- Chapter I: Introduction
- Chapter II: The Nature and Foundations of the Parish Pastoral Council
- Chapter III: Purpose and Function
- Chapter IV: Pastoral Council Meetings
- Chapter V: The Council and the Parish
- Chapter Six: Starting Fresh
Chapter I: Introduction #
This “Guidelines” for Parish Pastoral Councils” should answer two questions immediately: what does a pastor gain by having a council: and what do parishioners accomplish by serving on such a council?
The pastor and his staff attend to the daily administration of the parish, often concerned with mundane, necessary details that absorb both attention and energy. In this context, there is a genuine need for a pastoral council to be a “keeper of the vision”, a guardian of the larger picture. Such questions as: where has the Second Vatican Council asked us, this parish, to go? Where do we as a parish hope to be in five years? What programs are needed to make our parish viable? concern the pastoral council members
who offer the pastor and his staff wise and prudent advice on how to respond to these questions.
The pastor can read what experts have to say in theory, but he needs to listen to what a parish council recommends as best to him for this specific parish.
Parishioners wish to serve on pastoral councils because they desire to advise the pastor and his staff wisely and prudently. They believe that the parish community possesses the gifts of the Holy Spirit and wish to help the pastor discern what the Holy Spirit is saying within the parish, Archdiocese, Universal Church. They wish to participate in the governance of their parish and have the satisfaction of doing an important task that contributes to the well being and growth of their parish.
Hopefully pastors and council members who read these pages will find guidelines for establishing councils, as the Church recommends, and for making them a fruitful part of parish ministry.
Chapter II: The Nature and Foundations of the Parish Pastoral Council #
Official documents of the Church offer us a number of guiding points about the pastoral council.
Vatican II highly recommended parish councils as an effective means to promote_ pastoral activity. l The Code of Canon Law reinforced this recommendation of Vatican II. 2 Through the pastoral council, the pastor discovers the needs and desires of the parish because the council members are able to study and reflect on pastoral problems and to recommend practical solutions. The pastor, then, consults them to know his people more profoundly.
The Church has made a number of statements concerning the purpose of parish councils. They help the parish life to conform ever more closely to the Gospel.’ They coordinate parish associations and initiatives.’ They advise the pastor on how to plan and implement pastoral ministry systematically and effectively.
Vatican II, “Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church”, cliristus, Dominus, October 28, 1965, no. 27, translated by Matthew Dillon, OSB, Edward O’Leary, OP, and Austin Flannery, OP, in Austin P. Flannery, General Editor, The 12Qcurlients_ctf Vatican It Preface by John Cardinal Wright (New York: Costello Publishing Company,1975), p. 580.
1 John Paul n, Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition, Translation prepared under the auspices of the
Canon Law Society of America (Washington, D.C.: Canon Law Society of America, 1983), canons 511
514 and 536. While canon law does not specify the structure and form of parish councils, guidance can be
found in the canons governing the purpose and function of diocesan pastoral councils.
1 Vatican II, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” I.J.unm.. Gentium, November 21, 1964, no. 37,
translated by Colman O’Neill, OP, in Flannery, editor, “The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 394-395.
~ John Paul II, Code arCanon Law, Canon 529, par. 1.
S Paul VI, Ecclesiae Sanctae t, August 6, 1966, “Apostolic Letter, written M.o.nL £mpriQ. on the
implementation of the Decrees. Chrisms DQminys, Presbyterornm Ordinjs, and PE:rf’ectae Caritaris”, no. 16,
translated from the Latin text in AAS 58 (1966), pp. 757-758, by Austin Flannery, in Flannery, editor, ~
Docwnents o[Varican n, p. 601.
‘Vatican n. “Decree of the Apostolate of Lay People,” Apostolicam Actuositatem. no. 26, in Flannery,
editor, The Documents QfVatican II. pp. 791-2.
7 Sacred Congregation for Bishops, Directory on the Pastoral Minisny of Bishops, (Ecclesiae !maiO, May
31, 1973), no. 204, translation prepared by the Benedictine monks of the Seminary of Christ the King,
Mission, British Columbia (Ottawa: Publications Service of the Canadian Catho:ic Conference, 1974),
The parish council is called “pastoral” not only because of its focus on pastoral concerns, but because of its unique relationship to the pastor, who initiates and establishes the council, who convenes its meetings and presides at them, and who seeks the good of his people by interacting with the council.’
Although the explicit teachings about pastoral councils are recent, they are to be found in our tradition from the beginning, captured in four words: communion, participation, gifts and consultation .
We are, first of all, a communion fonned by God’s initiative on our behalf through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The First Letter of Peter proclaimS:
“You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart’ to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.,>9 Our communion begun with our baptismal experience is the source of all our efforts on behalf of the Church. Participation, secondly, in the life of the Church is an outgrowth of our communion. “As a body is one though it has many patts, ::md all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” 10 Baptism commissions every Christian to carry on the saving mission of Christ.
The gifts ofthe Spirit, thirdly, require us to admit that each 0 f us has certain gifts, while others possess still other gifts. We are incomplete without each other. Pastors have the gifts of leadership; they seek council members with gifts of wisdom and prudence. Thus there is lived out what Paul has written: ”There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” II Finally consultation reminds us that Church leaders from the earliest days would consult the community. The Apostles and elders met at the Council of Jerusalem to discuss whether gentile Christians needed to keep the Law of Moses (Cf. 15 and Galatians 2). No decision was made until all parties, including Paul and Barnabas, had a chance to speak. As in the first century, so now pastors consult counselors to receive
wise advice and to hold the community together.
Thus we see that the parish council, while a new creation of Vatican n, has its roots in Christian tradition that always spoke of communion, participation, gifts and consultation.
Chapter III: Purpose and Function #
The Council as a Pastoral Planning Body
After seeing what the Church has said about pastoral councils in its official documents and lived-out experience, we now ask the question: what do pastoral councils actually do?
Pope Paul VI has described the purpose of a pastoral council: “to examine and consider all that relates to pastoral work and to offer practical conclusions on these matters, so that the life and activity of the People of God may be brought into greater conformity with the GospeL” 12 In this description, we find three tasks assigned to the pastoral council: to examine, to consider, and to recommend.
To examine. Notice, first, that the object of the pastoral council’s examination, “pastoral work” is left sufficiently unspecified in order to include all that concerns the pastor and his staff in serving the parish. The council identifies issues and studies them either at the request of the pastor or on its own initiative.