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(LifeSiteNews) – A recent survey shows that more than half of Ireland’s former Mass-goers have chosen not to return largely due to fear of COVID-19 and weakened faith.

A November 2021 Amárach Research survey of Irish Catholics found that more than 53 percent of those who “identified as Mass-goers” before COVID-19 have not been going to Mass since.

Of those who have chosen not to go back to Mass, 61 percent said they are staying away because of fear of COVID-19. This was the case for 55 percent of those ages 35-44, 48 percent of those 45-54, and 68 percent of those over 55.

“A further 13% said they had underlying health issues that prevent them from going to Mass at this time,” The Irish Catholic reported.

The survey also seemed to show collateral damage to people’s faith from the virus and lockdowns: Twenty-one percent said they no longer attend Mass because their faith is not as strong as it used to be. Interestingly, this response more frequently came from men and younger younger people. Twenty-six percent of men cited weakened faith as they reason they didn’t return to Mass versus 17 percent of women.

Also, “almost a third (32%) of the 35-44 age group said their faith had suffered as a result of the pandemic,” whereas that was the case for 23% in the 45-54 age bracket and 17% for those over 55.

A significant number of former Mass-goers (19 percent) also said they now prefer to watch the Mass being streamed online. Older respondents were more likely to show this preference: 26 percent of those over age 55 preferred to view the Mass online. Fourteen percent of those age 45-54 and only 8 percent of those age 35-44 said the same.

Less commonly cited than a weakened faith, but still very significant, were the 16 percent who said required mask-wearing was “off-putting” enough to keep them from Mass. This response showed a sizable gender gap: 23 percent of men said they no longer went to Mass because of mask requirements versus 10 percent of women.

According to The Irish Catholic, the survey went on to ask who would return to Mass “when restrictions are lifted completely and life gets back to normal,” although this was not more specifically defined.

Of the former Mass-goers, 23 percent said they will not return to Mass, 31 percent said they would return, and 46 percent said they don’t know whether or not they will return.

The drop in Mass attendance after church reopenings last year has been a near-universal phenomenon. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported that in the United States, even months after churches reopened at the end of 2020, only about 10 percent of Catholics Mass attended Mass regularly, half of the already low figure of 20 percent of Catholics in 2019.

Continued scant Mass attendance prompted Catholic News Service to write in July 2021 that “lifting” the Mass “dispensation is not enough to get Catholics back to in-person Mass.”

One anecdote shared by The Irish Catholic raises questions about who among those staying away from Mass for “fear” of COVID-19 are similarly staying away from other public places where people come in close proximity, perhaps even closer than during most of Mass. Michael Kelly wrote:

“A priest told me recently about a parishioner he frequently meets in the small town where he ministers who used to be a daily Mass-goer. She now watches Mass on her iPad before readying herself for trips to the supermarket, hairdressers and butcher shop. She doesn’t feel safe at Mass, she tells him.”

Does the woman “feel safe” at the supermarket, hairdresser, and butcher? Or is their importance simply greater than that of Mass, from her point of view?

Kelly goes on to ask, “In trying to make Mass accessible for people at home, have parishes simply given a widespread seal of approval for people to stay away?”

He suggests that Catholic churches may need some of the same “ingenuity” they did in responding to COVID-19 to “encourage people back to the regular practice of their faith.”

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