Slightly more than half of adult Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, and less than half abstain from anything else, a Georgetown University study concluded last week.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate report, which surveyed 1,007 self-identified Catholic adults in the United States, found that Catholics who attend Mass at least once a month are significantly more likely to observe Lenten rituals – including receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday and giving something up during Lent’s 40 days – than Catholics who attend Mass only a few times a year.

Sixty percent of adult Catholics, and 89 percent of those who attend Mass weekly or more often, abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, according to the survey. Eighty-five percent of those who attend Mass at least once a week said they typically receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, 67 percent said they give up something for Lent and 73 percent said they make extra efforts to try to do something positive.

Young people – defined as those born in 1982 or later – who attend Mass at least once a month are more likely than older Catholics to observe Lenten practices. Ninety-one percent of young Catholics said they gave up meat on Fridays, 74 percent said they give up or abstain from something other than meat during Lent, 75 percent said they do something positive and 91 percent said they receive ashes on Ash Wednesday.

“These results suggest that there really is something exceptional about the youngest generation of Catholics who are active in their faith,” said CARA research associate Mark Gray.

Caitlin Devine (COL ’10), co-regent of the Georgetown University Catholic Daughters, said that she agrees, especially given how crowded Dahlgren Chapel was on Ash Wednesday.

“Never before have I seen the Church so crowded by students than it has been on this holy day of obligation,” Devine said. “Such occasions provide a visibly powerful message of how seriously young [Catholic] adults on this college campus regard practicing their Lenten obligations.”

While young Catholics, or “Millennium Generation” Catholics, as the survey says, are most likely to practice Lenten rituals, elder Catholics attend Mass more often. Catholics born before 1943 attend Mass at least once a month at a rate of 65 percent, while those born after 1982 attend at a 36 percent clip.

“In an age of secularism and religious hostility, it’s quite promising to read studies like these, which demonstrate that young men and women are independently actively engaging their spiritualities and finding meaning through their faiths,” said David Gregory (COL ’10), grand knight of the Georgetown chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

The online survey also analyzed demographics other than age. It found that women are more likely than men to adhere to Lenten rituals, that the percentage of Catholics who make Lenten resolutions increases with level of education, and that Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanics to receive ashes, by 50 to 43 percent.

Full text of the report: http://cara.georgetown.edu/pr031108.pdf

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