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]. This role and responsibility of the Parish Priest are given shape through the exercise of various teaching, sanctifying, and governing functions.
The Parish Priest’s appointment by the Bishop and its responsibilities, roles, and functions is key to the life and mission of the Parish. The fulfilment of the Parish Priest’s responsibilities is understood in the law of the Church to require collaboration. This conforms with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that ‘Parish Priests know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world’ [LG30].
In this setting of community, participation, shared gifts, and various roles, a Parish Pastoral Council is convened. It is ‘presided over by the Parish Priest. In this Council Christ’s faithful, together with those who by virtue of their office are engaged in pastoral care in the parish, give their help in fostering pastoral action’[Canon 536.1]. The Law acknowledges the role of the Parish Priest by stating that ‘the pastoral council has only a consultative vote, and it is regulated by the norms laid down by the Bishop [536.2]. The Law also presumes that the Parish Priest will call forward the participation of the people of the Parish in the exercise of his responsibilities; indeed he will invite their counsel and foster their participation [275.2; 519; 536; 776; 851.2].
The Parish Priest is an integral part of the Parish Pastoral Council. He participates with Councillors in prayer, formation, reflection, deliberation, planning and action for the sake of the Parish as it goes about its mission. He listens to the counsel of the Parish Pastoral Council and to its advice, and works collaboratively with the Council members as he carries out his responsibilities of leadership and service for the Parish community. (cf. Canon 536 §2) 9 The Parish Priest will contribute to the agenda of the Parish Pastoral Council, raising matters about which he is seeking advice, contributing his perspective on Parish life, and drawing in the wider life of the Diocese. It is important that the Parish Priest attends meetings of the Parish Pastoral Council and works in collaboration with its members – otherwise the nature and role of the Council as collaborator with the Parish Priest becomes seriously hampered.
The words of the Second Vatican Council speak the Church’s teaching here: ‘As sharers in the role of Christ the Priest, the Prophet, and the King, the laity have an active part to play in the life and activity of the Church. Their activity is so necessary within church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastors is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness’ [AA10]
Again: The pastors, indeed, should recognise and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, leaving them freedom and scope for acting. Indeed, they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should with paternal love consider attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. [LG37]
And again: Bishops, pastors of parishes, and other priests should keep in mind that the right and duty to exercise the apostolate is common to all the faithful, both clergy and laity, and that the laity also have their own proper roles in building up the Church. For this reason, they should work fraternally with the laity in and for the Church and take special care of the lay persons engaged in apostolic works. [AA25]
As for all in the Council, continuing formation is important for Priests - and for Seminarians - in the aspects of their ministry that will enable Parish Pastoral Councils to be fruitful and beneficial for the Parish community. Such formation could include:
- understanding the mission of all the baptised
- collaborative ministry
- openness to and respect for the diverse gifts of the Spirit given
to the whole People of God
- personal development especially in relationships
- ability to enable co-responsibility for the mission of the Church while fulfilling the canonical and pastoral role of Parish Priest.
"The Church has a solitary goal, and that is to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgement, to serve and not to be served." [CMW 3]
This is what a Parish is for. Parish Priest and Parishioners together in Parish Pastoral Council can give leadership, encouragement, inspiration and facilitation so that this goal will more and more be achieved.