A people walking together in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd

Our plan [Archdiocesan Plan 2016-2021] is more than a document. It will enable us to walk together on the pathway which we hope will deliver a Christ-centred, faithful, vibrant, welcoming, inclusive and mission-oriented Church, one which will enrich our own lives and the lives of all whom we encounter and seek to serve.

                                                                                                   Most Rev Timothy Costelloe SDB                                                                                                                 Archbishop of Perth


The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelises, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-orientated.

                                                                 Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) 28

In an address to Parish Pastoral Councillors, Pope Benedict stated, ‘the Council is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Priest – and even more a Pope – needs advice, needs help in making decisions. And so these (Parish Pastoral) Councils are also a work of the Holy Spirit and a witness to the Spirit’s presence in the Church’.[1]

Parish Pastoral Councils are gathered by various means and in various forms in Catholic parishes throughout Australia. They all have the single purpose of ensuring that the local Church community, from among which they are called, has every possible opportunity to carry forward the mission of Jesus Christ. The nature and function of the Parish Pastoral Council are drawn from the nature and mission of the Church and its role in the parish community is to make present the ‘servant leadership’ of Christ in collaboration with the overall pastoral leadership of the parish priest.[2] Parish Pastoral Councils strive to find the most effective resources and methods to serve the people of the parish as they fulfill the mission of the Church in this time and place.[3]

The Parish

It is necessary that in light of the faith all rediscover the true meaning of the parish, that is, the place where the very ‘mystery’ of the Church is present and at work, even if at times it is lacking persons and means, even if at other times it might be scattered over vast territories or almost not to be found in crowded and chaotic modern sections of cities. The parish is not principally a structure, a territory, or a building, but rather, ‘the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit’, ‘a familial and welcoming home’, the ‘community of the faithful’. Plainly and simply, the parish is founded on a theological reality, because it is a Eucharistic community. This means that the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist, the living source for its upbuilding and the sacramental bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church. Such suitableness is rooted in the fact that the parish is a community of faith and an organic community that is constituted by the ordained ministers and other Christians, in which the pastor – who represents the diocesan Bishop – is the hierarchical bond with the entire particular Church.

     Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in The Church and         the World) 26

The parish is where the Church lives. Parishes are communities of faith, of action, of hope. They are communities of faith where the Gospel is proclaimed and celebrated; where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth.[4]

Code 515.1 of Canon Law (1983) describes a parish as ‘a certain community of the Christ’s faithful stably established within in a particular Church, whose pastoral care, under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, is entrusted to a Parish Priest as its proper pastor’.[5]

The parish comprises ordained priests, lay people and, in some parishes, religious congregations. It is headed by a parish priest who is appointed by the bishop of the diocese and accountable to him. It has its own entity, it has rights and obligations and a certain degree of autonomy; however, it is not a totally independent entity. It can be described as also belonging to a vine that is the diocese which, in union with the universal Church, continues the life and mission of Jesus in the world.

  • [4] – National Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.). Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish. 1993. [Accessed November 2016]. (1).
    • [5] – Hume, George Basil. (1983). The Code of Canon Law (CIC). Sydney. Collins Liturgical Publications. (515.1).

The priest is appointed by the bishop to represent him, and the Church, at the local parish. The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. The role of the priest is key to the life and mission of the parish. He is responsible for all facets of parish life, including sacramental and administrative. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in the spirit of collaboration, as outlined in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.[6]

  • [6] – Hume, George Basil. (1983). The Code of Canon Law (CIC). Sydney. Collins Liturgical Publications. (519).

In the Church, there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Canon 204.1 states, ‘Christ’s faithful are those who, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism, are constituted the people of God. For this reason, they participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ’.[7] The non–ordained members of the faith community, ‘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’.[8]

The Church teaches that, in dignity, the laity are absolutely equal to those in ordained and religious life. In mission, the work of the laity is the crucial means by which the world is to encounter Christ. The laity has a distinct and very real role in the spreading of the Gospel, which the Church desperately needs them to carry out with the authority, creativity, and power that the Holy Spirit has given all in baptism.

The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People states that, ‘as sharers in the role of Christ as priest, prophet, and king, the laity have their work cut out for them in the life and activity of the Church. Their activity is so necessary within the Church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastors is often unable to achieve its full effectiveness’.[9]

  • [7] – Hume, George Basil. (1983). The Code of Canon Law. Sydney. Collins Liturgical Publications. (204).
      • [8] – Second Vatican Council. Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People. Apostolicam Actuositatem, (AA). Pope Paul VI. November 18,1965. (2).
  • [9] – Second Vatican Council. Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People. Apostolicam Actuositatem, (AA). Pope Paul VI. November 18,1965. (10).

Parish priests know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world.[10]

The Parish Pastoral Council is one of the key catalysts for the life of the parish to grow into its full potential. It exercises its pastoral ministry by caring for the life of the parish, with a focus on healing, reconciling, guiding and sustaining.[11] The role of the Council is a consultative role that is to advise and guide the priest. Parish Pastoral Councils don’t have administrative or executive authority.

Read more

The word ‘pastoral’ comes from the Latin pascere, meaning to shepherd. The term ‘pastoral’ is an important one in the context of the Parish Pastoral Council because it is called to leadership specifically to foster pastoral action – action that is inspired by the Gospel as well as being centred on its proclamation; action that is intended to build warm human community in which members’ faith is nourished and they are enabled to celebrate their lives in liturgical worship as well as witnessing to their faith in daily life. To fulfill this role, which is a sharing in the role proper to the pastor, the Council will listen to, and explore, the hopes, needs and gifts of the community, reflect on them in the light of the Gospel, and come to appropriate pastoral action.

The Guidelines and Resources for Building Effective Parish Pastoral Councils accompanies the Constitution for Parish Pastoral Councils (2018). The purpose of this resource is to encourage and assist parishes to discern how to better engage their members to work collaboratively within the life of the Archdiocese, as well as within the life of the parish, in fulfilling the Church’s mission.

The aim of the resource is to energise Councils in their endeavour to place, at the heart of the parish, a consciousness and enthusiasm promoting the mission of Christ proposed by the Gospels and taught by the Church.

The content provides a framework of key guiding principles and offers strategies and suggested resources to help build more effective Parish Pastoral Councils. A Council which understands its role within the mission of the Church has a capacity to strengthen the life of the parish in creating a Christ-centred and mission-orientated Church which is vibrant, revitalised, faithful, welcoming, inclusive and forward thinking. In doing so, each parish in its unique way will work towards accomplishing the Archdiocesan Vision outlined in the Archdiocese of Perth Pastoral Plan 2016-2021.

The resource is divided into six sections that are fundamental and foundational to the role, function and responsibilities of the Parish Pastoral Council, as outlined in the Constitution for Parish Pastoral Councils (2018).

Section One: Historical Context of Parish Pastoral Councils examines how Scripture and the Church’s tradition have led to the development of Parish Pastoral Councils.

Section Two: Theological Frameworks and Understandings provides formational documents and understandings on the theological framework for Parish Pastoral Councils.

Section Three: Spirituality, Prayer and Faith Formation provides a foundational understanding of spirituality and prayer, and provides resources for adult faith formation.

Section Four: Function, Role and Structure of the Parish Pastoral Council describes the function, roles and responsibilities outlined in the Constitution for Parish Pastoral Councils (2018).

Section Five: Effective Practices provides strategies to facilitate effective meetings.

Section Six: A Framework for Parish and Archdiocesan Renewal provides a framework for developing a collaborative pastoral approach for the parishes of the Archdiocese.

While there are no expectations that all parishes will use this resource in a uniform way, the following ideas may be useful in getting started.

For the resource to become an effective tool for Parish Pastoral Councils, it is highly recommended that all members of the Council familiarise themselves with its content as it lays the foundation for the work of the Council. This can be done:

  • as part of the ongoing formation program for the Council. This requires a dedicated time allocated on the agenda for discussion and reflection
  • by gathering for a day with neighbouring parish/es to work through sections of the resource. This could be facilitated by outside presenters.

Some ways for working through the resource include:

  • working systematically, section by section (or part of a section), using the guiding questions at the end of each section as a catalyst for discussion
  • selecting appropriate topics offered in the resource as the need arises
  • inviting a guest speaker/s to present a section or various sections of the resource.

Some examples of questions that may be useful to stimulate discussion around a topic:

  • What did you find interesting, helpful or surprising?
  • What comments or questions does the content raise?
  • In what ways does it impact on our work as a Council?
  • What strategies might we adopt as a consequence?
  • What other wisdom do we need to access to help us?

In whatever way your Parish Pastoral Council chooses to engage with the resource, it is good practice to send the materials or weblinks for reading and reflection prior to the meeting.