Parish Pastoral Councils: Introduction

Introduction

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

1. These words from the Gospel of Saint John remind us of the wonderful and mysterious event of the Incarnation and how the Almighty God became one of us and dwelt among us. He chose to be here, to “pitch his tent” and be among the people he created. He ascended to heaven but remains with us in so many ways, through the Eucharist, through the Spirit, and within each one of us as a member of the body of Christ.

2. But do we still seek Christ among us? Do we see Christ in the faces of the many people we meet every day either at Mass or our everyday activities? When he was with us he showed us how to serve one another. Can we say as Catholics to our Lord at the last judgement “Yes” when he asks us “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'”

3. Members of the pastoral council are to collaborate with the pastor in the building up of the Church and its sanctification. We are called to serve the faithful and those who have not heard the Gospel message. We are called to be servants of Christ and each other. We are called to do nothing less than help build Christ’s kingdom on earth.

The Nature of Parish

4. It is important in parish planning, and particularly parish ministry planning, to understand the nature and definition of parish. Many Catholics believe that the parish is only that group of people that attend church with them, their community of faith. But are we to be concerned with only those we know and not seek out those in need around us? And if we seek out those who are not Catholic how do we as “parish” go about ministries planning?

5. Pastoral councils and commissions need to understand the true meaning of “parish.”

Within canon law we know: “As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that it embraces all the Christian faithful within a certain territory….” In addition, the canons stipulate that the pastor’s solicitude extends to all those living in the territory of the parish, through works of social justice, and sharing the message of the gospel.

6. But our late Holy Father, John Paul II reminds the pastor, and his pastoral council, that the care of souls, extends to every person living in the territory of the parish. He wrote:

It is necessary that in light of faith all rediscover the true meaning of the parish, that is, the place where the very ‘mystery’ of the Church is present and at work, even if at times it is lacking persons and means, even if at other times it might be scattered over vast territories or almost not to be found in crowded and chaotic modern sections of cities. The parish is not principally a structure, a territory, or a building, but rather, “the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit,” a “familial and welcoming home,” the “community of the faithful. Plainly and simply, the parish is founded on a theological reality because it is a Eucharistic community.

Understanding the Eucharistic and territorial nature of parish is often an epiphany for council and commission members who, beforehand, had difficulty coming up with goals and focusing their efforts.

7. The Catholic faithful, clergy and laity, should not think that it is exclusively the pastor’s mission to try to accomplish all that the canon suggests. The canon further stipulates “…in accord with the norm of law he carries out for his community the duties of teaching, sanctifying and governing, with the cooperation of other presbyters or deacons and the assistance of lay members of the Christian faithful (emphasis inserted).” (8) While the Church recognizes the pastor as the head of the parish, it also states unequivocally that “…the laity have an active part of their own in the life and action of the Church. Their action within the Church communities is so necessary that without their active participation the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect.”

(from the Pastoral Council Guidelines)