Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


“C and E” Catholics Decoded

You’ve spent the last four weeks singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and getting used to the new Missal translation.  You’ve watched the Advent candles be lit, celebrated the beginning of the new liturgical year, and readied yourself in “joyful anticipation” for Christmas.  Maybe you’ve headed to a Christmas concert (or two), maybe you’ve had family pictures taken (awkward or otherwise).

And then the big day (or Midnight Mass) comes–and there is a stranger sitting in your pew!

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year–and with it come back our brothers and sisters we affectionately call “C and E” Catholics (Christmas and Easter).  Who are these people who flock to our pews two times a year?  And, how many people are we talking about fit into this camp?  Actually, just over half of self-identified adult Catholics attend Mass once or twice a year or less often (data source: CARAs Sacraments Today). These are the guys (...more often men than women) in green below (56%). Forty-four percent of self-identified Catholics, those in red below, attend Mass more frequently.

These “C and E” Catholics are young and have some of the traits we associate with this demographic. They are less likely to be living in a home they have bought and less likely to be married.  Expect a more youthful look around your parish Sunday with more than six in ten Catholics born after 1960 fitting into the “C and E” Catholic mold. 

They also have differing opinions on the meaningfulness of the Sacraments.  They are less likely than regular Mass attenders to say that each of the Sacraments is “very meaningful” to them.  In fact,  regular Mass attenders are twice as likely as the “C and Es” to say that most of the Sacraments are “very meaningful” to them. 

When asked to select which of the Sacraments that is the most meaningful to them, regular Mass attenders most often selected the Eucharist (43%), compared to less frequent attenders, who selected baptism most often (42%).  So-called “C and Es” are also less likely than more regular Mass attenders to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist (40% to 79%, respectively).

These differences in meaningfulness of the Sacraments may be rooted in a lack of early engagement.  Those who attend Mass less frequently are slightly less likely (but still statistically significantly) than those who more regularly attend Mass to have fulfilled their early Sacramental rites, including First Communion and Confirmation.

So, when they are sitting in your pew this Christmas, just what are they looking for in the Mass?  When asked how important each of the parts of Mass are to them, “C and Es” responded that the following aspects were “very important” to them:
  • Feeling the presence of God (66 percent)
  • Prayer and reflection (62 percent)
  • Receiving Communion (55 percent)
  • Hearing the readings and the Gospel (47 percent)
  • Hearing the homily (31 percent)
  • Worshiping with other people (23 percent)
  • The music (22 percent)
  • The church environment and decorations (22 percent)

And, not to judge, but what do the data say about why these people may be in my pew just once or twice a year?  Why have they missed Mass?  Turns out, it is a combination of not thinking missing Mass is a sin and not being very religious.

My advice to you is the same advice I give my children when they are frustrated:  take a deep breath, smile, and remember that God loves you and all of creation.  There may be less room in the pew but that makes it an even merrier Christmas!

-By CARA Research Associate and Director of Parish Surveys Melissa Cidade

Above photo courtesy of HerryLawford at Flickr Creative Commons. Linked concert vocals by Margaret Cidade-Harkleroad and the Saint Francis International School Choir.

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