
Back to the article. The pastor of St. Paul’s in Hingham notes that while Mass attendance hit a low last year, it has rebounded some since Christmas. I think that’s a common experience. Some people are returning, especially as they feel that things are changing, most visibly with the resignation of Cardinal Law.
And the quote from the sociologist elude me.
David Yamane, a Notre Dame sociologist, said Mass attendance illustrates the serious concerns Catholics have about the church. “If people aren’t attending Mass, then the raison d’etre of the church is in question,” he said.
“The central components of the faith—particularly the Eucharist—are only received in the context of Mass if you’re able to make it to Mass.”
I don’t understand his point. Is he saying that the fact that people aren’t going to Mass is serious? To me that’s like saying the sky is blue, but maybe it’s not so obvious to others. And of course, it’s not a new phenomenon. Even in 1993, before the first of the major abuse scandals in Boston broke, only about 20 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese were attending Mass weekly. The problems in the Church are older and wider than the Scandal and we are in danger of missing them if we focus only on the Scandal as the sole problem.