Our Parishes

“It is in the parish that we learn to live our own faith solidly. This enables us to keep the rich tradition of the past alive and to re-propose its values in a secularised social environment which is often hostile and indifferent.” Pope Benedict XVI

The Holy Father has hit the nail on its head, hasn’t he? It is in our parishes that we have a chance to pass on the Faith..the true faith, not watered down sentiments or popular thought but the real teachings of the Church…how to live.

And it is in our parishes that we should exemplify the qualities of a life of faith…adoring Our Lord first and then sharing this with others.

Be it by good works, prayers, a smile, a chat… We are all called to serve Christ differently in our parishes and in different seasons of parish life…We are called to share our faith even by keeping that veil of Christian courtesy…so that we are polite , without envy, to all….even if some of our fellow parishioners are not those we would have as close friends, keeping the social niceties of a hello and asking about the day , rather than glares and gossip, is not being hypocritical…it means that the parish can function without malice or unnecessary upset.

I have written before of social capital.

An idea that refers to the connections between individuals and entities that can be valuable for a community. Social networks that include people who trust and assist each other can be a powerful asset. These relationships between individuals and organisations can lead to a state in which each will think of the other when something needs to be done. Along with economic capital, social capital is a valuable mechanism in growth. Social capital describes the value created by elements, intangible elements, such as trust, reciprocity, communication, community.

Social capital, when used to encourage others, when jobs are shared amongst many, when people, in a community, in a parish, are encouraged to help out, to talk, to be friendly, is a good thing. An example of living our faith.

Social capital, however, in our community and in our parishes, can also have a negative effect on living our faith. When it is marked by exclusiveness.

Social capital is A Good Thing when it works in an atmosphere of goodwill. But the possible negatives are Exclusion of outsiders; Excess claims on group members; Restrictions on individual freedoms; and Downward levelling norms.

In the past, in parishes, I have seen a safeguard against these negatives. The safeguards have been others, laypeople, priests, religious, who choose to serve without personal gain; who serve without hidden agenda; who choose not to form cliques but to invite others to join. And to help out.

Indeed, some of the new people are there simply because of the welcome of others…others who saw the positive outcome of social capital and thus included these new people..And so we must guard against letting our emotions or likes and dislikes negatively affect this social capital.

We learn to “live our own faith solidly” in our parishes, parishes where there is a positive growth of social capital. We are enabled to keep the “rich traditions of the past alive.”

How? At the risk of being repetitive, we learn to live our faith and to keep the rich traditions of the past alive through our liturgy, the public worship of the church, as a community.

I write, again, of the hermeneutic of continuity.

Yesterday, for example, our parish had a rosary procession. As we walked around the grounds and down the local footpath we prayed the rosary as generations have done before us. We prayed together. We were, perhaps, a witness to others..that man watering his garden, that girl riding her bike.

This is one way of keeping our faith alive, of keeping the traditions of the past alive.

And we do this, also, strongly, in the main, when we pray at Holy Mass.

I was lucky yesterday. I prayed at Holy Mass celebrated with care for rubrics and with reverence. I heard a homily, tying in the life of Christ and thus the mysteries of the rosary, with the current debate on life, on euthanasia, here in Australia. I heard the teaching of the Church; I heard the words of the Gospel; I received Jesus in an atmosphere of silence and awe.

The sad thing about my statement above, however, is that I feel I was lucky to have experienced a reverent mass.

It really shouldn’t be considered lucky to have reverent mass experiences in parishes; if we are to take the Holy Father’s words seriously, then reverent masses, keeping alive the traditions of our faith of the past, should be the norm so that, along with social capital, we can “re-propose” the values of the past, of the Church, of our Faith.

We re-propose these values when we pray at Holy Mass; when we are lifted out of our every day concerns towards God.

‎”What is the House of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among their dogs?”

From The Lord of the Rings…and quoted to me by a son after a mass that paid little attention to rubrics but much attention to things, to activities, added to the mass but that were extraneous to the mass.

A sad commentary; and sad that this sentiment, this quote, had to come to the fore after mass.

But this is what happens when we forget why it is that we celebrate Holy Mass. When we forget why it is that we celebrate together in parish communities.

The rubrics of the mass are there for the priest to celebrate the liturgy as the Church describes.

Simple, really.

Yet not always experienced in parishes.

I was lucky, yes, am lucky to have Holy Mass celebrated with attention to the sacred, to reverence, to awe, to wonder, to Our Lord…in my parish.

Others are not so lucky…

Years later, I would be ordained to the priesthood in another diocese after completing my studies and formation in a kinder, saner seminary. I remember saying to my first pastor that, if I had an “agenda”, it was to celebrate Mass according to the liturgical legislation of the Church as documented in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM). It didn’t occur to me until a few years later how truly radical — even allegedly “pre-Vatican II” — such an agenda would be thought to be….The purpose of liturgical legislation is not to encourage “rigid rubricism” (that would be difficult, anyway, given the number of options permitted by the GIRM); it is to promote the noble goal of reverence and unity in Catholic worship.

The rich theology of the Mass, unfolding in ritual over the centuries, becomes intelligible, both to young priests and to parishioners, gradually; by a familiarity that comes with repetition and with careful and consistent observance of the liturgical norms. If this is neglected, if the norms are ignored, a powerful means of transmitting the Church’s teaching about the meaning of the Mass is lost.

This is why the Second Vatican Council teaches that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (Sacrosanctum concilium 23). …On Rubrics and Divisions

It is, then, in our parishes that we learn to live the Faith; to keep the rich traditions of the past alive; to re-propose the values of Christianity in an often secular world.

As the Holy Father has said.

But this happens only in parishes where we see the growth of positive social capital, not exclusiveness amongst people and groups…and in parishes where the main focus of parish life is the prayer of the Church, the public liturgy of the Church..Holy Mass celebrated according to liturgical that we adore Our Lord, we receive Him with reverence, we think of Him…and we take this faith in practical ways, small or large, to the wider parish life.

1 thought on “Our Parishes”

  1. "Indeed, some of the new people are there simply because of the welcome of others…others who saw the positive outcome of social capital and thus included these new people.." You're too humble Leonie… this sentence should have your name in it!! Having seen you welcome people to the parish over the 5 years I was there was always edifying and took a lot of the stress off of us priests!! Keep up the good work! We don't live in a perfect world, so some people will view your smiling welcome negatively becaue of their own issues… don't empower their misunderstandings by ever giving up! DUC IN ALTUM!!!

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