In the current edition my Diocesan magazine the St.
Augustine Catholic I found this.
of Successful Parishes
|Here is an abbreviated description of the some of the qualities
that make excellent parishes, according to the book, Excellent Catholic
Parishes, by Paul Wilkes (Paulist Press).
Looked upon as missionary outposts
Maintain the edge
Have a habit of being
Excellent parishes are:
Ideology and church battles have little place
A different kind of authority is present
Based around an idea, a relationship
They serve the needs of their members well; and their members feel a special
Forms the core of their lives
Many communities within the community
Enough for all
Believe in quality
Spirituality at their center
Reading through these qualities something odd struck me. Where is the Catholicity
of these qualities. I thought that this list could be boilerplated and used
for any church whether Protestant, Catholic, or new age. I was not surprised
to find out that he had written another book called "Excellent Protestant
Congregations" After reading this I noticed the book was printed by Paulist
press, again no surprise. I try to keep from simple labels like Ignatius Press
– Good, Paulist Press – Bad but that guide isn’t too far off. If Paulist Press
keeps going the way they are then they should change their name to Saulist Press
since they seem to have reversed St. Paul’s conversion and have unfallen back onto the horse.
I loved this line "They do not openly flaunt church or diocesan rules",
hopefully that line was just badly put together and does not mean that is is
OK to privately flaunt church or diocesan rules. Also this statement "Underlying
all is an accent on spirituality not religion or religious belief
but spirituality". Spirituality divorced from religious belief leads to
every heresy ever invented. Meditating on the incarnation is one of the most
fruitful forms of prayer there is, but thinking just about spirituality will
lead you nowhere.
From his list of 200 successful parishes in the country he mentions two of
the parishes in Jacksonville, Fl where I live. One of them is actually the closest
parish to my house. I have gone there a couple of times and more recently after
they had built a new church. This is one of those touchy-feely parishes with
people mentioning their petitions during Mass and it also has a band including a full drum kit. The liturgy was so horrendous to me that I wanted to go into a cry
room and cry myself. I lost count of liturgical abuses after about five minutes.
The church itself is one of those modern iconoclastic clam shape structures.
Now I don’t hate every modern style church, the one I go to normally for daily
Mass is a modern style structure, but it is not stark and has a magnificent
mosaic of the crucifixion behind the altar. I don’t think every church has to
look like Mother Angelica’s Temple, yet there would be no complaints from me
if there were a lot more of them. My preference for church architecture is that
it is conductive to worship. If it helps me to worship God then it is to me
good church architecture. Some churches now seem to be either neutral to worship
or in some cases detrimental to it. I am a beginner at prayer so I need all
the help that I can get for me to focus on Heaven and the most Blessed Trinity.
If I was more advanced at prayer then I would be ready for the virtual desert
that most church architecture offers today. Hopefully church architecture is
only going through a dark night of the soul where every consolation is removed
and beauty seems to be absent. Maybe on the other side of this architectural
dark night we will return to architecture more conductive to prayer.
Getting back to these qualities of a successful parish they seem to say that
the highest quality for a parish to have is involvement and action. Confusing
action with individual holiness is totally mistaken or else the Protestant mega-churches
would be the centers of holiness in the world. I am not saying that there are
not plenty of holy people in these churches, just that action and parish involvement
in and of itself will not necessarily lead to holiness.
Now if I were to write the qualities of a successful parish they would be that
the parishioners are growing in holiness and are prepared to live with God forever
in the Beautific vision. Anything short of that is not successful. To that end
grace would be the overwhelming requirement for that to happen. So a successful
parish would do everything they could to makes channels of grace available through
the sacraments. Since we need to cooperate with grace then this parish would
need to catechize people fully in the truth with no watered down teachings.
Only through the truth can we more fully respond to God’s grace.
Since the Mass is the highest prayer there is, a good understanding of this
will help us to grow in holiness. Also this successful parish would have confession
available on a regular (read daily) basis. Again true catechesis will help people
to understand and appreciate the grace available through the sacrament of marriage.
Basically it comes down to availability and understanding of the sacraments
to help people reach their goal – Heaven. Sacramentals such a holy water, statues,
votive candles, etc. are also helpful. Sacramentals do not produce sanctifying
grace of themselves but do help us to be disposed to receiving sanctifying grace.
Good homilies are important, but if these are all the instructions in the faith
that the faithful receive then no matter how good they are it is not sufficient.
Homilies should help us to understand more deeply what we already know, not
to instruct us in basic church teaching.
With the solid foundation of knowing our faith and growing in holiness through
the response to grace then the apostolates such as feeding the poor and missionary action will be rightly ordered.
Well that is enough preaching to the choir today, but I would like to mention
an experience I had while visiting my mother in Portland, Or. Through Catholic
Answers host Jerry Usher I had heard about the Holy
Rosary Parish and Priory there. This is a parish run by the Dominicans and
I happened to visit on St. Thomas Aquinas’s feast day and the feast for the
establishment of that church. The church itself is very beautiful and traditional
and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw that they used the Adoramus Hymnal.
I have seen these in Catholic bookstores before but never in a parish. The Mass
started with Gregorian Chant and what followed was a very reverential liturgy
using the newer order of Mass. Everyone there participated in the singing and
the responses. During the Confiteor I could see that they all struck their chest
and during the Apostles Creed everyone bowed at the correct time. I rarely see
people performing these parts of the rubrics. The Kiss of Peace which is optional
was omitted, the Mass seemed to flow so much better. Now I don’t mind shaking
the hand of the person next to me, yet most people have transformed the Kiss
of Peace into shaking hands with everybody within a hundred feet of them. Also
there was no hand holding during the Our Father and Communion was received at
the communion rail. The most important thing though was that I was able to pray
the Mass. They also have confession everyday before Mass and Eucharistic Adoration
after the noon Mass till late in the evening. I can’t speak for the holiness
of the people in this parish since I was there such a short time, but if I was
to come up with a list of excellent parishes I think this one would be at the
top. I can almost guarantee that this parish was not listed in Paul Wilkes list
of 200 excellent parishes.