The Ideals of the Parish Council

The last post was quite long, but from it we extract the kernel; according to Bishop McDonnell:" is my wish and mandate that every parish of the diocese have a viable, working and dedicated Parish Pastoral Council."
Why are they so important? And, what makes them so special?

According to McDonnell, 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..." The Bishop is here following doctrinal advice which sees the parish as a sort of cell of the church.  In other words, the church is built from the ground up.  Certainly, the pointy end of the pyramid is the most visible part of the church, much as a mountain-top is the most visible part of the mountain.  But socially, the church always works from the base up, no less in our times than when Christ walked the earth.  Money-wise, this is also true. 

People sometimes write fanciful letters to the editor suggesting that "millions and millions of dollars in Vatican artwork" should be liquidated in order to solve local problems.  This is not really the way the money tree in the church works, as I suspect most Sunday church-goers who pop a check in their weekly envelope would confirm.  It is the people at the local level who support the upper reaches, not the other way around. So, the suggestion that the church starts locally is not really news.

McDonnell is suggesting, in conformity with church doctrine, that not only the monetary support, but also the personal qualities (the authority, good sense, and good will of the Catholic people) should percolate upward to the diocesan, regional, and international level, in order to make a whole church.  Makes good sense. Question is, how do you implement that?

McDonnell has some ideas.  If you look at the guidelines, you see "action", "input", "contribute", "collaboration"; the council is "open to all". An annual request should be made for new members. Once a plan has been made, additional input is to be continually sought. And, "...the agenda is to be published and meetings are open to parishioners..."

Wow.  It all sounds so....democratic....?

Indeed, the more you look into church doctrine, the more you find that lay equality, debate, free speech and collaboration are not just frills; they are supposed to be the cornerstones of Catholic values.  We learn in Lumen Gentium 37 and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity of these lay rights and responsibilities. 

For example, in Lumen, the laity are empowered - and even obliged - to speak out on ways to improve the church. The shepherds (clergy) are supposed to encourage this speaking out, and allow the laity freedom and room for action. The experience of the laity is supposed to help guide this earthly enterprise toward the best methods, the best liturgy, the best results.  The clergy cannot do it alone.  Indeed, there is no pretense in church documents that the clergy are superior to the laity.  The church is an organic unity of lay and clerical members.

There are no passive roles; there is only a diversity of ministry.

We learn that the rights and duties of the lay apostolate do not come from the hierarchical structure of the church; rather, they come from our union with Christ. This is perhaps the most under-reported aspect of the lay vocation.  While the ecclesiastical ranks (clerical) are highly ordered, the lay vocation, and unique lay charisms (gifts) are not like that. The laity do not get their marching orders from the clerical ranks.  It's more like a direct route to the Godhead.

The laity are meant to collaborate with the clergy, to be sure, but this collaboration demands that the laity are self-directed.  Without a personal mission grounded in self-respect and dignity, collaboration cannot take place.

"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".

The reminder that the laity have "...the right and duty to use ... [their gifts] in the Church..." as well as in the world is important. Here we come full circle, because it's obvious from all that has been said that the parish council emerges as the one place where this fruitful collaboration of clergy and laity will happen.

Human activity to be sure, but listen may hear a rising wind. Summing up, the parish council is a deliberative body of laity which has been given authority to act in a collaborative fashion with clergy by church doctrine. 

What is it that the parish council is not?  It is not a rubber stamp.  Nor is it a tool with which a pastor molds his "pastoral vision". It is not a proxy for the rest of the parish.  Parish councilors are not simply models for the rest of the parish, much as an altar boy or girl might be a totem for the laity during the liturgy.  The parish council is much more.  Parish councilors, seemingly so local, lowly and humble,  can realize some lofty goals by

"... 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. .."