The future of the parish

Every reform must be preceded by ample consultation with both clergy and laity, as well as with the institutional spheres delegated for this purpose (presbyteral, pastoral and diocesan councils), so as to bring alive the pastor’s concern for all the realities of the diocese. A certain indifferentism must be avoided, either in “secularising” clerics or in “clericalising” the laity.

May 08, 2021

Continued from last week

By Giancarlo Pani SJ

Perspectives for a reform

Every reform must be preceded by ample  consultation with both clergy and laity,  as well as with the institutional spheres delegated for this purpose (presbyteral, pastoral  and diocesan councils), so as to bring alive  the pastor’s concern for all the realities of  the diocese. A certain indifferentism must be  avoided, either in “secularising” clerics or in  “clericalising” the laity.

The most successful experiences have clear  signs: communion and good coordination, so  that the centre and the periphery of the diocese  are in effective communication through zones  and pastoral units where everyone can find his  or her own place and service. These groupings  foster a “culture of encounter”[15] and help to  develop the “going forth” dimension of the  Church in order to meet the increased mobility  of people and give each member of the faithful the possibility of being an active part of the  community.

This role can be expressed in participatory  bodies (pastoral councils, councils for economic affairs), but also in the individual tasks  of catechesis, charitable work, youth ministry,  service to the sick, the poor, refugees and in  all the other activities that the life of a parish  requires. Here we see the great generosity of  lay men and women, consecrated persons and  volunteers, who discreetly and silently help the  community and reach out to the most fragile  and needy people.

At the heart of the community
churches, so that they may be places of welcome, prayer, adoration, reconciliation, spiritual rest, of encounter with God, with the  brothers and sisters of faith, in the pilgrimage  to the house of the Father.[17]

A further consideration of the Instruction,  which must be an integral part of any reform,  concerns the offering for the celebration of  Mass and the other sacraments: it must be  “free” and “secret” – according to the Lord’s  teaching, “Freely you have received, freely  give” (Matt 10:8) – and not a fee to be paid or  a remuneration to be demanded.[18] This is a  topic dear to Pope Francis and keenly felt by  the faithful.

In this regard, it would seem a priority to  motivate the faithful to contribute willingly to  the needs of the parish, which is their home  and for which they must learn to be responsible. While this is essential everywhere, it is  necessary in those contexts where the liberality of the people of God is the only means  of helping priests and supporting them in the  work of evangelization. Raising people’s desire will be all the more effective when priests  live a sober lifestyle, are discreet in their use  of money, not only on a personal level, but  also in the transparent management of parish  expenses and in helping the poorest and the  most needy. Several parishes already implement the collection of offerings in an anonymous way, so that everyone feels free in conscience to donate what they can and what they  consider right.

‘Community of communities’: history of an image
The image of the “community of communities” is the centre of the Instruction: it can  be traced back to the Second Vatican Council, with the idea of a parish as a composite  reality, not “monolithic,” but rather a “fusion  of diversities” that cooperate in a single mission, each bringing its own contribution. Each  member of the parish should recognize himself or herself in an ecclesial commitment that  makes him or her a true evangeliser: “In the  Church there is room for all and all can find  their place, in the one family of God, with the  vocation of each one respected.”[19]

A further mention of this vision goes back  to 1992, in the final document of the IVth Plenary Assembly of CELAM. It speaks of the  parish as a “community of communities and  movements,” which welcomes the concerns  and hopes of people, and promotes and directs  communion, co-responsibility, participation  and mission. John Paul II, in his opening address to the Assembly, stressed that the central  idea “is about attitude, style, effort and planning, or ardour, methods and expression. A  new evangelisation in its ardour presupposes  a solid faith, an intense pastoral charity and  fidelity, which, under the action of the Spirit,  generates a mystique, an irrepressible enthusiasm in the task of proclaiming the Gospel.”[20]

In line with conciliar ecclesiology, the concluding document affirms that the parish is  not primarily a structure with a territory but  rather, the locus of the family of God, a fraternity animated by the spirit of unity, and yet  a “community of communities,” because it is  made up of groups, associations and movements in which everyone offers their own  contribution so that the kingdom of God may  grow and reach all. Thus, in Santo Domingo,  a link was made between the demanding and  challenging ecclesial mission and the prospect of fulfilling it by initiating a process of  making the parish progress more and more in  defining itself as a community reality with diversified internal articulations, distinct but not  separate, united but not uniform.

The theme returned again in 2007, on the  occasion of the Vth Plenary Assembly of  CELAM. Starting from Scripture, Tradition  and the Magisterium, the final document of  Aparecida reflects on the communion lived  by the missionary disciples and highlights that  Jesus “made twelve of them, whom he called  apostles, to be with him and to send them  out to preach” (Mark 3:14). In order to foster  communion and promote the mission, Jesus  leads the disciples into the desert to rest for a  while (cf. Mark 6:31-32). They are called to  live in communion with the Father and with  his Son who died and rose again in the Holy  Spirit. For this reason, the communion of the  faithful and of the particular Churches within  the People of God is nourished in communion  with the Trinity.

Aparecida stressed that the vocation to missionary discipleship is a call to communion  in the Church, since there is no discipleship  without communion.[21] However, there is a  reality that cannot be forgotten: the temptation  to want to be Christians without the Church,  with a search for individualistic spirituality  or, in some sense, sectarian behaviour, that  is, excluding and retreating into a group, a  movement or an association. Faith in Christ  has come to us through the Church, which has  made us members of a family, the universal  family of God in the Catholic Church and the  more closer-knit family of the diocesan and  parish community.

Through the magisterium of Pope Francis,  the spirit of Aparecida has flowed into the Instruction of the Congregation for the Clergy,  which has found in it a theological-pastoral  vision particularly suited to shed new light on  the canonical legislation in force, with a view  to its re-propositioning, as well as seeking to  contribute in some way to supporting pastors  and communities in the field who are working  to proclaim Christ to those who do not know  him and to those who have forgotten him,  revitalising their missionary and evangelical  action.[22]

Perspectives on pastoral conversion
From the perspective of the Instruction, the  canonical norms aim to make pastoral conversion feasible in various ways of grouping:  federative form, incorporation and fusion.[23] In any case, it should not be forgotten that the  parish embodies the family of God, composed  of smaller families. It gathers around the Word  and the Eucharist, and lives a fraternity animated by the Spirit, not closed in on itself, but  incorporated in society and open, in intimate  solidarity with its aspirations and difficulties. From here derive some fundamental dimensions.

a) Co-responsibility in evangelisation. In  order to be a community, all the members of  the parish are responsible for evangelization  in every setting, each according to his or her  own charism, vocation and ecclesial commitments. The Holy Spirit, as happened at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-13), is sent to all members of  the community so that they may participate in  the common mission.

b) Renewal of structures. If the mission  of the parish community is evangelisation, it  is necessary to rethink its structures, so that  a network of communities and groups is created that is capable of articulating itself in  such a way that its members feel, and truly  are, missionary disciples of Christ in mutual  communion. The Word and the Eucharist thus  constitute the dynamic source of missionary  discipleship.

(c) Missionary Parishes. The end point of  the life of the parish community is the proclamation of the Kingdom. Therefore, it is  required that every parish have a missionary  character. The renewal of parishes in this sense  is required both in the evangelization of large  cities and in that of rural areas. This requires  imagination and creativity in order to reach the  crowds who yearn for the Gospel.

d) Formation of the laity. A parish cannot  be missionary without trained lay people, since  good will and availability for the proclamation  of the Kingdom are not enough. Therefore,  they must be guaranteed adequate formation  – spiritual, theological, pastoral – for an effective proclamation. Only through the formation  of the laity can we respond to the challenge of  the present time, which touches the complex  world of work, culture, the sciences and the  arts, politics, the media and economics, and  concerns the family, education and professional life, especially in those contexts where the  Church can be present only through the laity.

e) The model of the first Christian communities. The parish must look to the life of  the first Christians (cf. Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35),  the prototype of every community that gathers  to share the bread of the Word and celebrate  the Eucharist, to persevere in catechesis, sacramental life and fraternal love. The Eucharist, in which the community of disciples is  strengthened, is, for the parish, a school of  Christian life. In it, together with Eucharistic  adoration and the practice of the sacrament of  reconciliation, the members of the parish are  formed to bear permanent fruits of charity, reconciliation and justice for the life of the world.

The value of the Instruction can be summarised in the dynamism that the parish must acquire for a pastoral and missionary conversion of all its members, from the pastors to the last of the faithful: it is necessary to get out of the routine and the attitude of “it has always been done so,” to have the courage to confront the epochal changes taking place in society, culture and the lives of people, so as to become a community capable of communicating the strength and joy of the Gospel.[24]

Those who object that the document has a utopian perspective should be reminded of what Pope Francis said, inviting us to cultivate “healthy utopias”: “A utopia grows well if it is accompanied by memory and discernment. Utopia looks to the future, memory looks to the past, and the present discerns.”[25] In short, the Instruction is meant to be an implementation of the pastoral vision of Evangelii Gaudium: “a form that hope takes in a concrete historical situation,” or “something that does not yet exist, something new, but toward which we must move, starting from what is there.”[26] –– La Civiltà Cattolica

[15]. PC 25.
[16]. Francis, General Audience, June 19, 2019.
[17]. Cf. PC 30-32.
[18]. Cf. PC 40.
[19]. Thus the communiqué of the Holy See Press Office, July 20, 2020.
[20]. John Paul II, Address at the Opening of the Work of the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, October 12, 1992, Nos. 6 and 10.
[21]. Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Inaugural Session of the Work of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, May 13, 2007.
[22]. Cf. Francis, Address to Members of Parish Cells for Evangelisation, Nov 18, 2019.
[23]. Cf. PC 46-48.
[24]. See PC 122.
[25]. Francis, Discourse to the Members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, February 28, 2014.
[26]. J. M. Bergoglio – Papa Francesco, Nei tuoi occhi è la mia parola…. , op. cit., 193.

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no. 5 art. 6, 0521: 10.32009/22072446.0521.6

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