Some Thoughts on Being Catholic, Belonging to a Parish, and Parish Vitality
In response to one of the questions or concerns raised about parish merging that I addressed some weeks ago, I said that I would like to reflect a bit more about what it means to be Catholic and to be part of a parish. Among Catholics in a given parish, we can sometimes encounter a mentality that seems more Protestant Congregationalist than Catholic. The Congregationalists make up a branch of Protestantism that believes each congregation should run its own affairs independently and autonomously. As Catholics, we can sometimes adopt an attitude of “my church and my parish” in which we neglect to look outside our parish community and see ourselves as part of something bigger. But being Catholic means having a much broader and universal outlook. As members of the whole Body of Christ – the Church throughout the world, we as a parish under one pastor, seek to become more committed disciples of the Lord Jesus. We seek to grow in holiness through prayer and the sacraments, and to reach out to the rest of the world around us in charity and evangelization. This is the common goal we share with the Church throughout the world and the parishes that are neighbors with us. This is why we exist, and therefore why we should always be examining ways that we can better and more effectively fulfill that common mission.
When we think of a parish’s vitality, we usually tend to think of things like: the number of registered families, the number of people attending Mass, the number of baptisms, weddings, and funerals, the number of new members, the condition of parish buildings and property, and of course, the parish’s financial stability and fiscal responsibility.
These are certainly not bad criteria to consider in determining a parish’s vitality. But should we not also consider criteria that directly apply to our mission as a parish and as Catholics in the world? One author suggests the following criteria as we consider the vitality of our parishes: (1) Worship and liturgical life: does all worship, prayer, and faith formation flow out from the Eucharist at the Mass? (2) Education: do we seek to form and educate parishioners of all ages through a variety of programs to prepare them for their mission as a Catholic in the world? (3) Community: are we a hospitable community in which all members feel at home and in which we reach out to both those who have fallen away and those who have no relationship with the Lord? (4) Service: do we encourage a full living out of the Gospel in the world around us by reaching out to those in need? (5) Administration: does our community have strong leadership with adequate staffing, and are our resources well utilized?
These are just some things for us to ponder and pray about as we discern the future of our parishes.
More Responses to Parish Merging Questions and Concerns
Q. In a merged parish, would parishioners have a choice about in which church to get married or to have their funeral celebrated?
R. Yes, in a merger, our parish community would have three churches as worship locations. The community as a whole would be responsible for their maintenance, and therefore, each church would be accessible to all parishioners.
Q. Would everyone receive the parishioner discount for burial in the cemetery of their choice?
R. It seems that this would be appropriate. Ultimately, it would be up to each cemetery committee to work together to establish uniform policies and fees.