The Church in Malta, through Discern (the Institute of the Church for research), commissioned a research by means of a census that took place during the first weekend of December 2017, as well as a survey that was carried out in the following days. The Church has done this reality check because it wants to be aware of the true picture of contemporary society in order to be more pastorally effective in the coming years.
This helps us to avoid two pitfalls – one is self-delusion, that is, fooling ourselves by seeing what in actual fact does not exist and thus falling into complacency; the other is self-flagellation, beating ourselves up and letting our pessimism hinder us from seeing what is good. We are interested in the real picture.
The preliminary results of this research show that a great number of Maltese profess the Catholic faith – 92 per cent. Of these, a substantial number attended Mass when the census was carried out – 122,000.
When children under the age of 7, the elderly and the sick in hospitals or housebound are deducted, the percentage of those who attend Mass every Sunday amounts to around 40 per cent.
The findings of the survey also reveal that a substantial number of respondents have some contact with the Church but go to Mass less regularly, once or twice a month. Therefore, the percentage of Maltese Catholics who go to Mass at least once a month stands at around 70 per cent.
The study also deals with other matters, such as prayer, that are related to the religious life of the Maltese people.
In the light of this research, particularly with regard to Mass attendance, the believer rightly asks what will be the response of the Church? For this reason, the Archbishop is in the process of establishing a pastoral commission that will work with experts to help the Church answer such questions.
I will list three points that I consider as being central to the pastoral work of the Church in the coming months.
Firstly, we must work hard so that the celebration of Mass will truly be a meaningful celebration that helps people in their encounter with the Risen Christ. Efforts are already in place in several parishes, where we find many examples of good practice with the participation of several lay people. These efforts must be more widely known, appreciated and encouraged.
We must put more heart in our endeavours so that the people who come to church are made to feel welcome. We must work hard so that the people do not deem going to Mass as something tedious and boring, but as a source of energy and life. Above all, we must underscore the intimate bond of the celebration of the Eucharist to the daily life of believers.
We must work hard so that the celebration of Mass will truly be a meaningful celebration
The challenges are great, especially when one considers that, as the census has indicated, there are close to one thousand Masses held in Malta every weekend.
Secondly, we must work hard to see that young Maltese Catholics recognise the duty, the necessity and the value of the weekly Sunday Mass. A great deal depends on how strong this conviction is from a very young age. Therefore it is the Christian family that has to sow the seed of conviction in the young ones.
A striking factor that emerges from the survey is the large number of respondents who go to Mass on Sunday not regularly but every so often. This phenomenon is not unique to Malta but is prevalent in other countries around the world.
These people enjoy some sort of bond but sadly it is not consistent. They are truly missing out on their journey of faith. If one is convinced about going to Mass, one will make time for it.
Thirdly, we must strive to reach out to those who have severed all contact with the Church. It emerges very clearly from the study that there are a number of Maltese people who profess to be Catholic but do not come to church. In our pastoral work, we must never be only content with those who show up, but we must also include in our hearts and prayers those that never do, those who are in the periphery, and reach out to them.
While totally respecting their free life choices, we must also show these people the great value of the Mass in life and show them that they are missing an essential link to their life of faith.
In conclusion, the fundamental question about why we should go to Mass every Sunday was answered by Pope Francis himself last December: “Without Christ we are condemned to be dominated by the fatigue of everyday life, with its preoccupations and the fear of tomorrow. Meeting the Lord on Sunday gives us the strength to live today with trust and courage, and to move forward with hope. …We do not go to Mass in order to give something to God, but to receive what we truly need from him” (December 13, 2017).
May this reality check help us to always search for the truth and drink from this life-giving source.
Fr Joe Galea Curmi is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Malta.