A study of 700 Catholics aged under 40 painted a picture of a devout Church that seeks a deeper relationship with Christ for its own sake.
A new survey of Catholics aged below 40 who attend Mass every week is highlighting the strength of faith in younger adults. The study, which was run by University of Notre Dame academic Stephen Bullivant and Philippa Martyr, a historian and academic researcher based in Perth who wrote the study, was published in Catholic Weekly.
The survey questioned 700 Australian Catholics who reported attending Mass weekly and who fell within the appropriate age range for the study. Respondents were asked what keeps them returning to church every week and were given 9 possible answers, ranking each one with a score of 1-100. This allowed the researchers to divide the answers into categories based on their importance.
Reasons for Mass attendance
Of the nine possible answers, the one that was most highly rated was possibly the most devout. It was found that 94% of respondents placed the highest importance on deepening their “relationship with Jesus in the sacraments.” This response was followed very closely by “feeling closer to God,” an answer that scored an average of 91%.
Following this trend of faith motivation, the third highest ranked response was “the need to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion,” which was scored at 87% by respondents. Furthermore, the idea of “taking part in the service itself and experiencing the liturgy” came in fourth place, ranked at 79%, still “very important.”
Martyr noted that those who took the survey were less enthusiastic about the remaining five responses. Only 60% said they found the liturgy “comforting” and only about half (54%) said they attend Mass because “the Church asks them to attend.” Less than half (44%) said they enjoy “being with the other people at Mass,” and even fewer (32%) said they attended Mass to feel “connected to their family or the way they grew up.”
At the very bottom of the list, the least agreed with reason for Mass attendance was “pleasing other people like parents or spouses.” Only 7% agreed with this sentiment, suggesting that an overwhelming majority of young Catholics attend Mass for themselves and not at the urging of others.
Faith and beliefs
When turned to questions about beliefs, the survey found that an overwhelming majority (82%) said they believe in God with no doubts and this same portion said they pray at least once per day. A further 6 in 10 respondents (60%) said that the Church is the most important aspect of their lives. More than half of respondents (54%) said they seek absolution at least once per month, and overall they placed a high importance on their children marrying within the faith.
Martyr’s findings paint the picture of a devout group of younger Catholics whose identities are steeped in the faith. They attend Mass of their own volition, with the desire to grow in their relationship with Christ through the sacraments. She wrote:
“They’re not going out of habit, or because they’re scared of the dark, or scared of the church, or to keep their parents happy, or because all their friends go.”
This group was also found to be very active in their parishes, with nearly two-thirds (66%) stating that they work at least one formal role in the parish, mostly as lectors. This led Martyr to muse that “they’re not just sitting there being ‘entertained’ on Sundays. They’re actually putting their money where their mouths are by helping out in practical ways.”
She was also surprised that the group did not seem to show any outward indication that they were especially religious. She noted that many of them keep their faiths to themselves:
“They’re not what we might call ‘liturgy nuts’ or strange fringe-dwellers.” Philippa Martyr wrote in her conclusion. “These are very mainstream, ordinary Catholics of the kind everyone would have recognized 50 years ago as ‘practicing Catholics.’ We don’t tend to notice them very much because they are so very ordinary.”