The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate has released the sad figures regarding Mass attendance in 2020. It is at least as bad as you might suspect and probably worse than some had expected. Starting in March (you know what happened then), the percentage of Roman Catholics attending Mass has plummeted from pre-Covid pathetic 20% to around 5% in the balance of the year post-Covid.
Of course, every single diocese in America forbade public Masses starting in March. Go ahead and read that again. Yes, it is true. Every single Roman Catholic Diocese closed up shop beginning in March. Even after some dioceses reopened with many mandated COVID-19-related restrictions in place, the numbers had increased only to about 10% by the end of the year. The normally larger attendance at the high and holy days did not materialize. Even Christmas, which is the most heavily-attended Mass every year with 64% of Roman Catholics attending in 2019, saw only 20% attendance in 2020. To put it another way, the normally highest attendance Mass of the year barely reached the ordinary attendance for any Sunday in ordinary time.
The Bishops must bear some responsibility for this. After all, they were in lock step with the decisions of our political leaders to regard worship as unsafe, non-essential, and not worth the risk. Some Bishops warned of penalties against people who might slip into the daily Mass of the priest and insisted they not be communed. In other places, even exceptionally large churches are intentionally kept mostly empty on Sunday mornings -- all out of fear. Is it no wonder, then, that Roman Catholics have learned to go without the Eucharist for almost a year and what will it take to undo this unintended lesson in the non-importance of in person worship to the practice of the faith?
Before anyone rushes to judge Rome in this matter, the same outcome was spread across all denominations. In the LCMS it is estimated that only 15% of our congregations even had in person worship on Easter. All across the LCMS there are congregations still not meeting for in person worship or substituting parking lot worship for the Divine Service in the Lord's House. Barna has warned that a third of all congregations may close their doors for good in the wake of the pandemic (he is speaking mostly of Protestant and evangelical churches). Read the information being supplied by nearly every denomination in America and the conclusions are the same -- the pandemic has inflicted a life threatening wound to American Christianity.
Because of Rome's size and its depth across the USA, its statistics provide a solid evidence of the impact of the pandemic and its effects upon the whole of Christianity. Though some point to online content and suggest that some churches are reaching more people through technology than they ever did in person, the strength and health of this digital imprint of the Gospel remains to be seen. Furthermore, statistics show that people are liking but only watching moments of the entire video and audio presentation of these churches. In the end, my point is that this is not going to end neatly and cleanly and the old normal return. People have learned new habits and new truths to judge those habits and the churches have lost control of the message and the manner in which the faith is lived out. What happens in person is not nearly as essential to the vast majority of folks out there as it might have been prior to Covid. While so often the battle is to engage those outside the faith with the Gospel, we might have to begin with the household of God and convincing them that the Word preached and the Eucharist received remains the core and center of what it means to worship the Lord in spirit and truth.