‘Wake-up call’ as 19% of Mass-going Catholics unsure if they’ll ever return

‘Wake-up call’ as 19% of Mass-going Catholics unsure if they’ll ever return Fr Paul Dempsey Photo: Youtube screenshot/www.thetablet.co.uk

New research which reveals that one in five previously Mass-going Catholics may not return after the pandemic has been described as a “wake-up call”.

While just four percent of people surveyed said they had no intention of returning to Mass, a further 19% of people who went to Mass regularly before restrictions indicated that they didn’t know if they would ever return to Mass. Thirty six percent – more than a third – said they had already returned to attending Mass regularly.

The details are revealed in new research carried out by Amárach on behalf of The Iona Institute.

Bishop of Achonry Paul Dempsey told The Irish Catholic that “there is a concern about where we will find ourselves when – please God – things get back to normal.

“Some people might have slipped out of the habit – that means we’re going to have to work all the harder to reach out to people and invite them back…The virtual liturgies were  to get us over a crisis, but that can never be the norm. We have to gather together,” Bishop Dempsey said.

Fr Eamonn Conway, Professor of Theology at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick said the survey “shows that there is a felt need for community and that online liturgies are no substitute, with only 6% of those not currently attending Mass saying they are happy enough to watch Mass online instead”.

However, he said that the fact that one-in-five people said they were unsure whether or not they would return to Mass is a “wake-up call” for parishes.

“We have taken for granted a lot of people who go to Mass out of habit rather than out of conviction…I think we have to step back and look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves how do we build community in a way that connects liturgy with the realty of everyday lives?”


Fr Conway said that there is an opportunity to see the celebration of the Mass for people as a “lived community experience, not an isolated moment in their week. People are going to consider where Mass fits into their life, and it has the potential to move people from going out of unquestioning habit to a place where they go out of conviction.

“It has also forced us to confront the questions of ultimate meaning that so often we suppress but that are never too far beneath the surface. For many people getting ‘back to Mass’ will come at the end of a journey in faith, not at the beginning”.

He said that “the priority is to accompany people in prayer and in discernment as they come to accept that life of its nature is fragile – and therefore precious – and can only be lived fully when we accept our creatureliness and are humble enough to permit ourselves to be sustained by the joy of God’s love”.

Fr Conway said that “building community” is key in renewing the Church. “The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the illusion that we are autonomous human beings. It has forced us to realise, for better and worse, that we are all interconnected and interdependent,” he said.

Bishop Dempsey said parishes need to underline the importance of being together. “We’re social beings, and the second word for Church is community – that is something we need to work on because we are made to celebrate together.”