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What are we to make of “the numbers”? As the Church it is hard to ignore the large decline in attendance at Mass and reception of the sacraments, yet the Lord never seemed overly concerned with numbers; He even distrusted them.

The information can help us to gauge the effectiveness of our preaching, teaching, and engagement of God’s people; it can also be a pernicious temptation to water down the gospel just to improve our numbers. The data* below showing the change over the past fifty or so years don’t paint a pretty picture:

1970 2018
Infant Baptisms 1,089,154 615,119
Adult Baptisms 84,534 39,660
Weddings 426,309 143,082
Ordinations 805 518
Number of Priests 59,192 36,580
Number of Sisters 160,931 44,117
% Attending Mass Weekly 54.9% 21.1%

Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)

These are astonishing declines! Remember, too, that these dry figures represent individual human beings called to know, love, and serve God in the Church here on earth and one day in the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Every loss is a soul who may be lost forever.

Many want to attribute the decline to this or that cause and then propose solutions. The danger, of course, is merely trying to increase the numbers and forgetting that our mission is not to be popular but to be a colony of Heaven, a people set apart; we were promised persecution and the world’s hatred, not its esteem or love. It is not our goal to be hated, of course, but it is sometimes our lot.

These numbers should sober us and cause us to consider how we—clergy and laity—may have contributed to this decline.

It is not entirely our fault, however. The problem cannot be fully resolved merely through better techniques or more engaging presentations—and it certainly will not be rectified by watering down or even ignoring the Lord’s more challenging teachings.

Read more at Archdiocese of Washington 

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