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Are Catholics Returning to Mass Post-Pandemic? The Numbers & What We Can Do About It

The COVID pandemic did damage. It impacted not only the economy, but also our day-to-day rituals and routines that kept us sane and whole. One of these rituals, as several studies show, is Mass attendance among Catholics worldwide.

At the 2023 Napa Institute Conference in Napa, Calif., Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Leadership Institute Daniel Cellucci shared statistics on the sacramental life and habits of Catholics. He also explained his hopes for the National Eucharistic Revival and his organization’s role in the future of the Church.

When first asked about his “Why?” Cellucci explained how he discovered his purpose.

“As a high school student, I was always active in the church…but it wasn’t until I went on a retreat that somebody told me that God had a purpose for my life and a unique purpose just for me. It blew my mind.”

Following that epiphany, he continued, “After I heard that point, I couldn’t unhear it, and this idea that our lives are this wonderful gift of potential from Our Lord, and our quest is to figure out what He’s called us to do.”

“That’s just always attracted me to this ministry and my purpose is to help other people answer that same question,” Cellucci added.

For others who wish to discover their purpose, he encouraged, “If we’re answering that question as to what God is calling us to do, what He has given us unique potential to do, I think we are going to be on the right path.”

As the Catholic Church ushers in the post-COVID era, Cellucci shared his recent findings based on studies of Mass-going Catholics before the pandemic.

“We’ve been studying the practices of Mass-going Catholics for about 10 years now. When COVID happened and prior to COVID, we were seeing anywhere between 25-30 percent of Mass-goers. People said that they were going out of habit.”

Since the COVID peak, “people, unfortunately,” Cellucci added, “broke that habit. And I think that’s basically the decline that we’ve seen in Mass attendance.”

“So my theory and hypothesis seem to be proving,” he continued, “that a lot of our folks are going to Mass out of a force of habit and not really out of a deep encounter with our Lord.”

The existing opportunity for us Catholics, he suggested, is to “have those experiences of encounter to know who Jesus is to us, and to know how we can find Him in the Eucharist at parishes and Masses all across the Earth.”

Cellucci also stressed that “a culture, a practice, a good habit…when it lacks the ‘why,’ when it lacks that underneath encounter and relationship with the Lord, it can easily go astray. So, I think we have to help people rediscover that fundamental relationship with our Lord.”

In essence, he emphasized taking Mass attendance and Eucharistic adoration from just a mere obligation to something done out of love.

As for the current National Eucharistic Revival initiatives, Cellucci expressed his hope for the impact it will have on the laity.

“I hope that for those who really do believe in the True Presence in the Eucharist already, that this be an opportunity to fire them up even more to help people in their families [and] in their workplaces,” he said.

On the upcoming 2024 National Eucharistic Congress, he chimed in:

“I hope that, through things like the pilgrimage across the country, the 100,000 people who hopefully will gather for the Congress, that people who maybe have been away from the Church, away from Mass, or maybe have never even heard about the Eucharist before, see people of faith making a witness.”

As a Pennsylvania resident, Cellucci is “really excited to join the pilgrimage.”

“It’s going to go right through Philadelphia where I live, and I’m going to be on that route, for sure!” he added.

Pinpointing the Catholic Leadership Institute’s role in the future of the Church, Cellucci identifies it as a guide.

“To be a people who can help our Church leaders,” he said, “to be discerning, to be intentional, and first and foremost, to be Christ-centered. Not to be afraid of the future and the uncertainty.”

Cellucci added that his organization’s aim is to “walk alongside” pastors and bishops in their ministries, walking to Our Lord in the Journey to Emmaus account in Lk 24: 13-35.

Providentially, that very Scripture passage is one of his favorites:

“It’s [the Journey to Emmaus] actually our foundational scripture passage. I think it’s important to remember that the disciples on the road to Emmaus were going in the wrong direction, and the Lord was still walking with them [and] trying to help them turn around.”

His aim, then, at the Catholic Leadership Institute, can be best summed up as accompaniment and ensuring that all of Our Lord’s shepherds and flock keep their gazes on both loving and adoring His True Presence.

We are grateful to Dan Cellucci of the Catholic Leadership Institute for sharing his insights with us. May his work continue to ignite parishes, embolden the clergy, and forge a bright path for our Church’s future.

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