Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR
Along the Way
ONLY 37 percent of Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass and only 29 percent regard themselves as very religious. This is the findings of the SWS survey released last week. Some bishops and priests thought that this is not accurate since they noted that the number of Masses and Mass attendance has actually increased.
How should we interpret this survey result and what challenges does this pose for the Church in the Philippines?
For me, 37 percent of Catholics who attend mass regularly is relatively high. In 1990, a preparatory document for PCP II mentioned that only 15-20 percent of Catholics regularly attend mass. That’s even a high estimate according to some analysts who thought that it’s less than 10 percent.
We need to take into consideration that most of the parishes in the countryside have a network of barrio chapels or Basic Ecclesial Communities that are far from the parish center.
These communities do not have the luxury of celebrating the Eucharist once a week. Usually, the parish priest can only come once a month or once every two months to celebrate Mass with these communities. Instead, they have a weekly bible service or Liturgy of the Word presided by lay liturgical leaders.
For a parish with over 50 thousand parishioners, an average of five thousand regular church goers every Sunday would already be high. The number would increase during lent, advent (especially the Misa de Gallo) and the parish fiesta and the novena-masses before the fiesta. Even the weekly bible-service celebrated in the chapels would not get over 50 percent attendance, except during the special liturgical seasons. A BEC bible-service in a barangay with a membership of around 200 families would usually have 20-40 regular attendees.
We may never get to know the exact percentage of Catholics who attend mass regularly. We won’t have an accurate figure of Catholics who are living actively as genuine disciples of Christ. This means not just attending Mass regularly, but also active involvement in the parish, BECs or Church organizations and movements. We won’t know exactly how many Catholics have been truly evangelized and have gone through a process of personal conversion. We don’t have any idea how many Catholics have imbibed the teachings and values of Christ as taught by the Church or how many Catholics come together to listen and reflect on the Word of God, and filled with missionary dynamism share it with others. We don’t know how many Catholics, guided by the Church’s social teachings, are involved in works of charity, justice and peace, promotion of human rights—including the right to life, and environmental advocacy.
All we know is that their percentage is low. It would be good news if they make up 37 percent or even 20 percent—that would be too good to be true. They are just a minority but they are making a difference. This is what the BECs and other renewal movements are trying to accomplish—small groups and communities of Catholics, acting as salt, leaven and light in the midst of a majority who are living as nominal and seasonal Catholics.
When we look at the Church as a whole, we have to look at it as composed of three concentric circles. There is a small inner core of Catholics—lay, religious and ordained—who are living actively as disciples of Jesus and involved in the life and mission of the Church. Then there is a bigger middle core of seasonal Catholics who are involved occasionally and seasonally. Finally, at the outer core, which is the largest, are the marginal and nominal Catholics. They are all members of the Church with varying degrees of participation and involvement.
Since the majority of Catholics are either seasonal or nominal, and even many of those who are active are still devotional or liturgical, there is a need for new evangelization. The creative minority in the Church are to be the agents of new evangelization. Hopefully, those seasonal Catholics will become more active and the nominal will become seasonal or even active. What matters is not just the quantity but the quality of Church membership. There is much to be done.
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