June 5, 2020
A recent online survey of 1779 adults from 39 states found that the “Traditional Latin Mass is experiencing a high volume of participation and interest in the 18-39 demographic.”
Fr. Donald Kloster of the diocese of Bridgeport, CT, with the help of other contributors, conducted the survey between October 22, 2019 and March 1, 2020.
Fr. Kloster directed his study not at a general Catholic audience but at those within the age range who at least prefer the Latin Mass. And his findings are remarkable. The survey showed an astounding 98% weekly Mass attendance in the 18-39 age group . These adults would have been born roughly in the range of 1980-2001, and therefore largely represent the Millennial generation (1981-1996) and the earliest individuals in Gen Z (1996-2010).
How does that compare to statistics in the church at large? Research done by Gallup shows dramatic declines in church attendance since 1955 in all age categories: with the 21-29 age group consistently at the bottom, at 25% weekly Mass attendance. The Gallup data shows a steep drop from 73% attendance in 1955 to percentages in the mid-30s by 1975. This drop began with the members of the Silent generation (born 1928-1945) and the early Baby Boomer generation (1946-1955). After holding steady for a decade, it dropped to a low point with Generation X (1964-1979), where it has largely remained for the Millennials.
Although a large majority of the respondents said that their parents regularly attended Church, only 10% of those surveyed were raised in Traditional Latin Mass households, and only 16% reported that their parents had led them to the ancient liturgy.
Combining some of this data, we can see that personal preferences (reverence, curiosity, solemnity, and music) account for 58% of the total, while peer influences (friends, spouses) account for 18% of the total. Thus, to the tune of 76%, the impetus to attend the Latin Mass among 18- to 39-year-olds seems to be largely coming internally from within their own generation, rather than being inherited from previous generations.
One important factor in the study seems to be a strong religious family life: 65% of the respondents’ fathers regularly attended Church, 75% of their mothers regularly attended Church, and fully 84% were raised in a married (but not remarried) household. And note that these fathers and mothers are the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers whose generations saw the steep decline in Mass attendance mentioned earlier.
It seems that those Boomers and Xers in the parent generations who retained a solid family structure and regularly attended Mass—whether or not they themselves attended a Latin Mass—helped set the stage for the Millennials and early Gen Z to rediscover tradition through personal and peer channels. Of course we cannot discount intellectual influence from older traditionalists online or elsewhere, but the trope of “cultish” parental influence is not borne out at all in this data. Fr. Kloster’s study suggests that these generations have come to the Latin Mass largely on their own and for their own reasons.
Fully 80% of Fr. Kloster’s respondents had thought of a priestly or religious vocation. This finding will come as little surprise to those in Latin Mass communities that, while often small, tend to generate vocations well beyond the norm. Moreover, men comprised 57% of those responding to the survey, while only being 49% of the population. All of these numbers are highly relevant to the priest shortage, and suggest a clear way out of it.
And as far as the laity goes, if the trend of 98% Mass attendance continues to hold across the wider Catholic world, it hints not just at potential to reverse the decline in attendance since Vatican II but to go even further and surpass the 1955 numbers of 73%-77% attendance across all age groups.
Fr. Kloster shared his thoughts with the Missive about that possibility. He theorizes that, in a few key respects, the Latin Mass today is unlike the Latin Mass of the 1950s. Priests are now saying the Mass slower, and they are offering more high Masses and solemn Masses. That more reverential approach seems to be bearing fruit.
“We are doing what the Vatican Council was supposed to do,” he said. “We are fixing all the gaps that should have been fixed.”
Overall, the findings are very encouraging, and this study will be worth continuing to unpack in the coming months and years. Kudos to Fr. Kloster and his team for taking the time to put data and actual numbers behind the anecdotal evidence that has been bandied about for a while.
A previous version of this article gave an incorrect number for the study population. -ed.