Doctrinal Basis for Parish Councils

We've been working toward examining the Bishop's guidelines for parish councils, and this is the post that does it.

But first.....the guidelines remind me that back when I got interested in this topic, in 2007, it was my good friend and WMC cohort Brody Hale who accompanied me on a quest to find out more about the guidelines and about how the Springfield Diocese implements them (or not). We traveled to Springfield on several occasions to take part in planning sessions put on by the chancery.

People sometimes write in to this blog and ask "what's up?" with Brody.  After graduating from Tufts with a double major in history and political science,  he's been in New Orleans for quite a while now, as a teacher in low-income areas.  The program is Teach For America.  Among other adventures, this gave him a front row seat when Archbishop Hughes decided to use police powers to throw some vigiling parishioners out of their churches. Stay tuned for more information about what Brody is up to.
update: OK, no more need to "stay tuned".  I heard from Brody in early June, and he has now joined the ranks of the laid off. He is back in the Berkshires.  Brody is a fine young man who I'm sure will land on his feet.
back to the topic: 

In his cover letter endorsing the parish council guidelines, Bishop McDonnell begins by noting the impetus for forming such groups: "More than 40 years ago, the Second Vatican Council spoke of the need for lay people to exercise more fully their Baptismal roles (Lumen Gentium, 37). One of the answers very soon adopted was the establishment of Parish Pastoral Councils throughout the world...."

" is my wish and mandate that every parish of the diocese have a viable, working and dedicated Parish Pastoral Council.  Where a Parish Pastoral Council does not exist, it must be established in accord with these new guidelines.......since the first Parish Pastoral Councils were established much has changed...they are open more than ever to encouraging the participation, support, and expertise of lay people in parish life. They are meant to help us all implement the mission of being Church at the parish level, the deanery level and the diocesan level..."

In the guidelines, part 3, he gives the canonical basis: "...Canon 208 speaks of everyone's responsibility to work together in the building up of the body of Christ. Canon 529 calls for the pastor to develop structures which incorporate the principles of collaborative responsibility within the parish.....the parishioners are challenged and called to share in the responsibility for the pastoral mission of the church. Each member of the parish is therefore invited to contribute to and support the specific mission and goals of his or her parish. In particular, all members of the parish are invited to be a part of the pastoral planning process through their active prayer, discernment, input, and action."

The Bishop's use of "pastoral planning process" here is specific to each parish.  It is not to be confused with the diocesan-wide pastoral planning process, which is a separate administrative effort launched in March 2007 with the publication of the Mullin Report.

In part 7, under membership: "Care should be taken to ensure that council membership is open to all who have the desire to serve and possess the aptitude for service to the parish..."

In part 8, selection process: "An annual request should be made to the entire parish for suggested new members to serve on the Parish Pastoral Council. The list of those selected should be reviewed...those eligible and willing to serve may be selected, elected or appointed to the council in a manner chosen by the council..."

In part 11, "All parishioners are invited to provide input in developing the parish pastoral plan. Once a plan has been developed council members should continue to seek input and advice from members of the parish at large. Parishioners may submit meeting agenda items two weeks in advance of a meeting. The agenda is to be published and meetings are open to parishioners."

Since the Bishop mentions Lumen Gentium 37 as the prime reason for councils, we include an excerpt:

Lumen Gentium, 37.
"The laity...should openly reveal to them [the clergy] their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. By reason of the knowledge, competence or pre-eminence which they have the laity are empowered--indeed sometimes obliged--to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose......Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action......A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world."

These new doctrines, so different from the "pay, pray and obey" model which had molded the Catholic laity up to the 1960's,  are supplemented by much else in the Vatican II library.  It's not our intent to go much further with quotes (the Vatican II library is endless, as many know; in fact some well-meaning academics have disappeared into the Vatican II library, never to be seen or heard from again).

However, the following excerpts from the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity seem especially fitting - much of this dovetails with Lumen Gentium 37 and indeed the Decree is even more explicit than Lumen in showing how this collaboration is supposed to work out at the parish level:

From the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:

Chapter 1, part 2:

"...the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, "the whole body . . . in keeping with the proper activity of each part, derives its increase from its own internal development" .
Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.
In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world...

part 3. The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate.
One engages in the apostolate through the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church.....
For the exercise of this apostolate, the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies the people of God through ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts also, "allotting them to everyone according as He wills" in order that individuals, administering grace to others just as they have received it, may also be "good stewards of the manifold grace of God", to build up the whole body in charity. From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church, in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who "breathes where He wills". This should be done by the laity in communion with their brothers in Christ, especially with their pastors who must make a judgment about the true nature and proper use of these gifts not to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold for what is good."

here is yet more detail on what Vatican II had to say about parish councils, found in a later part of the Decree:

part 10. "The parish offers an obvious example of the apostolate on the community level inasmuch as it brings together the many human differences within its boundaries and merges them into the universality of the Church. The laity should accustom themselves to working in the parish in union with their priests, bringing to the Church community their own and the world's problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which they should examine and resolve by deliberating in common. As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.
They should develop an ever-increasing appreciation of their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, ever ready at their pastor's invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, to fulfill the needs of cities and rural areas, they should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries but strive to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national, and international fields"

To sum up: much food for thought here.  Have a great week, and we will see where this leads in our next installment.