Centrality of Parish

Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect-emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has just written a new book, The Evangelizing Parish (Ignatius Press), and it has some good insights into what makes an effective parish.

In an interview in The National Catholic Register, the Nigerian cardinal discusses why he wrote the book. He states: “No. 1: to enjoin priests to appreciate the importance of their parish as an evangelizing unit in the Church – not that they don’t know it, but to emphasize it in such a way, my hope is, that when the priests have read the book, they will run to their bishop and beg to be sent to a parish immediately.

“No. 2: When laypeople think of their parish, they think of what they get from their parish: sacraments – baptism, confession, Holy Eucharist, anointing and so on – and all that is good. But they don’t think of what they can give. They do not think of their own share in the apostolate, in the mission of the Church. They think of themselves as receiving, but not ever as sharing, as giving. So my second aim is that when the laypeople read it, they will be on fire to contribute.”

The cardinal recognizes the centrality of the parish in the life of the Church and the unique role that the priest has in that community. If the pastor is prayerful, excited, and in love with the Lord, most likely the parish, even with all the challenges and difficulties, will be too!

And note what the cardinal says about the essential role of the laity in the parish. It’s certainly about what one can get from the parish, most especially the sacraments, but it’s also what one can give. The true parish is based on relationship – between God and humanity, bishop and pastor, pastor and his staff and the parishioners, all leading to the parish family, that enlivens and strengthens the domestic church that is the family at home.

The cardinal notes the central place that Mass has in the life of the parish. Nothing is more important than the celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus’ true and real sacramental Presence. Jesus alone is the source of life and the light of all parishes. The parish is the center of evangelization. It is the heart of the Church.

When we say “the Church,” do not think of just the Pope and bishops. They are the leaders, but the laypeople are 99.9 percent of the Church.

“Once you are convinced of that, you see there are no spectators in the Church. Everybody is a player,” says Cardinal Arinze.