In Australia, Sunday Mass Attendance Is Declining

Source: FSSPX News

The rate of Mass attendance among Australian Catholics was 8.2 per cent, a decline of 3.6 per cent from 2016 to 2021, according to an official report published in May 2024. It is a significant drop which is far from being due only to restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But at the same time, encouraging signs are emerging.

The study, which has just been published by the National Center for Pastoral Research (an organ dependent on the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops (ACBC)), is interesting for more than one reason.

It first highlights a notable 3.6% decrease in the religious practice of the Catholic faithful, falling from 11.8% to 8.2% between 2016 and 2021, i.e., a loss of around 206,000 faithful over the period. It is worth remembering that Australia is a country of 25.4 million inhabitants (2021 figure), of whom 20% are Catholic.

Thus, in 2021, an average of 417,000 people went to Mass every Sunday. There are no reliable and official statistics yet for the last two years. In addition, just over thirty thousand households in May 2021 watched the Mass over a screen.

Most dioceses have experienced a substantial drop in the attendance rate for Sunday celebrations. It is a decrease due in part to the restrictions – often severe – brought about by the pandemic, and by the fact that only a part of the faithful, worried by a possible resurgence of the epidemic, timidly returned to Mass after the containment measures were lifted.

But the coronavirus is not the only culprit in this decline of Sunday practice. First of all, there are demographic reasons. While the proportion of Mass attendees aged 18 to 29 tended to decline before the pandemic, the curve is starting to reverse. There were 4,000 more in this age group observing the Sunday precept between 2016 and 2021.

It is a sign that Philippa Martyr analyzes positively in the columns of the Catholic Weekly: “A quarter of our Sunday Mass-goers are now aged over 70, but here’s the good news – people aged 18-29 now make up almost 12 per cent of everyone at Mass.”… The Church in Australia “is now starting to look more like a young oak tree with a sturdier trunk and a small canopy,” she explains.

But other data from the report published by the Australian bishops – data which they are careful not to analyze in depth – puts its finger on an astonishing phenomenon: that of the continuation, even increase, of religious practice in Catholic rites other than the so-called mass of Paul VI.

Thus, the Eastern Catholic churches – Ukrainian, Chaldean and Syro-Malabar in particular – have maintained a very high level of religious practice (more than 95% of these faithful are practicing). And taking into account the contributions of populations from immigrant backgrounds, the number of these believers has significantly increased. 

Finally, four Australian dioceses were very frank about the situation and have recognized that attendance at the Latin Mass was clearly increasing between 2015 and 2021, while attendance was decreasing everywhere in the assemblies where the New Mass was celebrated.

Mention should also be made of the Ordinariate welcoming converts from Anglicanism which has seen its attendance increase spectacularly. It is a sign that true Catholic ecumenism, which consists of bringing dissidents back to the unity of the Church, has a beautiful future. At the same time, the number of catechumens also jumped, notably in the dioceses of Sydney and Brisbane.