Spirituality, prayer and formation are the foundation and guide that ensure that the decision making and lives of the people in a particular parish are consistent with Gospel values, the teachings of the Church, the policies of the diocese and the values of the parish. Preparing for prayer is essential for the Council to have a rich experience of reflection and faith sharing. Church tradition highlights the importance of calling upon the Holy Spirit at the beginning and during the meeting, especially when the Council is making decisions.

Purpose of the section

To provide a foundational understanding of spirituality

To provide a model for prayer and growth in faith

To provide resources for Parish Pastoral Councils on prayer and faith formation

Spirituality in the Catholic tradition understands that each person may have their own personal experience of God and their particular way of living out our Catholic faith. Spirituality can be described as ‘a way of being in the world with God’. For this reason, in the community of the Church, there has always been a variety of ways in which spirituality has been expressed and there is no one way to express spirituality. Every Christian is free to search for the spirituality which is most helpful to personal spiritual growth. There are many spiritual paths in coming to this relationship with God. What is at the heart of spirituality is the desire to experience a direct relationship with God.

Different spiritualties emphasise particular ways to approach God and, therefore, life in general. Within the Catholic Church, there is a rich variety of spiritualties. We speak, for instance, of ‘Franciscan spirituality’, ‘Ignatian (Jesuit) spirituality’, ‘Benedictine spirituality’, and ‘Dominican spirituality’, to name a few.

These spiritualties have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are generally named. For example, Franciscan spirituality was founded by St Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan way of being in the world with God is to live knowing that all of creation is the place to encounter God. This spirituality has a focus on living simply, in connection with creation in which God is ever-present.

While Pope Francis has a great love for St Francis, his formation was in Ignatian (Jesuit) spirituality. This spirituality was founded by St Ignatius Loyola. It is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and, above all, present to us in our everyday life. It is a pathway to deeper prayer, good decisions guided by keen discernment, and an active life of service to others. Ignatian spirituality is guided by a profound discernment of God’s will and it is this that guides followers of Ignatian spirituality to make decisions based on what God wants of them, particularly to the specific call of service to which God calls them.

Benedictine spirituality, the spirituality of St Benedict, is a way of life that helps a person to seek God and God’s will daily. It encourages a life that integrates the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. The core values in Benedictine spirituality are stability, obedience (to God), personal transformation, humility, hospitality, care of the ill, living a lifestyle of love centred in Christ and listening for God in all of life. Benedictine spirituality differs from the other two forms of spiritualties discussed, as it is monastic, guiding a person to live a religious life in a monastery.

While these spiritualties are different, they all come from the same Christian tradition and aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis, giving each spirituality its unique character traits. In other words, each spirituality has its ‘preferred’ virtues, ideals and principles without negating all the others. These preferred emphases are what make up each particular spiritual system.

We should note that Religious Orders and Congregations, in speaking of their spirituality or tradition, now tend to use the term ‘charism’ for it highlights that it is a gift of God and carries the specific purpose of their ministry.

Spirituality examines our personal relationship with God: prayer is the personal expression of this relationship. Prayer, ultimately, is fostering a relationship with God. It is a response to a loving relationship of a loving God.

Prayer is fundamentally our communication with God. Through prayer, we communicate our inner-most feelings, thoughts and desires with a God who loves us intimately. As we pray, our relationship with God is deepened. Prayer can be described in various ways but two elements are always noted: relationship and communication. In the words of St Therese of Lisieux, prayer is ‘raising our mind and heart to God’.[39] She describes prayer as essentially conversation with God; listening to God’s presence and responding to that presence.

  • [39] – XXXXXXXX

Prayer is central to our lives as Catholics because it focuses on our relationship with God. Prayer is an essential part of our Christian living. It is not just a duty; rather, it is part of the reality of what it is to be a Christian. As Christians, we are always in relationship with God, whether we are aware of it or not. It is through prayer that we are awakened to the presence of God in our lives and is the means through which we develop an intimate connection. As we strive to develop a truly personal relationship between ourselves and God, we become aware that God is always present to us in the world. God has given each of us the ability to communicate so that we can share our thoughts and feelings, and deepen our relationships with one another. Communication keeps our relationships alive. In the same way that communication is essential in deepening our relationships with each other, so it is the key to developing intimacy with our God.

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus was a person of prayer. We see his profound relationship with God our Father and just how central prayer was in his life. Throughout his life, he set time aside from a busy day to pray. Scripture tells us that Jesus often left his disciples and went away to a place of solitude, to pray to his Father [cf Matt 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 5:16].

To keep the relationship between ourselves and God open, we need to be faithful to prayer as Jesus was. We need to make a conscious effort to set time aside from our busy life and become aware of the presence of God so that we are open to what God is calling us to, and seek the grace to live it out. Making time and space for prayer may seem a difficult task in today’s busy society, with so many competing activities. Yet, this is precisely why it is important to find time to pray.

When we pray, we express our appreciation of God. When Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’, he gave them the words of what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. Throughout time, this prayer has been the classic model for Christian prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to first give praise to God, then to offer prayers of thanksgiving for all the gifts and blessings we have received and continue to receive from God, to ask God for forgiveness for the times we have failed to live as God wants and, through repentance, express our desire to restore our relationship with God. Jesus also taught us to ask for our personal needs and for the needs of others. As we pray as Jesus taught, God draws us closer, guiding our thoughts, making us spiritually stronger in our daily lives.

For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them. (Matt 18:20)[40]

Prayer is an essential part of the Parish Pastoral Council meeting for it expresses who we are, in ‘communion’ with God and with one another.[41] Praying as a group is vital. It helps to set the tone for the meeting, placing members in the proper frame of mind for discerning what is best for the parish community. In prayer, members of the Council gather in the presence of God, led and guided by the Holy Spirit. This aspect of the meeting is crucial for the Council as it is a witness to the rest of the parish that it is Jesus to whom members are called to listen, and his Good News that they rely on for their deliberations.[42]

Effective meetings begin and end with prayer and, when necessary, turn to prayer during the meeting. This could be the case where matters of very serious consequence for the parish are to be considered and decided and helpful where contentious matters have introduced some tension.[43]

Quality experiences of prayer need to be a regular practice when Councils gather.[44] Where Councils are faithful to their prayer and it is planned to be faith enriching, the agenda and outcomes of the Council will reflect the ‘God focus’ that is so important.[45] The continuing effectiveness and productivity of the Council rests on this conviction. Nothing on the agenda should deter the group from spending time in prayer as it forms the Council into a community of faith at the heart of the parish. A prayerful attitude should underpin all the Council reflections, discussions, deliberations, decisions and actions.

Prayer is truly at the heart of the work of the Council and asks the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance to achieve the best outcomes for the parish.

  • [40] – New Revised Standard Version (2006). The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco. Harper Collins Publishers.
  • [41] – Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 2007. Parish Pastoral Councils in Australia. Prayer. ppc.ctholic.org.au/prayer.html. [Retrieved December 2017].
  • [42] – Diocese of Pittsburgh. (2010). One Body. One mission. The Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. [Retrieved December 2017]. (p.71).
  • [43] – Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 2007. Parish Pastoral Councils in Australia. Prayer. ppc.ctholic.org.au/prayer.html. [Retrieved December 2017].
  • [44] – Diocese of Pittsburgh. (2010). One Body. One mission. The Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. [Retrieved December 2017]. (p.71).
  • [45] – Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 2007. Parish Pastoral Councils in Australia. Prayer. ppc.ctholic.org.au/prayer.html. [Retrieved December 2017].

Prayer can take many forms; there is no one way for the Council to pray – listening to the Word of God, articulating responses to the Word; reflecting on this Word; sharing with each other thanks, petition, praise, sorrow, concern, and resolve. However, the moment of prayer which opens the meeting should be twofold: an opening prayer followed by a communal invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Prayerful reflection on the Gospels can be a most powerful form of prayer for Council meetings. The Gospels are the main source of understanding who we are as the community of Christ’s disciples. One way of focusing such reflection is to use Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s simple process of discernment for leaders – See, Judge and Act. This process calls us to See what is going on around us in terms of pastoral issues; Judge or weigh up those issues in the light of the Gospel, and what it is asking of us here and now; and determine the appropriate Action to be taken as a result.[46]

  • [46] – Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 2007. Parish Pastoral Councils in Australia. Prayer. ppc.ctholic.org.au/prayer.html. [Retrieved December 2017].

Effective Council meetings begin and end with prayer. The following is a framework that may be useful in assisting members of the Council lead the group in prayer.

Prepare the environment so it is conducive to prayer

Prayer can take place where the meeting will be held or in a different space. Playing some soft music, and having a centrepiece with a lighted candle, the Bible opened up at the passage to be read, a cross/crucifix and other sacred symbols, helps to create a sacred space conducive to prayer. Setting a sacred space offers a simple focal point for Council members and creates a sense of the holy in the midst of the ordinary. It opens up the awareness that God speaks to us in many ways.

To allow prayer to be a reflective time

  • It is advisable to walk through instructions before the prayer begins. This allows all to know the direction prayer will take and thus will not interrupt the flow of the prayer and create a reflective tone to be maintained throughout the prayer.
  • Be sure that all materials to be used for the prayer are available and set up prior to prayer time.
  • Allow sufficient time for prayer, especially at the end of a meeting if the meeting runs longer than anticipated.

Rotate Council members to lead prayer as this allows a variety of prayer formats to be experienced by the group.

Invitation to prayer

Gather the group for prayer by playing some gentle music to quieten the group. When the group has settled, begin.

Sign of the Cross

Opening Prayer

This prayer calls us to be open to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout the meeting.

Scripture Reading

Choose a passage from Scripture. It is most appropriate to use the Gospel reading from the previous or the following Sunday or the Gospel of the day. This is a simple way of bringing the message of the Gospel into the events of everyday life.

Response to the reading

Use a song, a psalm, soft music or a moment of silence for Council members to reflect on the Word of God.

Reflection/sharing experiences

Prepare one or two questions which invite Council members to relate the Scripture reading to their own life experiences and parish life.

These questions may be used for silent reflection or as a faith-sharing moment.

Sample questions

  • What words spoke to you today in this reading?
  • What action does the reading call you to do?
  • How has the reading motivated or challenged you?
  • What new insight has the reading prompted?
  • What has the reading moved you to do?

Draw all the responses together after all those who wish to share have had an opportunity to so.

General Intercessions

Pray for the needs of the parish and community.

Invite Council members to bring forth personal, parish and community concerns. End with a response such as ‘Lord, hear our prayer’.


End the prayer with the Lord’s Prayer or an appropriate hymn.

ONGOING FAITH FORMATION – Promoting and supporting our spiritual development and active membership in the Christian community.

What is ongoing faith formation?

Faith formation is at the heart of what Christian life is all about. It is a life-long process which begins at our baptism. To grow to Christian maturity and participate fully in Christ’s mission, all the baptised are called to continually deepen their understanding of the faith through formation that is faithful to the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. Formation is not the privilege of a few, but the right and duty of all baptised.[47] All Catholics have a right to accessible ongoing faith formation, allowing them to explore and deepen their experience of faith, and grow in their understanding of, and confidence in, their ability to proclaim the Good News to the world.[48] While faith formation comes in many forms and may be expressed in different ways, the aim remains the same. Faith formation seeks to help people:

  • grow in their relationship with God throughout their life
  • develop an understanding of Scripture (the Bible) and the faith tradition of the Church
  • deepen their spiritual life and practices (strengthen prayer life)
  • engage in service and mission to the world
  • participate in the life and ministries of their faith community[49]
  • live as disciples of Jesus at home, at work, in the community, and in the world.

Thus, faith formation informs, forms and transforms us into strong, energetic, and life-giving Christians who are holistic: a way of the head, the heart, and the hands.[50]

  • [47] – Pope John Paul II. Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. On the Vocation and the Mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the World. Christfideles Laici. (CL). December 30, 1988. (63).
  • [48] – Catholic Diocese of Canberra Goulbourn. 2018. Living your Faith. Adult Faith Formation. http://cgcatholic.org.au/catholic-faith/living-your-faith/. [Retrieved Feb 2018].
  • [49] – John Roberto Generations together
  • [50] – John Roberto Generations together

The Church recognises that various types of ministries demand particular formation. Ongoing faith formation of Councils is part of the overall and continuing faith development of all the baptised.[51] Given the significant role that lay people, especially those in leadership, play in the life and ministry of the Church, ongoing formation is a necessary requirement.

In order to both develop each member’s own relationship with God and with each other, Councillors should seek avenues of faith formation that will contribute to deepening understanding of the Scriptures, acquire greater knowledge of Church teachings and enrich personal faith growth.

The spirituality of Council members, their ability to be inspired by the Gospels, and active prayer life that is personal and communal, need to underpin their ministry as members of the Council. This will aid them to better understand the Church and her mission, and to make informed decisions within the Council. Ongoing faith formation will also assist members to develop those leadership skills needed to work collaboratively in the Church.

  • [51] – Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 2007. Parish Pastoral Councils in Australia. In-Meeting Formation. https://www.ppc.catholic.org.au/ resources2.html. [Retrieved December 2017].

It is strongly encouraged, and even considered essential, that 10 to 20 minutes of the agenda is dedicated to faith formation at each Council meeting. It is most effective to have the faith formation item early in the agenda. It is important to be strict with time parameters but, if further discussion is necessary, suggest the discussion follow on to the next meeting or to a time outside the meeting.

Faith formation is usually determined by the needs of the group. There are a number of ways of including faith formation within a meeting. Some suggestions include:

  • invite a speaker to the meeting to present a one-off information session, or a course over a number of meetings, on a particular topic of faith
  • have a discussion on a brief article on a current issue affecting the Church. Circulate article prior to the meeting so Council members have time to study and reflect on the topic
  • ask a Councillor to prepare a presentation/discussion on one part of a particular Church document. Rotate through the Council until chapters of the document have been completed
  • arrange formation specific to an occasion, such as preparation for a liturgical season such as Advent or Lent; formation on the charisms of the patron saint/s of the parish ready for the parish Feast Day; formation on the Church’s teaching on a current issue in society; formation to address a specific need that has arisen in the parish community; a new parish priest or appointment of new Councillors.

Many parishes have a vibrant faith formation team responsible for faith renewal programs within the parish. It is advisable that the Council work closely with this group and support the parish formation program. By attending parish faith formation sessions, the Council will have the opportunity to grow in their own faith understanding with the people they serve and, at the same time, come to understand parish faith needs.

It is also valuable for the Council to schedule a retreat day together with other parish leaders at least once a year as an opportunity to nurture the spiritual life of the Council and time to evaluate and review its work. The retreat can be facilitated by the parish priest or an outside facilitator. If an outside facilitator is the preference, remember to book the person well in advance.

There are a number of ways to discern the faith formation needs of the Council. However, to ensure that the formation needs of the Council members are identified, it is most appropriate to invite all members to have an opportunity to voice their needs. In doing so, not only does the Council have a more accurate representation of its needs but it also:

  • increases a sense of teamwork
  • opens communication
  • empowers members to contribute more readily to the life of the parish
  • improves morale, as Councillors feel they have been heard.

There are a number of ways in which information can be gathered so that a big picture of the formation needs of the Council can be identified. The following suggestions may be useful in gathering information.


Brainstorming is a good starting point to discern formation needs. After all ideas have been generated, group responses into categories. Ask Councillors to prioritise topics in order of need. This then becomes the formation program for the year.


A questionnaire allows respondents time to consider their responses carefully without interference from an outside source. Using a questionnaire, each respondent receives the same set of questions, answers to questions are scored and scores summed to obtain an overall measure of the attitudes and opinions of the respondent. The option of anonymity should be considered as it increases the response rate and possibly the likelihood that responses reflect genuinely held opinions. An effective way to distribute the questionnaire may be by email. The result of the questionnaire will guide the formation program for the year. 

Ranking Tool

Ranking is the process of prioritising needs in rank order. A ranking tool can be used to determine topics that are of most interest to Councillors for its formation. Councillors are asked to rank topics in order of need or interest. The formation program can then be established, starting with the topic that is most common and throughout the year moving down to the least common. 

Needs-Base Approach

In a needs-base approach, topics are decided when the need arises. This approach leaves room for issues which may arise concerning, for example, contemporary moral issues which may conflict with societal views. It is a way to form and inform Councillors on why and how the Church has come to the views it holds. It skills members with the correct information on Church views when responding to questions from parishioners or people in the wider community.

The list below contains a number of areas and topics which may be suitable for the faith formation of your Council. While the list of topics is fairly comprehensive for further study and reflection by members of Councils, it is by no means exhaustive.

Scriptures – Scripture studies

  • A journey through the Gospels
  • Understanding the context of the Scripture
  • A study of one of the Gospels, for example, the Gospel of the liturgical year
  • The miracle stories
  • The parables
  • The passion stories

Theology – knowing God

  • Introduction to theology
  • Rediscovering the faith

The Church

  • The teachings of the Church
  • Church teachings of current interest – Catholic social teaching, theology of the body, marriage, fertility and the family, marriage encyclicals/Apostolic Exhortations
  • Exploring different forms of prayer
  • The importance of personal and communal prayer

Discipleship – The mission of Jesus

  • The importance of baptism and its call to mission
  • Mary: first disciple and model for Catholic Christians
  • Call to act as disciples in the mission to the world
  • Living faith in the modern age

Pastoral leadership

  • Foundation in pastoral ministry
  • Pastoral leadership in the Christian community
  • The leadership role of the Council in the parish community
  • The nature and mission of the Church
  • The personal and group call to ministry as members of the Council

Morality and conscience formation

  • The dignity and value of the human person

Catholic social teaching

  • Catholic social teaching: understanding and response


  • Understanding the Church’s liturgical year
  • Discovering Lent/Advent
  • Understanding the Mass
  • Sacraments and the parish community

The following are some of the resources within Australia that have well-established programs and resources for faith formation. Again, this list is not exhaustive.

The Centre for Faith Enrichment – Archdiocese of Perth. www.cfe.org.au

This agency is the adult faith formation centre for the Archdiocese of Perth. It provides a number of short day, evening and weekend courses on a wide range of topics at various locations throughout Perth and online. These include theology, Church history, spirituality, the sacraments, Christian living, scripture and much more. Their courses are presented in a relaxed and friendly environment – with no exams or assignments – and open to all who are seeking to explore questions of life, faith and meaning.

Broken Bay Institute Adult Faith Online – http://www.bbi.catholic.edu.au/index.cfm

Offers a series of short, online courses which focus on aspects of the Catholic faith and require reading, listening and reflection. Topics include Spirituality, Scripture, Theology, Liturgy and The Church.

The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle – http://www.nd.edu.au/

The University of Notre Dame’s Introduction to Theology course, TH101, can be accessed by audit only.

Acts 2 College of Mission and Evangelisation – http://www.acts2come.wa.edu.au/

Acts 2 aims to form adults, young and old, to be missionary in their whole being – in their actions and words. It offers a variety of courses so that participants can form others to evangelise, while continuing to pursue their professional, academic and family life.

It is valuable to review the prayer and formation experiences of the Parish Pastoral Council at least once a year. This will enable all members of the Council to reflect on and recognise for themselves the effectiveness and benefits of ongoing faith formation and prayer experiences. This will inform the future direction for the faith formation needs of the Council.