Father Amado Picardal CSsR
A study conducted a few years back showed that only 37 per cent of Filipino Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass while only 29 per cent regard themselves as very religious.
Some Church leaders think that it was not accurate because the number of Masses being celebrated apparently increased and attendance seemed to have grown.
The number is actually relatively high. In 1990, a preparatory document for the Second Plenary Council said that only between 15 and 20 per cent of Catholics regularly attend Mass.
We need to take into consideration that most parishes in the provinces have a network of barrio or village chapels or Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) that are far from the parish centre.
These communities do not have the luxury of celebrating the Eucharist once a week. Usually, the parish priest can only come once a month or once every two months to celebrate Mass.
The community instead holds a weekly Bible service or Liturgy of the Word that is conducted by lay leaders.
For a parish with over 50,000 parishioners, an average of 5,000 regular churchgoers every Sunday would already be high.
The number would increase during the seasons of Lent, Advent (especially during the early morning Misa de Gallo), and during the parish fiesta and the Novena Masses before it.
Even the weekly Bible service celebrated in the chapels would not get more than 50 per cent attendance except during special liturgical seasons.
A BEC Bible service in a village with a population of about 200 families would usually have between 20 and 40 regular attendees.
We may never know the exact percentage of Catholics who regularly attend Mass. We won’t have an accurate figure of Catholics who are living actively as genuine disciples of Christ. This means not just attending Mass regularly, but also active involvement in the parish, BECs or church organisations and movements.
We won’t know exactly how many Catholics have been truly evangelised and have gone through a process of personal conversion. We don’t have any idea how many Catholics have imbibed the teachings and values of Christ as taught by the Church, or how many Catholics come together to listen and reflect on the Word of God and, filled with missionary dynamism share it with others.
We don’t know how many Catholics, guided by the Church’s social teachings, are involved in works of charity, justice and peace, promotion of human rights, including the right to life and environmental advocacy.
All we know is that the percentage is low. It would be good news if they made up 37 per cent or even 20 per cent, which is too good to be true. That might be a minority but it would make a difference.
This is what the BECs and other renewal movements are trying to accomplish—small groups and communities of Catholics, acting as salt, leaven and light in the midst of a majority who are living as nominal and seasonal Catholics.
When we look at the Church as a whole, we have to look at it as three concentric circles.
There is a small inner core of Catholics—lay, religious and ordained—who are living actively as disciples of Jesus, and involved in the life and mission of the Church. Then there is a bigger middle core of seasonal Catholics who are involved occasionally and seasonally.
Finally, at the outer core, which is the largest, are the marginal and nominal Catholics. They are all members of the Church with varying degrees of participation and involvement.
Since the majority of Catholics are either seasonal or nominal—and even many of those who are active are still devotional or liturgical—there is a need for new evangelisation. The creative minority in the Church is to be the agent of new evangelisation.
Hopefully, those seasonal Catholics will become more active and the nominal will become seasonal or even active. What matters is not just the quantity, but the quality of Church membership. There is much to be done.
Redemtorist Father Amado Picardal is known for his activism and advocacy for human rights.
He is executive secretary of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.