There is a general sense of pride and joy in belonging to a particular parish. ‘Our parish is very active and vibrant’, is what I often hear when people speak of their respective local Churches.
I wonder what is meant by ‘very active’…
Could it be
- having numerous activities, such as fetes, festivals, get-togethers, competitions and fun?
- Or could it mean that the churches are packed with people for all the services and devotions?
- Could it perhaps refer to the presence of all possible associations and cells, catering to every conceivable aspect of parish life?
While these elements do contribute significantly to the vibrancy of a local Church, they are certainly not the only factors that define an ‘active parish’.
- Social activities could be just as well organised by secular clubs;
- regular churchgoers may not necessarily be better people at heart; and
- numerous associations could lead to power struggles between the different groups.
What then constitutes an active, vibrant parish?
The answer would be: collaboration between the priests, the servant-leaders of the various ministries and the people of the parish community towards a common vision of the Church. For this, we need to know the vision of the Universal Church and our local Church – the parish.
We are aware of the strong influence of the world that is leading Christians away from the Church. Pope Francis is taking active interest in re-establishing and reinforcing the connection between the Church and people of all cultures and backgrounds. As a result of his efforts, many local churches in European countries, such as Italy, are witnessing a rise in attendance at Mass. Churches in Southeast Asian countries are reporting an increase in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life after his visit. What could be effecting such change?
Pope Francis himself lives and implements the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Some of the key characteristics of a renewed Church, based on the spirit and teaching of Vatican II are:
The local Church, which is the parish, must encapsulate all the marks of the Universal Church. Any bishop, beginning with the Pope, is first and foremost the head of their respective local Church. Pope Francis first refers to himself as the Bishop of Rome, who then oversees and governs all the Churches of the world. The Church thus becomes a communion of Churches.
The Council affirmed the importance of the local Church
Each local Church takes root in a particular milieu at a specific point in history. We are ‘Church’ in Mulund. Our area has a particular ethos. It faces certain challenges. The Vatican II calls us to read ‘the signs of the times’. The local Church is to decipher the needs and challenges of the world and respond in an appropriate way that makes its presence like leaven in the dough, a light in the world.
Through the CCO and other organisations, our Church offers help to domestic workers. Our Parish Council has noted the numerous senior citizens living alone and is beginning to offer special help through the SCCs. During his visits to various countries, Pope Francis enters prisons and slums, addresses social issues and interacts with local people, both within and outside the Church, including people of other faiths. He encounters the local Church deeply and proclaims the gospel in this context. As a parish, we have a long way to go in this matter. We need God’s power to guide us to become an authentic presence of Christ.
How are we to be ‘Church in Mulund’?
(A). The local Church always maintains a vital connection with the Universal Church.
This would mean that our parish life and activities should always have an outward thrust. People should come to Church with the desire to go out and become a witnessing presence of God’s love for all humanity. If the Church is nourishing us in word and sacrament, it is for the service of the world. How do the people of other faiths look upon Christians? Are we sufficiently engaged in the social and civic issues of society? If there is an ecological threat in the vicinity of the parish, are we working in collaboration to set things right?
(B). The Church is not to be inward looking but called to live in relationship with the world around
Vatican II calls the Church to be in dialogue with the world to build up communion with all. This would mean that we ought to do much more in terms of inter-religious dialogue. It calls us also to collaborate with like-minded people to work for justice and peace in socio-civic issues. Do we bring the concerns of the world in our worship when we celebrate the liturgy? Our worship should not be individualistic or privatised, but must overflow into the service of the world.
The word liturgy means the ‘work of the people’ – all the people of God. The Church teaches that ‘Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the “sacrament of unity”, namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops’ [Sacrosanctum Concilium, 26].
(C). The Church is called to move from an institutional model to a community model
The Acts of the Apostles presents the Church as a community of human relationships centred on the gospel. In the Middle Ages, the Church developed largely as an institution, very often invested with power and status. Vatican II has based our understanding of the Church with its foundation on the Holy Trinity – a community of persons forming the one true God. The Church must come across as ‘a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ [Lumen Gentium, 4].
In an institutional model of the Church, there is a hierarchical structure and those on the top can overwhelm the ones below. In a communitarian model of the Church, the community is the centre of the life of the Church. Different individuals have various responsibilities in the community, depending on their charisms and their roles assigned by the Church. Their authority flows from their roles and responsibilities and is always for the service of the community. We need to learn to function more and more within this model.
Fr Cleophas Fernandes
Parish Priest & School Managing Trustee (2014-2019)
St. Pius X Church, Mulund