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Where is Mass attendance highest? One country is the clear leader

A group of school girls receiving the sacraments of baptism and confirmation in Onitsha, Anambra, Nigeria, on May 30, 2022. / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 29, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A compilation of new data by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University sheds light on the countries around the world that have the highest Mass attendance numbers.

CARA researchers used data from the World Values Survey (WVS), a major international study of religious belief that has been conducted for decades, to examine 36 countries with large Catholic populations. Of those countries, the researchers ranked them by the percentage of self-identified Catholics who say they attend Mass weekly or more, excluding weddings, funerals, and baptisms.

According to the data, Nigeria and Kenya have the highest proportion of Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more, with Nigeria as the clear leader. Ninety-four percent of Catholics in Nigeria say they attend Mass at least weekly. In Kenya, the figure was 73%, and in Lebanon it was 69%.

The level of attendance in Nigeria is notably high given the high number of violent attacks against Christians across the country in recent years. Terrorist incidents inside Catholic churches are not infrequent; notably, in June of last year, gunmen believed to be Islamic extremists opened fire on Catholic worshippers attending Pentecost Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in southwestern Nigeria, killing at least 50.

More than half of all Catholics attend weekly or more in the Philippines (56%), Colombia (54%), Poland (52%), and Ecuador (50%). But in 29 of the 36 countries examined, fewer than half of self-identified Catholics attend Sunday Mass. The researchers acknowledged that the use of self-reported Mass attendance numbers could inflate the figures slightly, meaning actual attendance numbers could be, in reality, slightly lower across the board.

The WVS data did not include the U.S., but CARA’s polling data indicated that the percentage of Catholics in the United States who attend Mass weekly or more is 17%, even though more than three-quarters of U.S. Catholics consider themselves to be a “religious person.”

Continuing down from there, the lowest levels of weekly attendance were observed in Lithuania (16%), Germany (14%), Canada (14%), Latvia (11%), Switzerland (11%), Brazil (8%), France (8%), and the Netherlands (7%).

“One might assume that the more religious Catholics are in a country, the more likely they are to be frequent Mass attenders,” the CARA researchers wrote.

“Yet, there is not a strong correlation between the numbers identifying as a ‘religious’ Catholic and frequent Mass attendance.”

Countries with a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita had lower levels of Mass attendance and vice versa, they noted.

“While there seems to be a disconnect between identifying as a religious person and attending Mass weekly there is a third factor that may explain the comparative distribution of both of these attributes. If you’ve looked closely at the countries you might have noticed some economic clustering,” the CARA researchers wrote.

“In this small sample of countries, we can surmise that Catholicism is strongest in what is often called the developing world where GDP per capita are lower, while it appears to be contracting in wealthier ‘developed’ countries,” the researchers concluded.

“The precise mechanisms associated with economic development and wealth that are impacting Catholics’ participation in the faith and identification as religious are unclear. Whatever they are, they matter significantly.”

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  1. Praise God for their fidelity. Perhaps they will begin to send us missionaries soon! Some hypothesize whether the first stop might be the Vatican?

    What does cultural Marxism have in common with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

    1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

    Acts 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

    Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

    John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.


  2. Nigeria, population 214 million 2021 with a large Catholic population, apparently the most severely persecuted subject to murderous attacks by Islamists has by far compared to large nations the highest percentage of regular Mass attendance. Likely to be the vanguard of Catholicism during spreading apostasy elsewhere in the Church.
    Nigerians, persecuted by their neighbors as well as a Muslim government that does little to protect them live the life of the beatitudes preached by Christ. They don’t respond with like violence to the heinous murders, bombings of churches. Fulfilling the inspiring words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue” (Collatio 6 super Credo in Deum).
    Like the early Roman Church they flourish by the blood of their martyrs and the radiance of their faith. They possess the fire of Christ’s love.

  3. It should also be noted that these data show that it is the Vatican II Mass – not the old pre-Vatican II Mass – that is used by a major major majority! After all, of the world’s 225,000 parishes, the Tridentine Mass is celebrated in 1,700 only. Or of the 17,000 parishes in the U.S., only 700 have Masses using the 1962 Roman Missal.

    • Mr. Andrew,
      What you say is correct, but does it signify in regard to Nigeria? The Mass in each culture looks a little different. What might benefit us in the West might not be as needed in Africa.

      • Worldwide in the major major majority, the Church uses the Roman Missal of 1969 (Vatican II) for the celebration of the Eucharist. Because of cultural traditions by way of inculturation, Masses have more or longer singing, and as in the case of many African countries, includes dancing to go with the singing. Surely the Vatican II Mass benefits us – again in the major major majority – in most of the Catholic World especially where Catholicism is booming like in Africa and Asia. In Europe and North America, there is a felt need for Eucharistic Revival not because of the effects of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II but because of the West’s general loss of the sense of the transcendent due to secularism resulting on most Westerners having what Charles Taylor called the “buffered selves,” meaning, no longer in touch with matters spiritual. BTW, the latest reliable figure of those who attend the old pre-Vatican II Mass (using the Roman Missal of 1962) in the U.S. number around 100,000 only. In the around 700 American parishes, that translates into around 140 Catholics in each of these. Tiny tiny minority!

  4. Self-reporting would not be the most obvious approach to getting a scientifically valid measurement, particularly when the #2 country on the list, Kenya, typically ranks near the bottom in global rankings for honesty and corruption, and Nigeria often doesn’t even show up at all. Far better would have been to correlate data on baptisms and deaths and perhaps self-reported religious affiliation to determine the number of Catholics, and comparison of those numbers with measurements of actual church attendance.

  5. And yet almost all Catholic positions of top Catholic Church Power come from the nations with the lowest Mass attendance and levels of morality. I think what we, the pew Catholics, should demand from Pope Francis, out of his ‘Synod on Synodality’, is that our present Top Power Catholic leadership positions be immediately replaced by Catholics from nations who actually know how to get Christ’s Will done.

  6. Quick Takes:
    1. It is very interesting that South America is all over the place; with Columbia and Ecuador looking strong, and Argentina looking pretty bad; the Bergoglio model is moribund. Do recall the Bishops from Brazil, Kräutler & Basso, who ran the Amazon Synod were pushing for married priest and ecoworship, poor Brazil; … pathetic bishops… real losers.
    2. Per-capita income is inversely correlated to Mass attendance; but there is another factor also, which is Family size. Those countries with Catholics who dont use the Pill, such as Nigeria, will have higher Mass attendance. Those who value fertility are more likely to value the Mass.
    3. Where is China? just kidding.
    4. It’s the real losers, such as Germany, that are pushing the “Synodal Way”. I vote that the Nigerians take control of the Synodal Process, and let’s Make the Church Catholic Again! Go Nigeria!

  7. One glaring error in this type of data analysis is how many people who identify as Catholic are really Catholic. Essentially the denominator in this data set ie total number of Catholics, I think is vastly overstated. There is a need to get real and recognize that the number of Catholics that we like to state is just plain wrong. Many have left the Church are just not coming back, although there may be few who return on there death bed.

  8. To think that people in Africa, Asia or South America go to mass in bigger numbers than those in North America, Europe, and Australia because they are economically poorer is erroneous or elitist. Studies after studies of this phenomenon tell a different reason. Those who go to Mass in bigger numbers do so not because of economic reasons but because of the deeper and stronger (and alive!) sense of the transcendent and spiritual they still hold. Meanwhile n continents and countries where Mass attendance have dropped, these studies point to the people’s loss of the sense of the transcendent and the spiritual. For Catholics in the West, it must be noted, this loss is not because of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II or the misleadership of the Church’s top hierarchs but because of the more general (not only among Catholics, but in and of all churches and religions) rise of secularism which brought about this loss of the sense of the transcendent and the spiritual. This results in majority of Westerners having “buffered selves” (meaning, not in touch with spiritual matters) according to the Canadian Catholic sociologist-philosopher Charles Taylor in “A Secular Age.”

    • I’d agree mostly Andrew, but material things can become idols and a replacement for the transcendent. That’s a danger everywhere when folks become more affluent.

  9. I met a woman from the Netherlands a few years ago who told me that the reason so few Catholics there were attending Mass there was not out of a lack of devotion, but a dire shortage of priests. Perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye.

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