The Parish Pastoral Council exists within the fundamental expression of the Church as God’s People gathered around their Bishop in the Diocese, as part of a Parish, which itself is an expression of the Church in a particular place, at a particular time, in the circumstances of the people who make up its life and of the local neighbourhood, the wider society, even the world. Here – in the Parish’s being a particular expression and experience of the life of the Church – is the nature, role, relationships of the Parish Pastoral Council: and its theology – its place and meaning in the life of God whom we know and experience in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Communion for Mission
From New Testament times, a basic description of the Church has been its being a communion: believers in the life-death-resurrection of Jesus Christ drawn through Baptism and the Holy Spirit into communion with God and into communion with other disciples of Christ. The life-death-resurrection of Christ brings this communion into being. It is a communion that reflects the communion existing within the very being of God, Creator, Word and Spirit, through the Catholic Community’s communion with God as Disciples of Christ, and with each other, and indeed with all creation as a reflection of God’s loving and generative being.
From the start, this communion of disciples with God and with one another knows that the life-death-resurrection of Jesus Christ can transform the world. This becomes the mission for which the communion exists: the Church – and so the Diocese and Parish – is communion for mission.
“The Church exists for a solitary goal,” teaches the Second Vatican Council, “and that is to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ came into this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgement, to serve and not to be served” [GS3]. As the People of God gather around their Bishop as the local realisation of the Church, all are called to mission under the Bishop’s pastoral care, his ministry of teaching, and the service of his leadership. The Bishop is first leader and the model for leadership as successor of the primal leaders of the Christian Community, the Apostles. Within each parish, the Diocese arranged into smaller communities, the Parish Priest is appointed by the Bishop as leader and model of servant leadership, sharing in the ministry of the Bishop in service of the mission.
Wherever the Church gathers in its local forms, this mission remains the same. Becoming part of the Church initiated into the life of the Trinity through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, all who have been initiated into its communion of life share in the mission. This is the dignity and responsibility for which we are graced and empowered. This mission – to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit – is lived out in so many ways: in the daily personal life of each individual and in communal ways as when the people of the Church gather to form a Parish community.
“Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other,” Pope John Paul II stated; “they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion” [CL 32]. Just as the communion that is the Triune God of its very nature sets itself in mission to draw all being into its life, so does the Church, called together in communion in the name of the Trinity, necessarily imply engagement in this mission.
Parish Pastoral Council and Parish
The nature of the Parish Pastoral Council is shaped by this life of the Church. “The Parish is where the Church lives. Parishes are communities of faith, of action, of hope. They are where the Gospel is proclaimed and celebrated, where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth” [National Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.), Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish, 1993, 1]. The Parish Pastoral Council is one of the key catalysts for this life of the Parish to grow into its potential.
The essential mission of every Catholic Parish is evangelization: that
is, proclaiming and witnessing to the Good News of the Gospel by enacting
the life of Christ, who came “that they may have life to the full”
[Jn 10:10]. Four of the basic elements of this mission may be described
- proclaiming the good news of God’s love throughout the world
- inviting more and more people into the community of disciples
- sanctifying by encouraging the whole community of faith to grow in holiness, especially as a worshipping community through intimate connectedness with the source and summit of the Christian Life, the Eucharist.
- transforming the world until justice, love and peace prevail.
Parish Pastoral Council in leadership
The responsibility of the whole Parish Pastoral Council [Priest and Parishioners collaborating in leadership as communion for mission] is to ensure that the Parish community has every opportunity to carry forward the mission of Christ. To fulfil this responsibility the Parish Pastoral Council takes an overview role in relation to the key pastoral elements of the Parish’s life. They could be expressed differently as:
- Formation of Christian Community
- Liturgy and Celebration
- Growing in Faith and sharing that in witness
- Service and Outreach
The Parish Pastoral Council exercises a ministry of ‘servant leadership’ for the Parish community to live out its calling. Here is a further identification of the Council, the Parish, and the Church with Jesus Christ who came among us ‘not to be served but to serve’ [Mk10:45]. The Parish Priest in his specific leadership role, other appointed participants, and members called from among the Parish community into collaboration for the building up of the community, express this servant leadership by:
- articulating the mission of their particular community within and in union with the mission of the whole Church
- planning for the realization of the mission in the world around it
- enabling the joyful participation of all in celebrating the whole of life as a worshipping community
- exercising stewardship of the resources of the Parish
- taking care to engage in their own continuing formation and renewal in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the life of the Church, and their own ministry of leadership
- being responsible to the Parish community and through the Parish Priest to the Bishop around whom local Church gathers.
Parish Pastoral Councillors exercise an overall concern for the whole Parish, not just their own particular special interest or function. For the Parish is communion. The Parish Pastoral Council is to be a representative group of this communion, rather than a group of representatives of elements within the communion. The ministry of the Parish Pastoral Council is one of shared servant leadership for the whole Parish.
Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Priest
The Parish is a community whose participants stand in many places, with various roles and experiences, and a range of relationships and perspectives. This is the case for the participants in the Parish Pastoral Council, too.
One of the clearly identifiable roles amongst that mix is that of the Parish Priest. Only he is appointed by the Bishop of the Diocese to the Parish. ‘The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ’s faithful, in accordance with the law’ [Canon Law 519].
The role and responsibility of the Parish Priest are given shape through the exercise of various teaching, sanctifying, and governing functions. [For a more complete understanding of the relationship between Parish Priest and Parish Pastoral Council, click here]
A blessed and holy service
The Holy Spirit gives life to the Church. It is this same Spirit who empowers and guides the Parish Pastoral Council as its members offer their ministry of service and leadership to the community from which they have been called forth.
To participate responsibly in the life of the Parish and for the life of the Parish, Pastoral Councillors will engage in purposeful formation. This is a need for all active Parishioners. In particular, the continuing spiritual development of Parish Pastoral Councillors is integral to the life of the Council and the Parish because of the nature and responsibility of the role of the Council. Councillors’ spirituality, ability to be inspired by reflection on the Gospels, growth in the Tradition of the Church and active prayer life that is personal and communal, underpin their ministry.
The essential mission of every Parish and of each person baptized in the name of Father Son and Holy Spirit was named as evangelization by Pope John Paul II for the millennium that dawned in 2000. By
- proclaiming WORD,
- offering prayerful WORSHIP,
- forming a COMMUNITY of faith,
- giving ourselves in SERVICE of others,
- exercising STEWARDSHIP over all God’s gifts, and
- providing collaborative LEADERSHIP to the Parish across these dimensions of its life,
The Parish Pastoral Council takes its place in contributing to the
fulfilment of the Church’s essential mission of evangelization.