Who Goes When – Mass Attenders and Their Usual Mass Time

Who Goes When? Mass attenders and their usual Mass time

A report to the Australian Catholic Bishops based on the 2001 National Church Life Survey by Bob Dixon and Sharon Bond for Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Projects Office, November 2004.

Download full report here.

Results at a Glance:

Parishes with Sunday evening Masses

In the major cities, parishes which provide a Sunday evening Mass tend to have:

  • a larger overall attendance
  • a higher proportion of people aged 15‑29 among their attenders,
  • a higher proportion of attenders who live outside the parish, and
  • higher attendance measured as a proportion of the Catholic population of the parish.

Attenders in these same parishes tend to have a weaker sense of belonging than attenders in parishes which don’t have a Sunday evening Mass. Only one of these effects is found in parishes outside the major cities: those which have a Sunday evening Mass tend to have a larger overall attendance than those which do not. Providing a Sunday evening Mass is potentially one way in which a parish can increase its attendance and, in the major cities at least, attract more young adults. On the other hand, a parish which discontinues its Sunday evening Mass risks losing its best opportunity of contact with young adults.

Characteristics of attenders at different Mass times*

People who attend Mass at different times are quite different from one another. They differ in their demographic makeup, their levels of parish involvement and in their experience of the liturgy.

In particular, Sunday evening congregations differ markedly from those that meet on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings. They have a much younger average age, a much more even gender balance, more people with a tertiary education and a much higher proportion of people who do not live in the parish where they attend Mass. Sunday evening attenders tend to attach less importance to the place of the parish in their lives and to derive less satisfaction from the liturgy than attenders at other Mass times.

These differences have pastoral implications that need to be considered by all those interested in the mission of the parish.

Age

  • Early Sunday morning is the most popular Mass time for people age 60 or more.
  • Sunday evening is easily the most popular time for older teenagers and young adults.
  • Mass attenders aged 80 have a strong preference for a single Mass time, and prefer not to go to Mass at different times from week to week.

Education

  • People with higher levels of education favoured Sunday evenings.
  • Congregations at early Sunday morning Masses have a lower percentage of people with university degrees than at any other Mass time.

Length of attendance

  • The early Sunday morning Mass time has the highest proportion of people who have been going to Mass in the same parish for twenty years or more.
  • Sunday evening Masses have the highest proportion of visitors.

Home location

  • The early Sunday morning Mass time has the highest proportion of people who live in the parish where they attend Mass.
  • Even after taking account of the high level of visitors at Sunday evening Masses, attenders at that time include the highest percentage of people who attend Mass in a parish other than the one in which they live.

Sense of belonging

  • The highest percentage of people with a strong and growing, or stable, sense of belonging are found among people who often attend Mass at different times, but not on Sunday evening.
  • The lowest percentage of people with a strong and growing or a stable sense of belonging are found among people who go to Mass on Sunday evening.

Preferred style of music

  • Early Sunday morning attenders expressed the strongest preference for traditional hymns at Mass.
  • Sunday evening and Saturday evening attenders expressed the strongest preference for contemporary liturgical music.

Experience of liturgy

  • Sunday evening attenders were the least likely to experience joy and a sense of God’s presence during Mass, and the most likely to say they experienced boredom.
  • Sunday evening attenders were also the least likely to say they found the preaching they heard at Mass helpful to them in their everyday lives.

* Age plays a part in many of the findings presented here, but in most cases the differences between attenders at different Mass times remain even after controlling for age. One exception is attenders’ experience of liturgy: most of the difference between groups attending Mass at different times is due to variation in their age profiles.