The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Census finds increasingly aging church-going population; only 36.1% of Catholics attend Mass

Thursday, 31 January 2019, 09:49 Last update: about 10 months ago

57.8% of mass attendees are at least 50 years old or older, representing an aging population of attendees, a census on the attendance levels for Sunday Mass in Malta shows.

In fact, the census shows that in 2017 while the number of those in the 7 to 49 year old age cohort attending mass had decreased since the last census in 2005, the number of attendees in the age cohort 50 years and over had increased since 2005.

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The census found a drop in Mass attendance across all age groups, with the exception of people aged 65 and over.  The highest decrease was registered amongst people aged 49 or less, where, in 2017, on average 21 percentage points or less people attended Mass on Sunday than in 2005.

The statistics presented in the census show that the general idea of Mass, even on a Sunday or Saturday evening, is even less appealing for adolescents and young adults (15 to 24 years of age) than it was in 2005; only 6% of all attendees were from this age group, as opposed to an 11.3% share of all attendees in 2005. 

This equates to a total of 6,721 attendees in this age bracket, compared to 19,135 attendees in the same age bracket in 2005.  There were similar significant declines in attendees falling into the 7 to 14 year old category; falling from a 13.9% share (23,500 people) in 2005 to an 8.4% share (9,351) in 2017.  This could represent a decline in the number of families attending Mass on a Sunday or Saturday evening.

In reality, there has been a huge decline in Sunday mass attendance across the board and this is reflected in the total attendees.  In fact, the number of people who attended Mass on census day – which was over the course of a weekend in December 2017 – was 111,578, or rather 36.1% of the Catholic population in Malta.  This is a decrease of 14.5% in attendance since 2005.

Attendance rates declined in all 70 parishes with the exception of three; Manikata, Dingli and Fleur De Lys.  Local attendance rates varied from 54.9% in Mgarr to 15.7% in Qawra, compared to 2005 when the rates varied from 79.1% in Mdina to 28.2% in Qawra.

It is interesting to note that whilst the number of attendees over the past 50 years – the first of these surveys was taken in 1967 – had substantially and significantly declined, the gender ratio of attendees had remained roughly the same.  The census in fact noted that slightly more than half – 53.1% to be exact – of attendees were women.  This is a pattern that has persisted over the course of the past half-century; whilst this may be the most balanced (marginally) ratio between the two genders – it has never been the case that there were more male attendees recorded than female attendees.

The census took into account all the parishes on Malta, whilst Gozo is not included in the study.  Its findings in terms of attendance are especially worrying for the Church in the long term; a projection found within the census makes for grim reading and says that if the current rates of decline continue to persist as they seem to have done so over the past 50 years, there will be little to no one attending Mass by the year 2050.

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