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Catholics in US return to pre-pandemic form, slowly but surely

Infant Baptism

Burkin Denis | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 03/17/24

While the rates of Mass attendance and infant baptism are not what they were in 2010, they are returning to the rates seen in 2019.

A new study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University is examining the current rates in the United States of Catholic Mass attendance and infant baptisms and comparing them to pre-pandemic years. While there is still room to recover, the data shows that both attendance and baptism were on the upswing in 2022. 

The portion of US adults who identify as Catholic has not changed very much from 2000 to 2022. A 2000 poll from Pew Research Center citied 25% of the country as Catholic, while in 2022 both Gallup and the General Social survey placed this figure at 23%.

The report, from CARA’s “1964” research blog, notes that it would be unfair to compare 2000 to 2022 without also looking at 2020, due to the unique situations that arose during the pandemic. 

Mass attendance

The rate of attendance at Christmas Mass 2019 was nearly 70% of Catholics, a figure that had fallen to less than 20% in 2020. Throughout the year of 2020, Mass attendance rates remained below 20%, with the exception of Christmas Mass that saw a slight uptick of Mass-goers. Ordinary weekly Masses remained small (sub-20%) throughout 2021 as well, except for Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Easter Masses, which saw huge upticks that year, bringing attendance levels to those Masses over the 40% threshold. 

In 2023, attendance at ordinary Masses had risen a little higher, straddling the 20% line, and Christmas remained around 40%. Ash Wednesday and Easter, however, both shot up over the 50% mark in 2023, rising above the 50% mark for the first time since 2020. CARA notes that Christmas of that year may not have seen the same upswing due to caution related to winter illnesses. 

Now, in 2024, Ash Wednesday’s Mass attendance was recorded as just a bit higher than it was in 2020. This suggests that Catholic Mass attendance is on its way back towards pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, the rate of Mass attendance in ordinary weeks appears to be about the same as it was in 2019, and 2024’s Ash Wednesday lagged only about 5 points behind that of 2019. 

Infant baptisms

The return to pre-pandemic form is a little more noticeable in the data for the rates of infant baptisms in the US. While there has been a distinct gradual decline in infant baptisms since 2006, nothing comes close to the gap between 2019 and 2020, falling from about 550,000 to just over 400,000 respectively. By 2022, however, this figure had climbed back up to nearly 500,000 infant baptisms. 

CARA notes that the most important factor of the infant baptism data is that the fertility rate in the US has dropped significantly, from 130 babies born per 10,000 residents, in 2010, to 109 per 10,000 residents in 2020, only going up to 110 in 2021. In 2010, however, the Catholic Church baptized 112 babies per 10,000 Catholics, leaving about 10% not baptized before their first birthday. 

In 2020, only 56 babies were baptized per 10,000 Catholics, suggesting nearly 50% of Catholic children born in 2020 were not baptized before their first birthday. While the report lacked information on the number of US babies born in 2022, it was found that 72 infant baptisms were performed per 10,000 Catholics. While not yet back to the 2010 rates, the data shows a steady growth in infant baptisms in the last 3 years. 

Click here to see the full report.

And here’s an interesting pair of statistics to consider:

It is estimated that 89% of Christians killed throughout the world are located in Nigeria. Meanwhile, When asked the question “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days?” 94% of self-identified Nigerian Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass.

BaptismCOVID-19MassUnited States
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