CARA study on trends for parishes, Mass attendance

Over at the Fishwrap, their elder-dissenter Richard McBrien posted a column about shifts in Mass attendance.  He works from a study about the “‘Supersizing’ the U.S. Catholic Parish Life” conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Among the findings the study came up with we read that more Catholics are attending Mass at fewer parishes staffed by a rapidly declining number of priests, one in three parishes (29 percent) has Masses at least once a month in a language other than English, household contributions are higher in smaller parishes than in larger, parishes are likely to get bigger because the number of Catholics continues to grow, and smaller parishes are being closed.

I hate to admit it, but McBrien offers a pretty good precis of the information in the report.  He should stick to stuff like this.  Of course the reason why he reports on this is that he wanted to push his notion of leadership in the Church.

Reading about this CARA study reminded me of another CARA study a couple years ago which I wrote about HERE.

That study showed that of Catholics in the USA having any opinion at all on the topic favor the availability of Masses in the the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite by a two to one margin, with the majority having no opinion.

When asked “Do you favor as an alternative to the newer Mass, bringing back the Traditional Latin Mass for those who would prefer this option?”

25% favored the option, 12% opposed it, and 63% had no opinion.

Support for the TLM option wass higher among older Catholics, those who attend Mass weekly, political independents, and those with graduate degrees.

We need a Marshall Plan.

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  1. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    Of course, Latin is a language other than English, which is why my parish has a Mass in a language other than English every week!

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Two items from the CARA study which need to be addressed by conservative parents are these :”One chart in the study shows the increase in permanent deacons since 1980 largely offsetting the decrease in priests, but the drop in women religious over those years was tremendous — from about 130,000 in 1980 to 56,000 in 2010.
    Reflecting the growing lack of sufficient priests to staff all parishes, 5 percent of the parishes were led by a parish life coordinator — a deacon, religious brother or sister, or layperson — rather than a resident pastor.”

    My question over the past ten years has been why are there not vocations coming out of the Traditional Mass families? We have had seven years of Latin Mass in my area and no female vocations. Three boys from the TLM have gone into the seminary, two in diocesan and one to the Institute. But, trad parents are not encouraging their children to go into the religious life anymore than liberal parents. Otherwise, after all this time, we would have more vocations. I know families of six or seven teens and college age kids which have been going to the TLM for many years and no vocations. TLM priests must address this problem as well as NO priests.

    And, I am convinced that the emphasis on Permanent Deacons has taken away from an emphasis on the priesthood.

  3. RichardT says:

    supertradmum, the lack of vocations to religious life, even from “TLM families” who are producing priestly vocations, might bedue to lack of opportunity or good example.

    Are there any decent religious orders active in your area? If young people’s only experience of religious orders is “nuns in pants”, pretending to be priests or running pro-abortion hospitals, then it will be difficult to give them a positive impression of the life.

    Trouble is, that then leaves us a ‘chicken & egg’ problem. But from what I read, traditional religious orders are slowly growing, so in time it will happen.

  4. tealady24 says:

    The Dominican sisters, the Carmelite monks, the Franciscans all seem to be bulging at the seams these days, which is a good sign for the future. Traditional Catholic ANYTHING is what will bring the Church back from the brink, and bring its faithful back from the dullard state they find themselves in now.

  5. flyfree432 says:

    The trend towards super-parishes is disturbing where parishes function on a corporate model instead of an ecclesial one, usually where a lay staff governs parish business and the priests show up for the Sacraments, and where the domestic church operating an intimate community of support and works of mercy suffers. These mega parishes also seem to be the ones where easy answers prevail, instead a life of redemption and godly suffering. I know that our own parishioners must give sacrificially to keep our little parish open which has dropped significantly in numbers over the years. On the other hand those who remain are very much faithful and the fruit of our little parish has been great.

  6. Shadow says:

    “…their elder-dissenter Richard McBrien…”

    I LIKE that term!

  7. benedetta says:

    The Catholics who support the McBrien model of leadership should have mega parishes and those who don’t buy it should have the smaller sort. That should work, yes? Everyone is happy.

    Was wondering if anyone knows, does CARA breakdown data among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, Catholics who are choosing to bring up children up in the Faith, Catholics who tithe, or, Catholics confirmed but no longer practicing, etc.? The pastoral needs, expectations and the stewardship shown in turn may be variable.

  8. APX says:

    My question over the past ten years has been why are there not vocations coming out of the Traditional Mass families? We have had seven years of Latin Mass in my area and no female vocations.

    Hmm… perhaps they’re being pressured to “pair up” by the unofficial parish match-maker. I’m slowly getting settled into the parish life with the Latin Mass community at my parish, and when I went to the office to register, the first question the secretary asked me was, “Are you single?” and then went on about how many young single men there are at the parish. I was also introduced to another woman from the Latin Mass community recently who asked me right off the bat if I was single, and is now planning on introducing me to all the young single men in our Mass community and get me “hooked-up”.

    *sigh* I was thinking I was being called to a vocation of some sort of consecrated life, and that marriage wasn’t really where I was being called to, but hey, I might as well roll with this for now just to make certain the single life wasn’t a “supply and demand” problem.

  9. robtbrown says:

    Personal contact is usually what produces vocations–young men with priests, and young women with sisters. My understanding is that most Latin parishes don’t have sisters.

  10. Supertradmum says:

    and the pdf will give more background as to the CARA study.

    As to vocations, in the 1960s, we wrote to the missionary sisters far and wide for information without any personal contact. I do not believe that personal contact makes a girl open to vocations, but parents. As to finding out about excellent TLM or other orders, there is plenty of information on the net. I can list a few of the orders I would recommend to young girls, including some not TLM, such as the Dominican Order, Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, the Sisters of Life, and the Community of St. John. As to TLM connected orders within the Church, there are the Discalced Carmelites in Valparaiso, NE, the Benedictines, Mary, Queen of Apostles in Kansas City and others. There are no excuses. An excellent resource is the blog for traditional orders, which Father Z has mentioned here before.

  11. Tim Ferguson says:

    This comment thread has raised an interesting question in my mind – and I apologize if this is a bit of a rabbit hole, please feel free to delete if it is.

    Are there any active religious orders of women that incorporate the Extraordinary Form into their rule of life? It’s my impression that there are some cloistered orders of women that do, but I’m not aware of any active orders that do. There are certainly good, solid active orders of women – the Nashville Dominicans, the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, etc. but these seem to incorporate the Ordinary Form into their houses and apostolates.

    I’m not of a mind that the EF is the only sure guarantee of orthodoxy, but perhaps there are fewer young women coming from traditional parishes into religious life because there is not, at this time, a viable option for those young ladies who do not wish to be cloistered, but still wish to worship in the manner they have become accustomed to at their parishes. [Good question.]

  12. At the risk of being hit with a slew of arrows, I do have a question about this, as we all know that polls are tricky. I wonder how many people, especially the “no opinion” group, would change their position if the question were asked this way: “Would you support an extraordinary form mass in your parish if it meant that one of the existing ordinary form Masses would be replaced?” Or even this: “Would you support changing the ordinary form Mass that you personally attend each week to an extraordinary form Mass?” I think that as long as the question is asked in the abstract, most people either don’t care or are willing to “live and let live.” If it is asked in a more direct (and, in most cases, realistic) way, I suspect that one would get lots more “no” answers. It’s like the difference between asking if one wants lower taxes and if one wants lower taxes if it will mean that a government-funded service from which that person benefits will be reduced or eliminated. Almost everyone will say “yes” to the first question, but most people will probably get cranky about the second question.

    The reality, of course, today is that with declining numbers of priests, one doesn’t just wave the magic wand and make a traditional-minded, Latin-speaking priest appear, and existing Masses tend to have a constituency (even if it is a vocal minority). I was thinking about that this morning as a white-haired priest presided over a noisy guitar-and-drum Mass. Pity the more traditional pastor who will likely succeed this man and who really will not be in a position to do anything about this, no matter how much he likes Latin or itches to get rid of the aging hippies. Vocal minorities can make life miserable even for the most dedicated priest.

  13. robtbrown says:


    Those are some good orders and houses, but the question was why TLM parishes produce vocations for men but not women. My answer was that at those parishes there is little if any contact with sisters. The fact that the Carmelites in Lincoln are really good is not relevant.

    BTW, when I was teaching at the FSSP seminary, I asked a class how many of them had come from parishes run by the FSSP or at least had a Latin mass. The answer: None.

  14. Jon says:

    For the record, the FSSP apostolate I attend has produced to date one FSSP vocation, one cloistered Byzantine Carmelite female vocation, one diocesan vocation, and one very probable Dominican vocation.

  15. heway says:

    Well, my husband and I fit into that group – over 76 and 80, college educated, attend every Mass at our church. We are not aging hippies! We do not believe that the call to a religous vocation depends on the TLM or NO. It depends on the individuals personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That epiphany may occur at a young age or may take years to acquire. Oddly enough, some vocations develop in mixed marriages, where one partner attends daily Mass to pray for the conversion of the other partner. Such dedication can be a powerful example to the children of that family – or even their neighbors. Parental example is the greatest power outside of Jesus Christ .
    We attend a Wednesday communion service which includes the evening prayer of the church. The reason – to pray for our priests and for more vocations to both priesthood and religious life. We are a humble community of 30 families, with a Nigerian pastor whom we love – whatever Mass he says.

  16. Gretchen says:

    Flyfree432, I agree with you! Our parish was clustered in 1990, and three of four churches are still standing. However, two more are currently in danger of sale/destruction , leaving one church for 2,500 enrolled families. The two churches in jeopardy were only built in the 50s. Our parish is pastored by a deacon who is in the Charismatic Renewal tradition. His plan is for a mega-church complex. To that end he is engaged in building up a lay-run parish while letting the churches languish with little or no maintenance. To say that our parish community has also been languishing is to put it lightly.

    As a convert out of the Protestant evangelical milieu, I have experienced the mega-church phenomenon. There is a good reason that it has lost its allure in many Protestant circles; trying to foster community is difficult and the cure consists of endless attempts to build up small groups based on needs (single, men, women, mothers, dads, retirees, etc). It fragments and compartmentalizes the faithful, instead of building authentic community where the faithful of all ages interact together at community activities and events.

    I could go on and on, unfortunately.

  17. Charivari Rob says:

    Interesting study.

    In the past year, I attended an archdiocesan regional planning information session. One of the treats was that they’ve assembled some of the local demographic data we were screaming for about 7 years ago during reconfiguration.

    Some of the most interesting information in that study was a comparison of priestly ordinations in recent years with the late 60s – early 70s tail end of the “glory years”. Obviously, the gross numbers are down – ordaining 5 to 10 a year now instead of 40 yearly at one point (which was an aberration on the high side).

    What they did find was an almost straight-line correlation then and now (and the years inbetween) when you plot ordinations against the numbers of Catholics who attend Mass weekly. That percentage has varied back and forth only minimally over the past 4+ decades.

  18. robtbrown says:


    I presume that you are in the diocese of Rochester, which has been led by the liberal Matthew Clark since 1979. Under his pastoral genius the number of diocesan priests has gone from over 400 to less than 250–with no decline in the number of Catholics.

    The damage done by him will take years to repair.

  19. Re: female vocations — When I was a kid, we had sisters in our parish school. After they went away, I never saw another nun or sister, except the odd elderly nun from a distance at a parish I visited or an event I attended, for at least twenty years. Every so often, our diocese would say people should think about vocations, but if you sent away for a vocations packet or called them, you never got anything back. There were never any field trips to convents or anything like that, although occasionally missions sisters would come raising money.

    When I was in college, there was a convent of contemplatives right down the road at the nearest parish (beside the college one), and a college of liberal sisters down the other way. Nobody ever even mentioned the first ladies’ existence, and we never saw any interaction with the second one.

    Admittedly there’s more opportunity, with the Internet. But it’s still a lot easier for guys to meet priests and explore a vocation with them, than for either sex to find any religious around. Ghosts and ex-religious, sure.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    Without sounding too controversial, I believe that the age of the active order of nuns has passed. This is not the age of the building up of great Catholic institutions, such as hospitals, universities, colleges, or even secondary or elementary schools. When the average lay woman was not educated, there was a great need for education and professional women, called to serve the Church in and through communities. In an age where most of these institutions are corrupted and where the Catholic educated lay woman who loves Christ can find a place to work, albeit with difficulties, the need for sisters has passed. However, the need for contemplative nuns with perhaps a soup kitchen attached, or an order like that of Mother Theresa’s which is not institutionalized, there is a need.

    The great need for contemplative prayer covers all areas of the known world. The Church is in more need of intercessions 24/7. The older orders, which exhibit more discipline than many of the newer ones and which have stood the test of time, will endure-the Benedictines, Carmelites, etc. However, the institutionalized orders will continue to fail, not because of the lack of vocations or liberalism, but because the day of the obvious institutional Church at this level is over. We shall not see the likes of the heyday of active orders again. If parents are willing, girls from the TLM are most likely to be called to contemplative orders. And, herein lies the rub. I do not believe most parents are generous enough to give up their girls. We need to pray to Louis and Zelie Martin for such generosity.

  21. Gretchen says:

    Correct, Robtbrown.

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