By Fr. Steve Ryan, SDB
We knew that in the United States younger Catholics were going to church in lower numbers than in the past. Simply by looking around at many parish churches (not all), we’ve observed a lessening of families worshipping together on Sundays. According to the most recent Gallup Poll on that topic, however, the situation is worse than many of us imagined.
Catholics of all ages, generations and socio-economic backgrounds who were surveyed showed declines in their weekly participation at Mass:
- Overall, only 39% of Catholics say they attend church weekly.
- Among those aged 60 and over, the figure is 49% weekly attendance.
- Moreover, 25% of those aged 21-29 attend church weekly.
The number of young people professing no religion today (nationwide) is 33%. That is a 3,200% increase since 1955 when it was only 1%.
The Gallup poll reports the data but offers no explanation. There are many reasons for the decline in church attendance. Here are six probable reasons:
- The declining role of religion in elementary and secondary education has been dramatic.
- Higher education has become increasingly hostile to religion, especially Christianity.
- Pop culture, as exhibited on TV, movies, and music, is marked by a libertinism that is at odds with Christianity.
- The ascendancy of moral relativism (the denial of moral absolutes) has engulfed society. The nation’s cultural elites are responsible for this outcome, including, sadly, some religious leaders.
- Declining marriage rates and birth rates among married couples have made it easier for parents to neglect their religious duties, including obligations to their own children.
- Those over the age of 60 are the baby boomers, a generation that in their youth experienced a huge cultural rejection of institutions and authority in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them entered their post-high school years without a strong religious background. The passivity regarding religion is passing on to their children—not in all cases but in some.
Bottom line: What can we do? If we as a society are without God, we are doomed. Unfortunately (if the polls are right), we are becoming more and more a society without God, so we are ruining ourselves. Parents, clergy, and Catholics with any zeal left in them are challenged to bear witness to the joy of Jesus Christ and of following in His ways. By witnessing and preaching the beauty and truth of the sacraments and a life of faith; by praying; by not getting discouraged—they can keep God alive in our society