From the Pastor: Mass Attendance Statistics
I have been going over the results of our October Mass counts in the diocese. We get these compilations twice a year, the other time being after the February parish Mass counts. Every parish (there are officially 80 parishes and missions in the diocese) counts noses at their Sunday Masses and sends the completed report to the chancery office in St. Petersburg, where somebody tallies the numbers and produces nice spreadsheets for whatever use they have. The pastors each get a copy of these spreadsheets to be used as we see fit. The numbers are presented in two ways. The first spreadsheet in this latest compilation had each week of October broken out with the reported numbers listed by week, followed by the average weekly total. The average weekly attendance for the Month of October was then compared to the previous year’s weekly average in October and the percent of increase or decrease was noted. It is this result that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Epiphany’s October 2020 Mass attendance from week one through week four is as follows: 636, 560, 639, and 674 for an average of 627 people attending Sunday Mass per week. Epiphany’s average during the same month in 2019 was 412, so we had an increased Mass attendance this year of 215 people, or 52.2%. No other parish in the diocese had a year to year increase in October. The next closest parishes (numbers wise, not geographically) were St. Mary in Tampa, which only had an 11.9% decrease, and St. Vincent de Paul parish in Holiday, which was down 13.7%. St. Anthony the Abbot in Brooksville and the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam in Largo were the next best with decreases of only 23.4% and 28.1% respectively. All of the other parishes were down more than 30%, for a grand total average of a 52.4% decrease across the board. (FYI, St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission was down by 39.9% even as they were preparing to move out of Epiphany and into their own church.)
The second spreadsheet shows the current year’s Sunday Mass attendance plus the last six years’ count. In October of 2014, before the Traditional Latin Mass began being celebrated at Epiphany, the numbers are shown as DNR, or Did Not Report. Perhaps someone forgot to count or to send in the results to the chancery. Regardless of why there were no numbers reported that month, it was the following August (2015) that the TLM started here. I was told (perhaps through the numbers for the February count) that 87 people were currently attending the Saturday Vigil Mass and two Sunday Masses combined. So that is our starting point. Now back to October numbers. In 2015 we had 242 people at all of the Masses combined, in 2016 that increased to 305. 2017 saw a slight decrease to 298. In 2018 we increased to 322 followed by a significant jump in 2019 to 412 and, finally, to this crushing pandemic year, where, as mentioned previously, we rose to 627! With these results, there are now 49 parishes which are smaller than Epiphany!
The most amazing thing (as I see it) about these numbers has nothing to do with our increase as every other parish decreases during this extended pandemic panic, as impressive as that is. Rather, our increase is impressive because it has all come about because Epiphany celebrates as her norm the form of the Mass that everybody insists--even while seeing such numbers--that nobody wants! Oh, we still have our sole Novus Ordo Mass, the Saturday Vigil, but that Mass still averages just over 20 people. The increasing numbers are all due to the TLM. When I was first asked by parishioners, three parishes ago, to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, I, too, was of the impression that nobody would show up for one. After all, I said, I had been a priest for over a decade and not a single person had ever asked for a “Latin Mass.” So I understand why my brother priests don’t get it. We have all been told our entire lives (those raised after the second Vatican council, that is) that the “old Mass” was terrible, that the priest turned his back on the laity, and that the old ladies prayed (O, the horror!) the rosary during Mass. It was presented as a Mass of priestly dominance, and only suitable for the widows who had nothing else to do. But every young priest (I flatter myself!) who has learned to celebrate this ancient Mass and the other sacraments out of the old Ritual--especially baptism--soon gets the cobwebs cleaned out of his brain and realizes that the old ways flourished and were fine-tuned for nearly two thousand years not because they were so awful but because they were so prayerfully effective!
I do not believe that these statistics are unique to Epiphany. I suspect that something similar is happening everywhere the TLM is celebrated by a priest who really believes in his priesthood (and, thus, in the Church), something that often happens to a much greater level after learning the TLM than before. Priests and bishops, seeing such numbers everywhere, will one day do as I did and stop assuming that the people don’t ask for the “Usus Antiquior” because they know the difference and prefer the new. Instead, the clergy will realize that the people have been cheated out of their heritage and treasure. Their people don’t ask for the venerable old Rites because they don’t know the richness of what was taken from them. Yet behold! The Restoration swiftly cometh!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka