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See the results of the first diocesan Mass count

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For three consecutive weekends in October, every Massgoer at every parish and mission in the Diocese of Arlington was counted. The results were reported to Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and analyzed by diocesan staff. On average, 37 percent of registered parishioners attended Sunday/Saturday vigil Masses, representing around 49 percent of a parish’s capacity.

Knowing how many people regularly attend Mass, which Mass times are most popular, and the other pieces of information gleaned from the census will be useful for individual parishes and diocesan staff, said Billy Atwell, chief communications officer. “This information is the baseline and it will be extremely helpful to compare to future years and see trends form,” he said.

The results will be used by Bishop Burbidge in consultation with the priests. Ways in which the Mass count will be used include church construction and renovation plans, and for religious education, financial, and school planning. Additionally, it will be used to assist in the process of assigning priests and the number of Sunday Masses at a given parish.

The results were sent to all priests Jan. 6, and will be reviewed at length by the Presbyteral Council in late January. “We are only beginning to appreciate the value of the data we have collected and its possible interpretation and use,” said Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria. “As vicar general and as a pastor, I see the importance of the October Count as a tool in the church’s evangelizing efforts.”

According to the Mass count, 50 percent of churches have six or more Sunday/Saturday vigil Masses. Fifty percent of parishes offer at least one Sunday Mass in Spanish, 14 percent in Latin and three percent in other languages such as Korean and Vietnamese. In general, churches in the outlying counties of the diocese have the highest percentage of parishioners regularly attending Sunday liturgy.

“When we see how many people actually are going to church versus how many people are registered parishioners, we see the work we have to do to encourage increased participation in Sunday Mass,” said Bishop Burbidge. “On a practical level, we also learn things such as trends in Mass attendance and how — on a positive note — at times our churches are consistently filled to capacity at certain Masses.

 “This information provides us with a renewed opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the work of evangelization; to be active in inviting others to return to Church with the assurance of God’s love and mercy,” he said.

No matter how high the number of average attendees, said Atwell, the work of the church is never truly completed. “The Mass count is an opportunity to ask ourselves, what can I do to bring people closer to God? Could I have an effect on the diocese and on an individual’s life?”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018