“The Church is not a democracy and not an aristocracy…
but a collegial reality.”
(Cardinal Leo Suenens)
The Church is the living body of Christ in which all share in various and diverse ways the responsibility for the mission given to the Church by the Lord to:
- Worship God in joyous celebration of the Mass and sacraments
- Proclaim the Word of God to all people
- Witness the love and redemptive healing of Christ
- Serve those in need in both Church and society
“A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop” (Canon 515).
Clergy, religious and laity together form a parish, a portion of God’s People whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor so that all can continue the mission of Jesus here on earth. The People of God have different gifts, roles and responsibilities, yet all are under one head, Christ Jesus – sisters and brothers in Him.
A pastor has responsibilities, which are uniquely his arising from his ordination and appointment to the pastorate by the Bishop.
The Parish Priest (parochus) is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing, also with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of the Christian faithful, according to the norm of law. (Can. 519)
When a priest accepts a pastorate, he becomes the appointed leader of the parish, the bond of communion, the designated head, and the father in the faith to this community of believers. He is also called to be a servant of the people. Moreover, he is to be the animator, motivating his people to work together, and at the same time to be the healer, bringing peace and unity to avert division and anger. Consultation with parishioners, as individuals and as a community, is required for a pastor to carry out his duties responsibly.
The Code of Canon Law insists on consultation at every level of decision-making among all God’s people. The Code also makes it clear that pastors have certain responsibilities which are theirs alone.
Role and Function of the Parish Pastoral Councils
Canon Law provides for the formation of Parish Pastoral Councils in Canon 536 #1.
“In every parish of the diocese, a Pastoral Council shall be established, if the diocesan Bishop, after consulting with the Council of Presbyters, so decides. The pastor presides over the Pastoral Council. The Pastoral Council is composed of members of the congregation together with those of the parish staff who have pastoral care by reason of their office. The Pastoral Council assists in promoting pastoral action in the parish.”
What constitutes parish staff will vary from parish to parish. Pastoral Team members are those who are involved in the day-to-day ministry of the parish. They may be full time, part time, or volunteers. The Pastoral Team generally has its own unique relationship with the pastor as it endeavour to carry out its responsibilities and ministry within the parish.
Pastoral Team members may be invited to attend some pastoral council meetings when their expertise or training may be of assistance to the council. It is recommended that where applicable an assistant pastor, by virtue of office, be a member of the council. Other ex officio members may be included at the discretion of the pastor. However, their presence should not dominate council meetings or stifle the voice of the general membership.
The Parish Pastoral Council is a consultative body, pastoral in nature, because it strives to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit among God’s people in the parish. A Parish Pastoral Council gives its help to the pastor in fostering pastoral activity; it investigates, under the authority of the pastor, all those things which pertain to pastoral works to ponder them, and to propose practical conclusions about them. It is essential that Council meetings occur in the context of prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit, so that at all times the common good will prevail.
Specifically, the Parish Pastoral Council’s purpose is to enhance the process of:
- pastoral planning
- developing pastoral programs
- improving pastoral services
- evaluating the pastoral effectiveness of various programs and services
Although the Council is not a body which makes binding decisions, the recommendations of the Pastoral Council are to be taken seriously when grounded in prayer, discernment and communal wisdom.
The pastor presides over the Parish Pastoral Council. The pastor is responsible for the final approval of Council recommendations concerning pastoral planning, programs, and services for the parish, as well as for their implementation. While the pastor is not obliged to follow the recommendations of the Parish Pastoral Council, it is understood that he ought to do so unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. If there is such a reason, the pastor should share this with the Council.
Parish Pastoral Council Membership
The process used for identifying new council members ought to include some opportunity for parishioners to participate. The entire process needs to be permeated with private and public prayer to the Holy Spirit. The intention should be included in the prayers of intercession at each Mass.
Ordinarily, the composition of the Council should be a balance between members:
- nominated and elected by the parish at large
- appointed by the pastor
The number of council members should consist of not less than 6, or more than 15 members. Councillors are to be chosen so as to truly reflect the wisdom of the parish community. When parishioners understand the Council ministry and have an opportunity to discern which parishioners are suited for it, they can contribute enormously to the selection of councillors.
Serving on the council is a ministry to the whole parish. When considering membership on the council, the following criteria should be kept in mind. Potential candidates should be:
- of proven faith,
- with sound morals,
- demonstrating the gifts of wisdom and prudence,
- willing to commit their time, talent and wisdom in a consultative and collaborative manner.
Council members should have the ability to study and reflect prayerfully, and to recognize and respect the viewpoints of others.
Official Church documents state that the Pastoral Councils are to represent the people of God, but not in the legal sense. Rather, council members are representative in that they are a witness or a sign of the whole community. They make its wisdom present. (Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, Private letter on Pastoral Councils, # 7).
The Pastoral Council is a representative body rather than a body of representatives. A council member is not a representative for a particular neighbourhood, age bracket, special interest group or organization.
The Parish Pastoral Council members are obliged to attend the meetings of the Council and take an active part in them. The Parish Priest is the primary selector of the Council’s agenda, inasmuch as he is the presider. However, any member of the Council may raise items for the agenda. The Council meets a few times a year for one or two hours.
Minutes should be recorded by the Parish Pastoral Council Secretary and archived as part of the parish permanent record.
Following are some of the pastoral activities which could constitute agenda items for the Parish Pastoral Council:
- instruction in the full range of the faith and catechetical formation
- programs promoting gospel values, including issues of social justice
- responsibilities to people with special needs
- Catholic education of children and young adults
- outreach to alienated Catholics
- programs of sacramental life and preparation
- promotion of Eucharistic devotion
- enhancement of programs for the sacraments of penance and Eucharist
- inculcation of prayer life, especially within families
- effective participation in the liturgy
- methods of acquaintance with parishioners
- the welcoming of newcomers
- home visiting
- efforts at building community
- motivation of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy
- efforts of special care for the sick and dying
- tangible concern for the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, the exiled
- fostering of solid Christian family life
- promotion of the lay apostolate
- strengthening of extra-parochial relations with the bishop, diocesan-pastoral efforts and a worldwide Catholic identity
- outreach to and inclusion of youth and young adults in the life of the parish
The essential elements of parish life relate to the basic mission of the parish and will become the foundation of the parish’s dialogue and reflection when creating a pastoral plan for the future.
- Sunday Eucharist
Parish Pastoral Council members are encouraged to learn about these elements, reflect on them in their own experience as a parishioner, and develop strategies and methods to engage the larger community in a reflection around these elements and taking responsibility for their implementation.
Vacancy of the Office of the Pastor
When a parish becomes vacant due to death, resignation, or transfer of the pastor, the Parish Pastoral Council ceases. In the interest of continuity in the parish’s work and mission, the new Parish Priest/Parochial Administrator will establish the Parish Pastoral Council anew within a few months of the date of installation.