Big increase at Christmas Masses

Dioceses report ‘terrific crowds’

Paul Keenan, Mags Gargan and Cathal Barry

Most cathedral parishes contacted by The Irish Catholic this week reported substantial increases in Mass attendance over Christmas.

Fr Francis Mitchell said the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam “was packed to overflowing” at the three Christmas Day Masses.

“The new Pope has done a lot of good and the high numbers at Mass this year is perhaps a spinoff of that. I’m hopeful that they will continue to come back,” he said.

In Achonry, Fr Joseph Gavigan said he was “delighted with the great turn out” at the Cathedral of the Annunciation and St Nathy in Ballaghaderreen. “Numbers were definitely up,” he said.

Msgr Cathal Geraghty of St Brendan’s Cathedral in Clonfert diocese said “I have never seen such a crowd at Mass, people were standing outside the doors. I also noticed a rise in numbers at Mass on the following Sunday too which is great.

“The challenge as a priest when you have those large numbers is to encourage those in attendance to return more regularly,” Msgr Geraghty said.

Positive effect

In Longford, Fr Thomas Healy of St Mel’s Cathedral said “We had terrific crowds at Christmas Masses this year…Pope Francis is a great gift to the Church so you could assume he is having a positive effect.”

There was a similar effect in Elphin diocese where Canon Thomas Hever reported a “full house at all Christmas Mass celebrations which were up slightly on last year”.

In Donegal, Fr Eamonn Kelly from the Cathedral of Saints Eunan and Columba, Letterkenny said this Christmas was “most definitely” busier than previous years. “We were pleasantly surprised by how many came out.”

Fr Paul Murphy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh said all the vigil Masses in Armagh were “standing room only at the back”. “On Christmas Day the 9am Christmas Mass was very well attended and shaking hands at the sign of peace seemed to go on forever! It was wonderful to preach to such a full congregation, across all ages and spectrums.”

Fr Kevin Donohoe of the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim in Cavan said there was a “noticeable increase” in numbers this year. “Priests celebrating Mass in the other churches of the parish said they also noticed an increase. It is nice to see and I think it is a mixture of things. There is an increase in numbers at Christmas in general, but I think Pope Francis has had an influence in a big way,” he said.

In Meath, Fr Paul Crosbie from the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, said attendance at the cathedral carol service and for confessions was “noticeably higher this year”.

He said there were multi-faceted factors for this increase but that he’d heard priests say that “it was easy to preach the message of Christmas this year in the context of Pope Francis, with his emphasis on humility and outreach”.

Fr Paul Farren of St Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry said the parish had “massive numbers”.


“Christmas is always a busy time for the Church but it did seem like there was a healthy increase in confessions and Mass attendance,” he said.

Fr Farren said he thought Pope Francis was having a positive influence on people as he is talking “so beautifully about the message of God and the welcome that awaits people in the Church”.

In St Macartan’s Cathedral in Monaghan, Fr Patrick McGinn said there was an increase in Mass attendance on Christmas Day compared to last year despite the weather being “quite miserable”.

Young families

He said there was a large number of young families. “Young people are starting to talk about Pope Francis and the little messages received through the media are very positive.

“He is a breath of fresh air and for once we don’t have to justify our leadership, it speaks for itself,” Fr McGinn said.

Canon Francis Brown, from St Patrick and St Colman’s Cathedral in Newry, said that there were huge attendances at all the Christmas Masses this year, but that packed churches were a feature of the season every year. He said he has noticed a “slight increase” in attendance at weekly Sunday Masses in general and that Pope Francis’ influence may be a factor.

At the cathedral in Waterford City, Fr Paul Waldron said “All of our Masses were very full and people even remarked on the numbers coming, they were very much increased.

“I have heard from churches around the diocese who had to put extra seats into sacristies to accommodate numbers,” he said.


Msgr Kieron Kennedy from St Mary’s Cathedral in Killkenny said “the numbers were very good and what was especially notable was the profile of those attending. All age groups came, and this was very uplifting for us all at the cathedral.”

In Cashel & Emly, Fr Martin Hayes from the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles said “there were certainly good numbers, and especially at the newest addition to the Mass schedule, the children’s Mass, which was mobbed.”


While reluctant to link the numbers directly to the Pope, he said “in conversations I have had with people, there is clearly a positive reaction to Pope Francis”.

In Cloyne, Fr Jim Killeen from St Colman’s Cathedral said that while he didn’t have exact figures, “from speaking to the other priests of the cathedral, numbers were up a bit on last year”.

In Cork, Fr Ted Sheehan, Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne said “numbers were about the same as previous years”. In Galway, meanwhile, Canon Peter Rabbitte said there was no noticeable increase on previous years at the cathedral. 
“Christmas Masses were busier than any other time of year but we saw no major increase or decrease either way on last year’s numbers,” he said.

Attempts to contact the cathedrals in the Archdiocese of Dublin and Diocese of Killala were unsuccessful as The Irish Catholic went to press this week.